A clean path to sales


From applying sunscreen to cleaning the kitchen counter, wipes offer a convenient way to perform many tasks without the need for spray bottles or pumps.

“That’s the beauty of a wipe,” says David Rousse, president of Cary, N.C.-based INDA, an association for the nonwovens fabric industry. “They save a step.”

And in a world where consumers are increasingly demanding simplicity from the products they use, the category is expected to grow. According to a recent INDA report, “North American Wipes Market: Trends & Forecasts 2012-2017,” the North American wet wipes market should grow 16 percent annually through 2017.

“We are pleasantly surprised by the unrelenting growth of the disposable nonwovens wipes industry, even during these challenging economic times for consumers and businesses,” says Brad Kalil, INDA’s director of market research and statistics.

Categories to consider

For retailers considering what kinds of wipes to offer under their own brands, personal care, household cleaners and baby care all are segments that stand out as ripe areas for growth, the report says.

On the household cleaners front, consumers want portability and smaller packs, Kalil says. Retailers could see increased store brand success through offering that convenience, as well as coming out with new types of wipes that aren’t national brand equivalents. After all, wipes can be used in place of just about anything that requires liquid, and all sorts of surfaces need cleaning — from ones in the house to ones in the garage.

“It’s kind of a great area for product innovation,” Kalil says, citing Minwax Wood Finishing Cloths, which can stain a piece of furniture and even include a pair of gloves for the project, as an example of product creativity in the wipes market.

Turning to the personal care sector, packaging quality could be just as important as the wipes’ quality. Looking specifically at beauty care wipes, consumers use these products about three times daily outside the home, according to a recent study conducted by Northborough, Mass.-based Perimeter Brand Packaging. And many of those users want wipes that are both easy to use and portable — as well as travel-size packs that contain more than just a handful of wipes, the study confirmed. What they don’t want are wipes that dry out too quickly or come in packaging that looks like it was designed for baby wipes.

But don’t assume that wipes are limited to usage by humans. In addition to household wipes and personal care wipes, pet care wipes were spotlighted at last year’s Private Label Trade Show as a particularly promising area for store brands, says Moto Okawa, marketing manager at Chino, Calif.-based Diamond Wipes International. Americans spend a lot on their pets — $55 billion in 2013, according to the American Pet Products Association’s website. Therefore, wipes for consumers’ furry friends could be a good way to boost sales.

And as dirty as pets can get, wipes are perhaps the most convenient way to clean them up, Okawa adds.

“Consumers are more than willing to pamper their pooches and other four-legged companions, and they are likely to pay premiums for pet products,” Okawa says.

His company recently introduced the Head to Tails pet wipes program — including wipes and finger mitts that help maintain puppies’ and adult dogs’ ear and oral hygiene — for private labeling.

However, Okawa notes that supermarkets and drugstores could face a challenge trying to move such products if they don’t invest the right amount of time and care.

“It may be a worthwhile exercise for these retailers to invest in creating their unique and high-quality line of pet care store brand to replace other popular national brands in an attempt to develop loyal shoppers,” he says.

Flushability a concern

But no matter what the category, retailers need to consider flushability when working with their store brand suppliers, Rousse states. Some consumers are flushing non-degradable wipes down the toilet, leaving wastewater officials across America to deal with expensive clogs in sewer pipes. And with the introduction of more and more products similar to the recently launched Kleenex Cottonelle Fresh Care Flushable Wipes and Cleansing Cloths — which are designed to supplement regular toilet paper — many suspect that the problem is going to only get worse.

“It is a growing issue and one that we believe private labelers should be aware of,” he says.

Legislation to combat the problem has already been proposed in states such as California, Maine and New Jersey, and at some point, retailers selling improperly labeled own-brand wipes could face inquiries from the Federal Trade Commission, Rousse explains.

“The way to avoid that, though, is to insist to the supplier that a flushable wipes product meets INDA guidelines for flushability,” he says.

INDA, partnering with Belgium-based EDANA, the international association for the nonwovens and related industries, released the third edition of its guidelines — which first published in 2008 — last June, Rousse says. The latest edition, which streamlines the previous two, includes seven core tests wipes must pass to be considered flushable. An updated code of practice requires products that don’t pass the tests to clearly sport a “do not flush” logo on packaging.

Tansman notes that he is seeing retailers making a good effort on the product development side.

“I’ve seen store brand products that are unique and different, but retailers still have to learn how to sell them better,” he says, particularly when it comes to price.

Kalil notes that given the growth of baby wipes sales over the past several years, people could be purchasing them simply because they often are cheaper than other types of wipes.

Besides making sure wipes are set at a good price point, retailers also could find sales success in working with new suppliers.

“Stores need to be more open-minded and pay attention to the smaller producers as well because they may find something that pays off [in terms of both] quality and margins,” Tansman says.