Clean living to get easier

March 09, 2011

New consumer-driven approaches to laundry will reinvent the department for a convenient, greener future.

Imagine a laundry aisle that has no heavy packages, that is supremely space-efficient, and whose detergents, bleaches, softeners and allied products are tailored to local water conditions. We expect the new laundry area would also be much kinder to the environment. 

This could happen before long, predicts The Lempert Report, because the physical act of carrying laundry products home is a burden to some and an annoyance to many. Concentrated formulas have reduced the problem, but not eliminated it. Concentrates have also had a limited effect on the environmental issue.

For retailers, a reconfigure of this department would free valuable shelf space. It would also create more room in carts for additional items, and perhaps more room in shoppers’ minds to buy more because the total load would be easier to transport.

How do we think the department would change? In a word, radically.  

People would aim to get a better wash result and wash experience through a mix of components - detergents, bleaches, softeners - that comes to their homes in a pre-blend. This pre-blend would be determined after tests of a home’s water and plumbing, and perhaps with knowledge of the kinds of clothes worn by the household.  

The pre-blend would be delivered to homes in cartridges. Once empty, people would recycle these cartridges much like they recycle copier toner cartridges today - by mail to manufacturer-run recycling centers, or drop-off at the nearby supermarket’s recycling center.   This task might be necessary once every several months—not nearly the frequency of lugging containers today. Think of all the plastic packages and physical stress avoided.

To capture category revenue in this newly convenient world for laundry consumers, supermarkets would need to position themselves as intermediaries. People who drop off their old cartridges could first pre-order their own custom-blend replacement cartridges from the supermarket. Their individual mix would be tracked within their customer history. 

Also, to capture purchasers of new washers and dryers, supermarkets should ‘detail’ major appliance dealers and earn the local position as the laundry cartridge destination in town. 

All of this would have supermarkets serving as more than passive distributors of laundry packages. CPG and retailers will work out the details on branding, pricing, logistics and more - it will be eminently manageable.

Consumer-centricity will drive this easier future of clean living. The trade will simply have to adapt.