Although sales of cleaning products in supermarkets are being ever so slightly stolen by mass merchandisers, retailers remain hopeful about the aisle's performance, and many are gearing up for annual Spring Cleaning promotions.
Supermarkets' share of the household cleaning category has declined over the past five years, currently leaving grocers with 58% of the dollars, 58.4% of the units and 56.2% of the equalized units sold in the United States, according to market research firm ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill. For the year that ended January, 1996, supermarkets' share was 66.5%.
"More people shop the grocery store for these products," said Tawn Earnest, spokeswoman for Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., pointing out that the supermarkets' share is still the major portion of household cleaners' sales. "We're holding our own."
A particular stronghold, she said, is any kitchen cleaning item, such as liquid dish detergent. Kitchen items "are especially synergistic to the other items we sell in the grocery store," Earnest said, because of shoppers' mental link between food and the kitchen.
The total category was over $2.5 billion for the year ended Jan. 22, 2000, according to ACNielsen. However, in the food channel alone, household cleaners sold $1.46 billion, a decrease of 2% as compared to a 2.3% increase the year before. In all three channels combined, the most recent results show abrasive cleaners down from a high in 1996 but up from last year. Ammonia posted a steady decline over this five-year period (52 weeks ending in late January of 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000), yet, it's the strongest cleaner in terms of supermarket sales. The food channel has a 71.2% share of this product's sales, the data shows.
In the three channels combined, bathroom cleaners were down from 1999 but up since 1996. Disinfectants go steadily up, from $158 million in 1996 to $195 million now. The largest of the segments is liquid cleaners, up almost 2% from last year, to $752 million. Segments showing the most movement in the grocery channel are disinfectants, up 14.7% in dollar volume; rug cleaners, up 2.1%; and "remaining household cleaners" up 2.7%. Window cleaners were down by 12.6%, from $130.5 million in 1999 to $114 million this year.
Equalized results show that, for the three channels, bathroom cleaners are up but only by 1.4%; disinfectants up 10.2%; liquid cleaners up 4.4%, with the nondisinfectant type up 11.7%; powdered cleaners are up a whopping 41.5%; rug cleaners up 4.7%; window cleaners down 11.2%; "remaining household cleaners" up 5%; rust removers up 16.6%; and there was a spectacular performance by premoistened towels, showing a 35.2% increase for 2000 on a 25.7% increase the prior year.
To push the category and keep sales steady, many stores advertise and promote around a Spring Cleaning theme in April, and again in the fall. Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa., will probably run promotions in the Apr. 5 and Apr. 12 ads, according to Jack Mahon, the category manager.
To promote the aisle, which the store tries to do twice a month, Genuardi's plans floor stands or mini pallets in the stores, usually tied into ads or demos.
"There are several new items in the aisle this year and in the past several months -- items like Swiffer, Pledge Grab-it, Clorox Advantage bleach, Clorox disinfectant sprays, Clorox moist wipes, Mr. Clean Wipe Ups for bath or kitchen, Dryel, Clorox Fresh Care and several others, which have added incremental sales to the overall aisle," Mahon said. Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., is sending out its first-ever Spring Cleaning flier soon to get a jump on the mass channels, Chris Halfmann, grocery buyer/merchandiser, told SN. The flier will include ads for general merchandise, such as brooms and mops, as well as household cleaners and laundry detergent.
In addition, 17 of Spartan's circulars this year will feature one or two cleaners and different brands will be offered at "two for $5" prices. The aisle is also prone to temporary price reduction specials, according to Halfmann.
Other strategies used by Spartan to help combat competition from mass merchandisers include a Pallet Pro program, which consists of forced distribution to Spartan's stores. "This program uses great packs with display-ready modules. We put a price point on it, set it up in the store and it's gone," Halfmann said.
Spartan's Speed to Market program places a new item in stores within 24 hours of its release. Products involved in this program recently included Dryel and Pledge Grab-it, he said.
Even though some areas in the cleaning aisle are being hurt by the mass channel, Genuardi's has seen a nice increase in the bleach and all-purpose sections due to new items, Mahon told SN. Store brands in some categories do better than others, and Genuardi's bleach does very well, as does window cleaner, Mahon added.
Spartan offers private-label glass cleaner and ammonia also, but Halfmann told SN the brands are still dominating sales in the aisles.
"It's still a pretty brand-driven aisle. Once the consumer finds a brand that works for them, they stick to it," Halfmann said.
Earnest said Food Lion will be demonstrating Swiffer, one of the new mops that grabs dust as if it were magnetized. She also mentioned the Clorox disinfecting spray as "really taking off" and helping to drive sales, and she expects the same of Clorox wipes.
Although Food Lion does "a lot of cross merchandising of cleaning products," and has tested solution-selling in the breakfast aisle, Earnest said the concept has not spread to the cleaning aisle.
Spartan, too, has never practiced solution-selling in the cleaning aisle, but Halfmann said he is aware of successful programs in other areas of the store, such as taking a laundry stain from A to Z, starting with precleaner, through fabric softeners, etc.
"You can do the same thing with the cleaning aisle. Start with a stain remover, to a shampoo, to a refreshener. It's a fun aisle, you just have to change with the trends," he said.