Retailers are dedicating more shelf space to natural household cleaners that are free of harsh chemicals.
Plant-based household cleaners are in bloom.
Ecologically sound offerings that use natural substances as their active ingredients, rather than synthetic chemicals, are gaining a foothold in traditional grocers' cleaning aisles.
The category, which has long been dominated by small players whose authenticity appeals to early adopters, now includes widely distributed green offerings from brands that catch the eye of mainstream shoppers.
Last December, Clorox put its marketing muscle behind its new Green Works line of all-purpose, toilet bowl, dilutable, bathroom, and glass and surface cleaners that are at least 99% natural. Ingredients for the products come from renewable resources such as coconuts and essential oils, and the formulations are biodegradable and free of petrochemicals. The products' cleaning power is somewhat different from Clorox's conventional offerings, in that they don't disinfect.
Items in the line are “the things that are hottest now,” Guy Olsen, category manager of household, paper and baby departments for Stop & Shop/Giant, told SN.
Olsen attributes Green Works' success to Clorox's promotional resources and its widespread consumer following. The retailer has discounted the cleaners and sold them from its bargain aisle.
Because of Clorox, “people are starting to have some confidence in the cleaning efficacies [of green cleaners], whereas in the past that was kind of questionable,” he said. “If you can get the same cleaning effect, while helping the environment and being green, then why not?”
One reason might be price. Currently there is a 20% to 100% premium attached to items that boast an environmental edge. But increased competition continues to narrow the gap, said Gwynne Rogers, LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) business director for the Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa.
“Greater availability and a lower price premium compared to what it was, combined with a heightened awareness of environmental issues” are driving demand for green cleaners, she said.
Cara Morrison, founder of Cogitamus Consulting and author of the “Household Cleaning Products in the U.S.” Packaged Facts report, concurs.
“Green is dramatically changing the market and consumer expectations,” she said. “The green influence was slow going for many years, but now it has gained critical mass that even an economic slowdown can't shift.”
Stop & Shop has accommodated consumers' newfound green mind-set by doubling the size of the 4-foot, 40-item section it previously dedicated to green cleaners.
“Shoppers want something safe,” said Olsen.
Although Giant-Landover stores still merchandise the 4-foot section due to space limitations, Olsen didn't have to look far for the additional real estate in Stop & Shop stores.
“We took space away when laundry compacted to 2x,” he said.
The retailer's ecologically sound selection includes items in the Seventh Generation line, which uses recycled and post-consumer materials in its packaging and is formulated with biodegradeable, phosphate-free and chlorine-free ingredients. Sun and Earth products, which are nontoxic and free from petroleum-based solvents, are also included in the retailer's green cleaner sets, as are Palmolive's Eco Dishwasher Detergent and earth-friendly cleaners from Purex, Arm & Hammer and others.
“We even carry some local products, like Imus' two SKUs,” said Olsen of the Imus Greening the Cleaning detergent and all-purpose cleaners developed by the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Deirdre Imus is the wife of radio personality Don Imus.
Although Stop & Shop/Giant merchandises a broad selection of concentrated liquid laundry detergents, it has yet to bring other categories of concentrated household cleaners to the masses.
Oddly enough, some of these smaller formulas end up taking up more space.
Olsen recently took a look at the Arm & Hammer Essentials line, which includes concentrated starter kits in multi-surface, degreaser and glass-cleaning formulas. Each kit contains an empty, refillable plastic trigger-spray bottle and one concentrated cleaning cartridge. At home, users pour the concentrated, plant-based formula into the bottle and add water. The refill pack uses 60% less packaging than two prefilled spray cleaners, and shoppers can save up to 25% with refills as compared to traditional cleaners, claims Arm & Hammer.
“The initial purchase is a bottle along with a small container of the liquid formula,” said Olsen. “It takes up a lot of space, since you're selling an empty bottle for each form and tying up additional space with the actual ingredient. What is typically one SKU in that format becomes multiple SKUs, and that's my only hesitation.”
Olsen is taking a “wait-and-see approach” before he makes a final sourcing decision.
Other concentrated products, such as items in the Eco-Save Concentrated line, count on shoppers to refill existing cleaner and/or spray bottles that they've already got at home.
Eco-Save's glass and multi-surface cleaner, window cleaner, all-purpose cleaner and degreaser, and shower and bathroom cleaner concentrates are offered in 12-ounce pouch bags that are 100% recyclable. One bag will refill a standard 32-ounce bottle six times and costs $5.99 to $6.99.
Although Rogers acknowledges that cleaning products like these will require some shopper education, she anticipates consumers will be fast learners.
“If you look at any part of the marketplace, whether it be Netflix or car sharing, consumers are getting used to the idea that they don't have to buy a product the way they're used to buying it,” she said. “As consumers get more comfortable with different formats and delivery systems, it'll be a growing trend.”
Morrison projects that concentrated formulas will be a quick sell for retailers looking to leverage shelf efficiencies.
“Retailers will do all they can to promote the concentrated formulas, and would gladly accept even edgier innovations if they clear up shelf space,” she said. “They could include concentrated gel caps or tablets that dissolve in water. They could even create special display sections and offer them alongside reusable bottles at the register.”
Rogers also foresees the emergence of reusable aluminum spray bottles that would be sold from the cleaning aisle, much the same way retailers are beginning to introduce aluminum water bottles in the beverage aisle.
“It could be a branded offering that would bear a product name and include an exact line that said ‘Add water to here,’” said Rogers. “That'd be one way to keep consumers loyal to your brand.”
PCC Natural Markets, a Certified Organic grocery store and Seattle-based co-op, carries only green household cleaners in its 10 locations.
In order to even be considered for PCC's shelves, a cleaner must be free of harmful chemicals and residue.
“All of the cleaners that we carry are environmentally sensitive, in keeping with our overall product standards,” said Stephanie Steiner, grocery merchandiser for PCC.
PCC's selection currently consists of items marketed by Seventh Generation, Earth Friendly Products, Country Save, Ecover, Bi-O-Kleen and CitraSolv. The retailer doesn't source items in Clorox's Green Works line.
“Green household cleaners aren't new for PCC, so we haven't needed to expand” our offerings, said Steiner. “However, we regularly review this category, as we review all others.”
When it comes to additional products, authenticity will outweigh cost.
“Our health-conscious and environmentally sensitive shoppers tend to be as committed to buying these items as they are to buying natural, organic food products,” said Steiner. “The products perform well and don't cause harm to humans or pets due to harsh or irritating chemicals, which makes them a sound purchase even when budgets are tight.”
PCC promotes earth-friendly household cleaners by featuring them on endcaps and in its bimonthly advertising insert. Last week it featured Ecover Dishwashing Liquid, 32 ounces, for $3.59, and Bi-O-Kleen Laundry Powder, 10 pounds, for $12.99.
Category sales have kept pace with sales storewide, said Steiner.
Meanwhile, sales of green cleaners at Bi-Lo — where earth-friendly offerings are relatively new — are growing modestly, said Mike Hoffman, category merchandiser at the Mauldin, S.C.-based chain.
Super Bi-Lo stores dedicate a 4-foot section to environmentally friendly products that include baby items and cleaners marketed by Seventh Generation, Mrs. Myers and Clorox. Earth-friendly offerings are merchandised among their conventional counterparts in traditional Bi-Lo locations.
“Sales are still a small share of the category, compared to traditional cleaners,” Hoffman said. “The economy may have an impact on some consumers' decision to buy green, but today's environmentally conscious consumers are smart, looking for specific attributes and willing to pay a premium for the right product.”
To help meet their expectations, Hoffman carefully scrutinizes cleaners that make green claims.
“It's important to look beyond things like green packaging and ask important questions,” he said, such as “does the manufacturing process use bleaches or dyes? How much energy is used in the production process? How much waste is produced, and how is it handled?”