Although sales of automatic dishwasher detergents are somewhat flat, retailers say trends toward more new-product innovations, more new homes with dishwashers and increased manufacturer advertising will help them clean up in the category in the years ahead.
Some are already seeing improving results. Retailers told SN that dishwasher detergents and rinsing agent counterparts such as Jet-Dry, Cascade Crystal Clear and Glass Magic sell best in stores near new subdivisions and in middle-class suburbs where dishwashers are more prominent.
"Dishwasher detergents continue to be a growing category for us," said Terry List, director of category promotions at Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City.
"In general, the business continues to grow as the use of dishwashers continues to expand. We are seeing an increase in sales," he said.
"Our total dishwasher detergent category is doing very well in both dollar sales and margins, and we carry 24 linear feet of auto dish detergent," said Al Young, a category manager with Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.
David Weidner, director of grocery operations at Genuardi Super Markets, Norristown, Pa., said automatic dishwasher detergents are selling well, especially in his suburban Philadelphia stores.
"We have some stores in older neighborhoods with row houses, and a lot of them don't have dishwashers. We do really well with Ivory, Joy and other liquid detergents in those markets.
"But out in the suburbs where there are newer developments, just about every home comes with a dishwasher, and we do really good. We do really good with the powders out in those areas, and it is a good category for us," he explained.
According to the Chicago-based Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, 4.58 million new dishwashers were shipped in 1994. In 1990, the most recent year for market share figures, dishwashers were in 53.9% of all American homes, up from 44.5% in 1982 and 18.9% in 1970. However, despite increasing sales of the appliances, supermarket detergent sales have remained relatively lukewarm. According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 1, 1995, the dishwasher detergent/additives category had supermarket sales of $457.9 million, a decline of 1% from the previous year.
And figures from Nielsen North America, Schaumburg, Ill., for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 10, 1994, show almost 145.1 million units being sold in food stores, a 2.3% drop from the previous year. Procter & Gamble's Cascade is the leading detergent with a 45.4% share, followed by Lever Bros.' Sunlight with 20.8%, Colgate-Palmolive's Palmolive with 9.4% and Benckiser's Electrasol with a 9.1% share.
Weidner said that while sales at Genuardi have been strong, the profitability of the category has been declining.
"Our dollar sales are all at acceptable levels, but our gross profit is lower than we like due to the competition. Philadelphia is a competitive area with the Acmes of the world, Pathmarks and ShopRites, and we have to match them and run with their pricing," he said.
"Our sales of dishwasher detergents are probably holding about steady, but the sales really haven't been increasing," said Mark Landrum, a buyer with Albertson's northern California division, Sacramento, Calif.
Manufacturers are trying to get sales bubbling with a flood of new-product introductions and formulations. This year Dial Corp., Phoenix, jumped on the dishwashing bandwagon with Dial powdered dishwasher detergents in fresh and lemon scents, and Dial liquid gel dishwasher detergent, as well as Dial Dishwashing & Antibacterial Hand Cleanser for hand washing.
Colgate-Palmolive has introduced Palmolive Ultra powder, while market leader Procter & Gamble is testing Cascade Ultra powders and liquid gels in Phoenix that are 30% smaller than traditional packages. And several major manufacturers now offer liquid or gel formulations of their powdered detergents.
"There are different preferences. Some people with septic tanks only use a gel or a liquid. Some women complain that because they can't get all of the liquid out of the bottle they don't like it, but others like the convenience because powder can spew dust up in your face and clump," said a spokeswoman for one leading manufacturer.
Retailers said liquids are gaining in popularity with shoppers.
"While powders are still most dominant in dishwasher detergents. Liquids and gels now comprise about 25% of the market," noted Emily G. Holdstein, senior vice president of Wonder Market Cos., Worcester, Mass.
"The gels are a growing category, but sales of the powders remain pretty stable," said List of Fleming.
And Pat Redmond, grocery merchandiser at Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash., said the gels are selling "much better now since the manufacturers worked out the problems that they had with emulsifiers.
"But some shoppers still are leery of gels," he added, noting that Rosauers carries a total of 23 stockkeeping units, including powders and gels.
He also said Rosauers has been having success with private label, especially in larger sizes. The 10-pound package sells especially well, he said.
Many retailers expect the next trend in dishwasher detergents to be ultra-concentrated formulas, similar to laundry detergents. And while it is too soon to gauge the ultimate success of ultra dishwasher powders being tested by the leading manufacturers, retailers say consumers need to be educated by manufacturers about the use of the products, and they have to be heavily advertised if they are to be successful.
"Consumers do not perceive ultras as a value," said Big Y's Young. "The ultra dishwasher detergents are showing poor performance in comparison to their powdered counterparts."
Wonder Markets stocks four SKUs of ultras, but the sales have been weak compared with traditional formula detergents.
"A major problem with the ultras is that people tend to use as much of them as they would use a traditional powder," said Holdstein. "It is very easy for a consumer to make a mistake, use too much and fill the dispenser cup up all the way. Although there is a message on a sticker covering the metal pouring spout, the packaging is not significantly different to remind consumers they have to use less." Mark Combs, a buyer with John C. Groub Co., Seymour, Ind., said dishwasher detergents aren't a big seller in his rural stores, but when his manufacturer representative chose to replace his regular strength Palmolive with Palmolive Ultra, sales became even more sluggish.
On the positive side, Combs said the ultras have been easy to fit on the shelves.
"We have been able to double stack the ultra products one on top of the other, and then merchandise them very similarly to the traditional strengths," he said.
Retailers said manufacturers need to more heavily advertise the ultras and the category in general to build sales.
"Most of the major manufacturers have switched to everyday low pricing, and so there is really nothing out there giving people an incentive to buy. We're not seeing many coupons or ads in our marketplace, and as a result, sales are just kind of rolling along," said Redmond of Rosauers.
Redmond said manufacturers should also advertise growing items, like the rinsing agents.
"While the rinsing agents are very steady items that grow a little bit every year, we have to educate the shoppers that they are even there. They are small containers and there is not much promotion on them," he said.
Barbara Page, a spokeswoman for Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., said in upstate New York manufacturers are supporting dishwasher detergents with freestanding insert coupons.
"On the store level we support the dishwasher detergents with 'good till' programs in which we will have a temporary price reduction for an extended period of time, like 90 days, throughout the year. We also advertise the dishwasher detergents every other week or so," she said.
List of Fleming has seen a shift towards EDLP.
"Based on the way the economy has been over the last few years, EDLP has caught on, but I think now that the economy is coming back, you're going to see more high-low promotions coming back into play," he said.
Holdstein of Wonder Markets said in her market "manufacturers are offering coupons and promotional deals to us. We advertise dishwasher detergent regularly, but the ultras have not been supported as much by the manufacturers."