Room for Improvement

When it comes to household cleaning and personal, beauty and baby care, few products offer the convenience of wet wipes — and strong sales reflect consumers’ interest in using them. According to data from global market research firm Mintel, wipes have been the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. surface cleaning market, with dollar sales here climbing 9.4 percent between 2012 and 2014 to reach $695 million.

Ensure claims hold up

To continue to grow wipe sales on the store brand side, retailers need to be honest when it comes to flushability claims.

“The overwhelming trend in wet wipes right now is flushability,” says Chris Nippert, vice president of marketing at Norcross, Ga.-based Haso USA Inc., manufacturer of a wide variety of wipes products.

Any Google News search of wet wipes will bring up many stories of sewer systems being clogged by wet wipes — some of them labeled as flushable when they really aren’t. Wet wipes that don’t disintegrate are an expensive headache for cities nationwide, with Nippert noting that the city of New York alone has spent $18 million on removing them and repairing the damage. Moreover, lawsuits over private brand-related flushability claims have taken place in several states, affecting such retailers as Minneapolis-based Target Corp. and Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco Wholesale Corp.

While the flushability problem isn’t exactly new, it’s only going to get worse, particularly as more of the focus shifts to the consumer end. According to a recent article in The New York Times, the city of New York is starting a public awareness campaign advising wipes users to throw them in the trash.

“The consumer voice around this issue is growing louder,” Nippert says. “By getting out ahead of this issue, retailers have the opportunity to build a positive store brand story.”

For wipes that won’t break apart, retailers should have clear, specific labeling on the package such as the “Do Not Flush” logo from the Association of the Nonwovens Fabrics Industry, Cary, N.C. But retailers also should understand that consumers want wipes that flush. One new technology innovation here is Haso’s Rapid Dissolve Technology, a substrate that enables wipes to dissolve as quickly as regular toilet paper. After demonstrating the technology at the 2014 Water Environment Federation’s Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference, Rob Villee, executive director at the Plainfield Area Regional Sewage Authority in Middlesex, N.J., proposed it as a potential solution for all wipes.

Make packaging ‘hand-friendly’

Besides wanting wipes to be flushable, consumers also want them to be as easy to use as possible.

Convenience both at home and on the go drives wipes purchases,” says Jamie Rosenberg, global personal care analyst at Mintel.

So how could retailers enhance the convenience of store brand wipes? One means is through better packaging.

“Current consumer research conducted by leading manufacturers has uncovered dissatisfaction with current dispensers,” Nippert says, both of the flow pack and canister varieties, which often require the use of two hands and result in the unintended removal of more wipes than needed. Canisters, in particular, have caused the most consumer frustration, with their propensity to pinch fingers and make it difficult to reinsert unused wipes. Packaging store brand wet wipes with a dispensing system that eliminates such aggravations is a smart strategy for making shoppers happy, Nippert says, pointing to his company’s launch of Just 1 Technology, a system for flow packs allowing wipes to be removed one at a time with only one hand.

Rosenberg cites “push and wipe” systems as another packaging design that provides users with added convenience. And retailers might also want to take note of innovatively packaged national brand products such as the recently launched Bounty with Dawn paper towel product from Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble — while not technically a wet wipe, it can be activated with water to work like one.

Reposition offerings

Retailers could also gain sales through marketing wipes to a larger base of shoppers, particularly in the personal care space.

“On-the-go wipes for hands and face are nothing new, but recently, brands have been creating a novel positioning that seems to be gaining traction with consumers,” Rosenberg says, citing the Gym Kit by Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Mio Skincare, which features wipes for both makeup removal and freshening up after a workout, as an example.

While many personal care wipes products are targeted to women, retailers shouldn’t overlook men. Products such as Dude Wipes, manufactured by Chicago-based Dude Products, and Biz Wipes, produced by Santa Monica, Calif.-based Mangroomer, target male shoppers. And Rosenberg notes that “on-the-go single-wipe packaging that can easily be stuffed in a wallet” is a selling point for them, adding that when it comes to wipes intended for hygiene purposes, discretion is just as important to consumers as convenience.

Wipes aimed at a quick freshening up, suitable for both genders, are also an emerging trend.

“We have seen oversized bath wipe products created for the elderly or bedridden patients becoming popular with younger consumers who frequent outdoor festivals, concerts and events,” says Cali Carter, marketing coordinator at Chino, Calif.-based Diamond Wipes International Inc., a wet wipes converter. “The idea of portable products as a complete bathing solution is resonating with both of these demographics for their ease of use, variety of product offerings, convenience and efficiency.”

While many bathing wipes are currently marketed mainly as a portable hygiene solution, Rosenberg points out that consumer advice from some experts to cut back on daily showers because of the potential skin damage they can cause could mean more opportunities for sales growth.

“This provides a unique positioning for bathing wipes because it expands the usage occasions to replace daily bathing at home in order to protect the skin,” Rosenberg says. “This takes the wipes beyond the realm of strictly being an on-the-go solution.”

Retailers also should ensure that own-brand wet wipe packaging answers questions shoppers might have about a product they want to use on their skin.

“Products should be displayed and promoted to get their message across while informing and educating the consumer,” Carter says. “Offering details on the product line regime, suitable times to use a product during the day, and offering customized products for different skin types will appeal to consumers.”

Claims on store brand wipes packaging that address sustainability can also grab shoppers. Any eco-friendly claims should be specific, though.

“As consumers get more ingredient-savvy, they are seeking products with more concrete natural claims such as ‘organic,’” Carter says. “This claim provides a distinct certification that will appease consumers more than a generic ‘natural’ claim,” she says, adding that around 70 percent of Americans are interested in buying greener products.

Do consider consumers’ desire for flushability and honest claims in wet wipe formulation.

Don’t ignore men when it comes to personal care wipes.

Do invest in packaging that enhances convenience and ease of use.

Don’t miss the chance to promote novel wipe usage occasions such as shower replacement.