Could P&G Sell Off Iconic Ivory Brand?

Sales have slid, no projected growth

Since Procter & Gamble’s Aug. 1 announcement that it intends to shutter or sell off as many as 100 brands, investors, advertising firms and retailers have speculated over which products would change hands or become unavailable. The Wall Street Journal has crunched sales data and projections and uncovered a bombshell of a candidate: Ivory soap.

A range of reports peg Ivory’s 2013 global revenues at $112 million, and its share of the U.S. bar soap market at 3.4 percent. Even though Ivory maintains a high profile, it has retreated significantly from its highs of past decades, and it may be considered an expendable laggard among the high-performance product mix P&G CEO A.G. Lafley foresees.

Lafley has made it clear that his company wants to concentrate on the 70 to 80 brands that generate more than $100 million in gross annual revenues. Ivory is just above that cutline, and projections do not call for growth.

A decision to wash its hands of Ivory would come three years after P&G tried to reinvigorate the brand by introducing lines of body wash, liquid hand soap and combined hair-and-body wash. The company also had Sterling redesign Ivory’s packaging and partnered with Wieden + Kennedy to create print and Web ads to cast the soap as a top choice for mothers of young children.

As the WSJ article notes, abandoning Ivory could represent a fundamental shift in corporate identity for P&G. The son of the company’s founder helped develop the vegetable oil-based bar in the late 1870s, and the product was the first one P&G marketed as a stand-alone brand.

A clue to which brands P&G does plan to retain could come from a statement at the bottom of the Cincinnati company's press release summarizing the company’s fiscal performance during the fourth quarter of 2014. The company lists the stars of its portfolio as Always, Ambi Pur, Ariel, Bounty, Charmin, Crest, Dawn, Downy, Duracell, Fairy, Febreze, Gain, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Lenor, Olay, Oral-B, Pampers, Pantene, SK-II, Tide, Vicks, Wella and Whisper.