Time-starved consumers are not only looking for the fastest way to get out of the kitchen, but also the house -- housework, that is.
Seventy-four percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 agreed somewhat/strongly with the statement "I'm constantly looking for new ways to get the household chores done faster," according to a study by ACNielsen U.S., an operating unit of ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill.
Such attitudes have made "convenience cleaners" some of the fastest-growing consumer packaged goods on the market, according to ACNielsen. Among them: premoistened cleaning towels; all-in-one, sweeping and mopping devices; dust mitts; single-use scrubbing pads and flushable toilet wipes. Even window cleaning is easier, thanks to Windex Outdoor, which comes with a special nozzle that can be affixed to a garden hose and used to clean the exterior of second-floor windows.
"This [convenience] segment is like the McDonald's of the cleaning section," said Lisa Sheffield, senior category buyer, Niemann Foods, Quincy, Ill.
Premoistened cleaning towels generated $147 million in volume in the food, drug and mass channels (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 2, 2002, a 54% growth from the same period in 2001, according to ACNielsen. Polishing/cleaning cloths brought in $251.2 million, a 16% increase.
According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, Clorox ReadyMop is the category leader in the cleaning tools/mops/broom category, garnering $47.2 million in dollar sales in supermarkets for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 29, 2002.
Convenience cleaners are taking off so much that Niemann Foods is giving some of them their own space. The retailer has just started testing a new four-foot section created specifically for the various floor-mopping systems, including the Clorox ReadyMop, from the Clorox Co., Oakland, Calif.; the Swiffer from Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati; and Pledge Grab-It from SC Johnson, Racine, Wis.
The new section is being tested at Niemann's County Market store in Urbana, Ill. If successful, it will be rolled out to other units, according to Sheffield.
She also pointed to strong interest in flushable toilet wipes. She added that virtually all household-cleaning items now have a convenience-oriented counterpart. Better yet, they're not cannibalizing sales of the more traditional items.
"They have brought incremental, additional sales into the category," she said.
Sheffield offered herself as an example. The housekeeper that Sheffield pays to do regular cleaning uses traditional furniture polish during her visits. But when Sheffield does intermittent cleaning, she uses polishing wipes.
Niemann generates "very healthy" margins for the segment. One of the reasons for this is that convenience cleaners aren't price-sensitive, she said.
"Price points aren't a hurdle when you're talking about convenience," she said.
Susan Spence, household category buyer, K-VA-T Food Stores, an 87-store chain based in Abingdon, Va., agreed.
"Even if it's more expensive, people will pay the price," Spence said, noting that the majority of consumers want more time for themselves and their families.
"You have more households where both people work, and they're looking for convenience items," she said.
K-VA-T has been successful with toilet wipes and floor-mopping systems, according to Spence. Furniture polishing wipes are also doing well, particularly those that are scented. "Everyone has to clean, so why not make it easier for yourself?"
A study by the Soap and Detergent Association, Washington, drives this point home. While more than one out of four Americans surveyed said home cleanliness is a top priority for 2003, as many as 48% of the respondents claimed that they don't keep clean homes because they can't find the time to clean.
Since time is a precious commodity for so many individuals and families, consumers are looking for products that make the job quicker and easier. For many, the new wave of convenience products is the answer.
"Many of the innovations and enhanced ingredients in these products are designed to take the drudgery out of cleaning," Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications, SDA, a nonprofit trade association, said in a prepared statement.
At Penn Traffic Co., Syracuse, N.Y., demand for household convenience items -- particularly all-in-one floor cleaning systems -- is strong, according to Joe Ramirez, company spokesman.
"Our experience has been that consumers are enthusiastic about these products," he said.
Ramirez noted that when the first Swiffer was introduced in 1999, it achieved about 55% U.S. household penetration. The Swiffer WetJet was slower to take off, which Penn attributed to its initially high suggested retail price of $49.99.
"In our view, that price wasn't a value to our consumers, so we didn't carry it," Ramirez said.
But after the Clorox ReadyMop was introduced with an SRP of $24.99, pricing for the WetJet quickly came down to match it. At this time, Penn Traffic started stocking the WetJet.
Penn Traffic occasionally puts the mopping systems on sale for $19.99. When this is coupled with $5 rebate coupons that manufacturers are currently offering via Web sites and other venues, the mopping systems are a consumer value, Ramirez said.
"We believe the coupons will have an effect on driving market penetration," he said. What makes the products consumer-friendly is that the replacement cloths are interchangeable. So while a consumer may buy the Swiffer starter kit, he can come back and buy Pledge or Clorox refills.
Other convenience items like the Swiffer Mitt and Swiffer Duster also have the potential to do well, Ramirez said. The duster contains fluffy fibers that can change shape to fit small places, like blinds or other delicate items. Swiffer Mitts are dry dusting cloths that fit the hand like a glove.
"It's not clear whether any of these will achieve the success of the original Swiffer, which created a new category," Ramirez noted.
Convenience items are being closely watched by market research firms. For instance, Flushable Toilet Wipes by Scrubbing Bubbles from SC Johnson were among the top domestic new product innovations of 2002, according to Productscan Online, a database of new products from Naples, N.Y.-based Marketing Intelligence Service. The wipes can be used to clean up toilet stains. They are biodegradable and can be flushed after use. IRI, meanwhile, named The Clorox ReadyMop as one of its six nonfood pacesetters, or most promising new products, to watch this year. Sales for the brand for the 48 weeks through Nov. 3, 2002, were $199.7 million in food/drug/mass.
IRI defines pacesetters as a new brand name or extension with a minimum level of $7.5 million in sales in its first year of distribution. (Procter & Gamble's Swiffer was IRI's No. 1 nonfood pacesetter in 2000.)
IRI expects more advances in technology and design to further "reduce the steps or messiness required in house chore clean-up and storage tasks." It anticipates additional sanitizing and disinfecting entries to hit the market.
Premoistened wipes are also being closely tracked. Nearly 30% of adults use premoistened wipes, according to Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, New York, a provider of global marketing intelligence products and services. It defines wipes as baby wipes, personal care wipes and household surface cleaning wipes. The market for pretreated wipes has had a compound annual growth rate of 24% since 1997.