Detergents get a makeover

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April 12, 2021 7:15 AM

The lockdown period saw consumers veering towards washing machines and dishwashers in their quest for self-reliance and convenience, opening up the market to new forms of detergents and fabric care products. The past year saw P&G introduce its pod technology in India through Tide Pods and Ariel Pods, and HUL add a range of products […]

Pods are positioned as products that address multiple concerns in one go, thereby replacing detergents, stain removers and whitening agents.Pods are positioned as products that address multiple concerns in one go, thereby replacing detergents, stain removers and whitening agents.

The lockdown period saw consumers veering towards washing machines and dishwashers in their quest for self-reliance and convenience, opening up the market to new forms of detergents and fabric care products. The past year saw P&G introduce its pod technology in India through Tide Pods and Ariel Pods, and HUL add a range of products for automatic dishwashing (for machines) under its Vim brand.

The hand dishwashing market in India was worth Rs 3,653 crore in 2020, as per Euromonitor International. Among the automatic dishwashing products, powders have a market size of Rs 7.5 crore. The laundry detergent market is worth Rs 28,514 crore, of which liquid detergents account for Rs 819 crore.

Could niche detergent products gain scale in India?

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Until 2020, brands such as Finish, Crystale, Fortune, and others from dishwasher manufacturers like IFB and Bosch were available on e-commerce platforms. Reckitt’s distribution muscle ensured that Finish was the only branded product in the segment that occupied shelf space in modern and general trade stores.

In March 2021, HUL debuted in the machine dishwashing detergent market with Vim Matic. The powder is priced at Rs 425 per kg, same as Finish. “When consumers considered adopting a machine dishwasher due to lockdown-related concerns, it was the responsibility of Vim as a brand to partner with consumers in this upgrade,” says the spokesperson from HUL.

Vim’s entry into this market — it has a significant presence in the soap cake and liquid gel segments — is being seen as a signal that there is a sizable market for dishwashing machine detergents in India.

Vim Matic and Voltas Beko have partnered to market the dishwashing machine and the detergent together. The company is also in talks with other leading machine dishwasher manufacturers for similar tie-ups. Reckitt has a partnership with Bosch.

P&G, internationally known for making gel pod laundry detergents since 2012, brought the product to India in the middle of the pandemic. “The launch of Ariel and Tide pods in India is aimed at simplifying our consumers’ lives,” says Sharat Verma, CMO and VP – fabric care, P&G India. Pods are pre-dosed single-use laundry capsules that release three separate concentrate liquid detergents to clean, remove stains and brighten fabrics.

Convenience at a cost

India’s fabric care market is yet to make a significant move towards liquids and value-added products like fabric conditioners. A study by Mintel India on fabric care found that only 19% of Indians use liquid detergents for machine washing laundry, whereas 40% use powders. As per Euromonitor International, the fabric softeners market in India is worth only Rs 115.8 crore, while the spot and stain removers market is significantly larger at Rs 413.6 crore.

Pods are positioned as products that address multiple concerns in one go, thereby replacing detergents, stain removers and whitening agents. “It is unlikely that Indian consumers who mostly have service staff to perform household chores will value the convenience of a product like this over price,” says Subhendu Roy, partner, consumer and retail practice, Kearney.

A kilo of laundry detergent powder costs about Rs 160-200 and could last a family a month — about Rs 5-7 per wash — whereas a pod costs about Rs 22 per wash.

“Unlike the fabric care market, liquids have witnessed significant uptake in the dishwashing segment,” says Roy. Over the last 15 years, there has been a steady move towards liquid gels because they are considered to be milder on the skin compared to soap cakes, and also because these can be dispensed in a hassle-free manner.

The move to automatic dishwashing products may not be easy, as this category is completely dependent on the penetration of dishwashing machines. While convenience is a big draw, experts say the high entry barrier — a basic dishwasher costs about Rs 23,000 — and space constraints in homes could come in the way.

Rajat Wahi, partner, Deloitte India, says, given that consumers are overly sensitive to pricing in the detergent category, “brands need to introduce large pack sizes and discounts to propel consumers to try these products.”

For now, both P&G and HUL are following an e-commerce-heavy retail strategy to test the market before hitting the shelves.

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