Supermarkets -- still fiercely competing with mass merchants and club stores for detergent sales -- have begun stocking larger sizes and putting more effort into promoting them.
"Larger sizes are in demand, and give you a nice ticket ring," said Denny Hopkins, vice president of marketing and sales development for Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa., a subsidiary of Ahold USA, Atlanta.
The Giant chain is stocking the larger sizes, such as the 200-ounce liquids, "and doing a much better job promoting those products" in all three of its banners, said Hopkins. The banners are Giant Food Stores in Pennsylvania; Martin's in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia; and Edwards Super Food Stores inNew York and New Jersey. Edwards recently had massive displays of the 100-ounce size of All, which Hopkins called the dominant size.
Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., has recently started to offer larger sizes of detergent, up to 300-ounce packages, said Tawn Earnest, a spokeswoman for the chain. Larger sizes in powder, up to 120 ounces, are also offered, she said.
"It's part of a trend -- families are crunched for time. One of the consequences is that people don't want to buy detergent more than once a month," Earnest said. The bigger sizes are part of a strategy to let shoppers go longer between trips.
"Detergent is one of the Top 10 categories, and it is a category in which we try to feature an item every week," said Andy Carrano, vice president of marketing and corporate affairs for A&P, Montvale, N.J. In mid-July, an A&P division, Waldbaum's, had 100-ounce bottles of liquid Tide at $3.99.
"When we have an opportunity to use an item like Tide at a strong price, it does a couple of things for us. Tide is the leading brand, so it puts a brand out in front, and it gives a solid ring. It will sell well because it's recognized, and it gives a good impression to our customer," Carrano said.
Grand Union Co., based in Wayne, N.J., recently advertised a "buy-one, get-two-free" coupon special on the 50-ounce size of Dynamo liquid. These promotions are run several times a year, said Don Vaillancourt, vice president for corporate communications and consumer affairs at Grand Union.
"Sales in the category are up," he said. "Clearly, we're moving many more cases of liquid due to these promotional efforts. This is a very strong consumer demand product."
"Detergent is a good item to football, because it targets the family," said consultant Don Stuart, partner in Cannondale Associates, Wilton, Conn. "A lot of supermarkets have gotten into the large-size business. Stop & Shop has a club aisle, and so do a number of others."
Nonetheless, he called current strategies a "Band-Aid" and suggested that supermarkets develop solution centers around household-cleaning products, in the same way that Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., and Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., did with pet centers a few years ago.
"They should think about how they can create something out of a rather prosaic category and turn it into a 'solutions center' so you can compete," Stuart said.
Indeed, Edwards has begun using that strategy in New York. As reported in SN, a new prototype unit on Long Island has a solution center called "The Clean Zone," where detergent is merchandised with other laundry and household products, as does the new urban prototype unit in Brooklyn.
"You don't have the same efficiencies that a Wal-Mart has; you're never going to beat them on price," Stuart said.
This is something that Bashas' Markets knows only too well. The 91-store chain, based in Chandler, Ariz., said the club stores use detergent as a draw. "In this market they are in a price war," said Becca Anderson, spokeswoman for Bashas'. "The most popular sizes are selling far below our cost. You can't compete on that." To fight back, Bashas' is competitive on other sizes, Anderson said.
"The club stores are picking the most popular brand, Tide, and the most popular sizes, like the 48-load powder, and dropping the price on it to almost nothing," she said. "It would be cheaper for us to go there and buy it."
In the past year, U.S. food stores' share of this difficult category has slipped from 66.1 to 64.5, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. Data from IRI show that from August 1997 to August 1998, drug stores' share of laundry cleaner sales dropped 0.3 share points, while mass went up 1.7 share points. Mass has a share of 30.2, or less than half of supermarkets'. But year after year, that share increases.
Convenience is another point on which supermarkets can compete with the big box stores, noted consultant Jonathan Kramer, president of J. Brown/LMC Group, Stamford, Conn.
"Price is not a long-term strategy to compete," he said. If customers are already in the store, as they are 2.5 times a week, and detergent is there in an easier-to-carry size that does not require strain to get it down from the shelf, shoppers might rather buy detergent at the supermarket.
"The consumer feeds back what you tell them to feed back. If you tell them 'consider me on price,' they will; if you say, instead, 'consider me as a solutions center,' they will do that," Kramer said.
On the other hand, said Bashas' Anderson, "Even if it's inconvenient, you see the price, and if you know it's $3 less at the other end of the shopping center, you'll go. Customers will not spend that much extra, just to have convenience."
Scolari's Food & Drug, Sparks, Nev., has two box stores called Sak 'n Save, based in Reno, Nev., that offer lower prices in generally larger packages than their 17 sister supermarkets, explained Anna Lavely, pricing coordinator of Sak 'n Save. She said stores advertise and mark down prices when temporary price reductions are granted by their suppliers.
In liquid detergent, the gallon is the largest the stores carry. In powder, the preferred detergent in that region of the country, the sizes are bigger, up to 191 ounces. Massive displays and special pricing are used, Lavely said, and can stay up for a month, depending on how many times the item is advertised.
The fault Kramer finds with supermarkets is that it is still selling individual products rather than optimizing opportunities for cross merchandising. Supermarkets could use national brands to cross reference private brands, for example, he said.
The 18-unit chain of G&R Felpausch Co., based in Hastings, Mich., has found success after a two-year period of concentrating on detergents, specifically liquid detergent. Mortimer McKillop, director of grocery procurement, said that stockkeeping units were reduced, advertising was stepped up and larger sizes were added.
In merchandising the category, Felpausch always has a liquid-detergent display either on an endcap or on the Aisle of Value, the first or second aisle in each store.
As a result of these practices, McKillop said, "We're now seeing increased sales in the department."