From powders to single dose packs and pods, convenience and performance have
driven the US detergent category over the last 50 years. And while consumers have
benefitted from these all advances, they still don’t like doing laundry.
Christine Esposito • Associate Editor
ALOT HAS CHANGED in the detergent category over the years. Just think about how much easier and greener the task has become since the first issue of HAPPI, (then called
Detergent Age) rolled off the presses. Unfortunately, even after 50
years of innovation, one thing remains the same: nobody really
likes doing laundry.
“Laundry has never been a favorite chore with most con-
sumers and I don’t think that will ever change,” noted Carolyn
Forte, director, home appliances and cleaning products, Good
Housekeeping Research Institute.“Of course, there are some folks
who love doing laundry, but we’ve found that most don’t.”
Detergent makers know it too, thanks to consumer feedback
and thousands of hours logged with focus groups.
“We hear from consumers that it is tedious and it is never ending. Unfortunately, we can’t make laundry go away,”quipped Janell
Holas, senior brand manager, detergents innovation for Henkel.
Yet, the task is easier thanks to a combination of built-in stain
fighters, in-wash booster products
and modern appliances. Samsung,
for example, recently released a WiFi-enabled washer, complete with an
8-inch LCD touch screen, that allows
consumers to monitor cycle status and
remotely start or pause the washer
from anywhere in the house. In 1964,
could any housewife have imagined
such a scenario, much less infusing
the scent of Apple Mango Tango into
her family’s clothes?
From its launch in 1946 to
1983, Tide only came in a
powder. P&G added the first
liquid variant in 1984 (above).
Now, Pods are the latest
format for the category’s
Powder to the People
In the 1960s, innovations such as prewash soil and stain remover, laundry
powders with enzymes and enzyme
presoaks marked a time of change, but
there was one constant: P&G’s Tide
was No. 1—a pole position the brand
has held since 1949.
“Tide has a certain equity,” said Greg
McCoy, a senior archivist at P&G and
Tide historian. “It has been a hallmark in
American laundry rooms.”
Powder detergents held the biggest
share of the detergent market for decades,
although liquid technology had been
around for many years. For instance, Wisk
was introduced in 1956.
Wisk’s success at battling“ring around
the collar” marked the start of the“gradu-al, but continual trend away from powders
to liquids,” according to Ed Vlacich, executive VP-national brands at Sun Products Corp., which owns the
It was a gradual shift for sure. As reported by HAPPI, heavy-duty liquids accounted for only 25% of the $3.4 billion market in
1984—the year P&G rolled out its first Tide liquid. Today, liquids
dominate the $7.2 billion US laundry detergent category.
Wisk hit the market in
Traction in Compaction
In addition to the switch to liquids, another major change has been
compaction. Unilever rolled out All Small & Mighty, a 3X product,
in 2006. Almost 30 million bottles of All Small and Mighty were
sold in 2007 alone, and the brand remains a favorite among consumers even today, now that is in the Sun Products’stable.
Through the years, marketers would continue to develop concentrated formulas and products designed specifically for high-efficiency (HE) washers. NPD also centered on detergents that
could save consumers time and money—think next-generation
detergent plus fabric softener SKUs, multifunctional products that
eliminated steps and cold-water formulations.
Chemists were also exploring plant-based ingredients in line
with the growing green/natural movement, headlined by companies such as Seventh Generation. In 2011, the Burlington,VT-based
firm reformulated its best-selling laundry liquids with an all-natural, plant-derived surfactant that combined ethylene oxide derived
from sugar cane and plant-derived lauryl alcohol—making the