Henkel Taking a Swiss Army Knife to the Competition

One way to combat price sensitivity is to position your product as a sort of Swiss Army knife with multiple uses. That’s the approach Henkel is taking with its newly launched Purex Complete 3-in-1 sheets. The product, which combines a load’s worth of detergent, fabric softener and anti-static molecules all in one sheet, satisfies consumers’ demand for simplicity, convenience and sustainability in the wash cycle, said Eric Schwartz, vp-laundry care for Henkel (pictured). And, purchasing all three items separately would cost more than the average retail price of $6 to $8 for a starter kit, he said. The marketing vp for Henkel’s U.S. laundry care recently spoke with Brandweek about fabric care trends, what’s driving the category and what consumers really want from a load’s worth of clean clothes-aside from the fresh scent, of course.

Brandweek: Henkel most recently launched Purex Complete 3-in-1 laundry sheets. What was the thinking behind that?
Eric Schwartz: We know consumers have been dissatisfied with the laundry process. That is where the idea for 3-in-1 sheets came from. As consumers become more time deprived, they are looking for products that simplify their busy lives. Based on a lot of research from those dissatisfied consumers, we know the vast majority of consumers want benefits of cleaning, softening and anti-static right now. Purex 3-in-1 provides this in an all-in-one laundry solution.

BW: What kind of consumer mindset/need are you tapping into?
ES: The exciting thing about this launch is it taps into more than just being convenience-minded. It taps into consumers’ desire for simplicity in their lives, which has come to the forefront. In these tougher times, they are also looking for value.

BW: Has Purex ever tried to do something like this before? If so, what was it? (Or, was there a product that came close to this?)

ES: This is the biggest launch in the history of Purex in Henkel’s U.S. laundry care. In the past, we had been fast followers in innovation in the laundry detergent category, but this is the first time we are leading with a game changing innovation. We put a lot into this from an R&D perspective, [including] a 10X concentration of detergent, and the non-woven technology, which is designed to be capable of not only holding a full load of detergent on a single sheet, but also carrying the fabric softeners and the anti-static activators intact through the washer into the dryer. You can’t do that with anything that’s been on the market before. [Or at least,] you can’t do it well. These product developments are significant. It’s been more than five years in the making.

BW: Are you extending this 3-in-1 technology into future product innovations? What might be the next step in this latest product enhancement?
ES: We think it’s a big idea the way it is today. We already have ideas to make the product proposition even stronger. One of those is we are continuing to explore new ways to increase still further the sustainability aspect of the product and we are monitoring other category trends and will continue to research how the 3-in-1 [proposition] can better meet laundry needs. This sustainability aspect is very interesting. The product as it exists today is much lighter than the detergents on the market today and the other products it replaces. This category has gone towards major changes in becoming lighter and more concentrated. That has sprouted sustainability benefits in the U.S. This product is one step in that consumer trend.

BW: Brands like Procter & Gamble’s Tide have been addressing consumers’ need for value via new product introductions, like Tide Total Care, that prolong the use of clothes. How is Henkel reframing value in these tough times?
ES: I think value is more important than ever. Value has always been important. It has become the key determining factor in consumer purchases. We think about it as the intersection of quality and price. Consumers are demanding more and more from their products in these times. You’re meeting them at a price point that is significantly lower than the total of the products it replaces. [With Purex Complete 3-in-1], if you add up the total, we are giving consumers all those product benefits at the right price, which is the ultimate winning proposition with consumers in these times.

BW: In the detergent category, Purex is considered to be one of the least expensive brands. Nonetheless, are you seeing a lot of trade down to private label?
ES: There is a lot of shifting going on. When the economy changes, consumers are questioning what they get for their money. We are fortunate Purex is positioned well within any of that questioning. Overall, the private label portion of the laundry category is still significantly smaller than any of the major brands individually. That’s when you count all of private label together.

BW: What do you foresee to be the biggest hurdle/game changer affecting laundry detergent marketers in the next six months or so? Is marketing/new product innovation still going to be very much of a value message?
ES: In the next six months, you will see both value and innovation take the lead in this category. Consumers are looking for innovations but ones that deliver significant benefits at a strong value and some, one of the most important aspects of our launch is a need to drive awareness and educating consumers of the value and benefit provided to them by our new product. We are very excited about it launching through this time period. It has been through multiple rounds of testing in this five-year period. The most recent took place in the time when the economy started to worsen. We kept testing it to see how it would do in the current economy. That is part of how we redefined our marketing mix. It’s part of our focus on a simpler, better way of doing laundry and [where the idea for] three products in one came from.