Laundry detergents – moving from flexible to rigid packaging

Taking the road not taken

Premium and middle large brands provide detergent in carton packaging. These can hold the product for long shelf life durations, resist damage and are easy to store and transport. Photo PSA

The packaging of washing detergents has undergone significant format and design transformation over the years owing to product development to meet consumer expectations and lifestyle changes. According to industry research, the penetration of washing machines in the estimated 40 million Indian households has risen from 4.8% in 2005 to 10% in 2015, and is optimistically estimated to rise to 20% by 2025. This ongoing change in housing conditions and lifestyles has compelled detergent manufacturers to come up with new and innovative ideas in terms of packaging and advertising.

Today, laundry detergents in both powder and liquid variants are one of the most basic urban and rural household necessities in India. Divided into three broad price ranges – premium, middle range, and popular – laundry detergents have gained prominence in households by gradually replacing laundry bars.

While the US$ 28.13 billion (Rs. 20,000 crore) laundry detergent market is still dominated by hand-washing, consumers are increasingly using washing machines. The market for powder and liquid detergents is expected to grow by 4% to 5% a year to reach US$ 5.62 billion (Rs 4,000 crore) by 2020.

The premium range of detergents includes Surf Excel by Hindustan Unilever and Ariel by P&G while Tide by P&G, Henko by FMCG, and Rin by Hindustan Unilever come in the middle range segment. The popular segment includes Wheel by Hindustan Unilever, Ghari by Kanpur-based RSPL and Nirma by the Ahmedabad-based Nirma group. While the premium brands are preferred by urban dwellers, the popular brands serve the rural areas. In addition, the major brands are facing erosion of their market share to local players.

Standup pouches – a mass favorite

Flexible packaging emerges as the most popular choice for laundry detergents ever since the product was launched in the market. It is easy to carry, store, and ship in comparison to other forms of packaging such as cans and cartons – the original forms of laundry detergent packaging.

Over the years, manufacturers have tweaked the packaging to adapt it to the changing mindset of consumers. Flexible pouches are easy to store but they do not remain upright when put on the shelf and may spill the contents. This is when standup pouches were introduced. They allow the user to place the product easily in a standing position, thus reducing chances of spillage. In the case of liquid detergents, standup pouches with spouts make an ideal choice for economical yet effective packaging, especially in smaller quantity variants. Surf Excel, a Unilever product, uses standup pouches for its liquid laundry detergent.

Taking a different route

While in most consumer product segments, manufacturers are moving from rigid to flexible packaging, the laundry detergent segments seems resistant to the idea. More and more detergent brands are shifting towards rigid packaging from flexible packaging. While flexible packaging makes sense in smaller variants, the packaging solution is impractical for storing laundry detergent powder and liquid in bulk.

Plastic containers make an ideal choice in case of liquid detergents as they allow easy storage and transportation, security and refillablity. Tide, Surf Excel, and Ariel prefer plastic containers for their liquid detergents. The bottles by Tide and Ariel are shaped like a typical vase for easy grip from the neck and come with a handle to hold it securely in slippery bathroom conditions.

Living up to consumer expectations

Most brands prefer carton packaging to pack large volumes of their product for consumers who like to buy laundry detergent powder in bulk. Being a sturdy and solid packaging solution, cartons offer longer shelf storage and protect the contents securely while resisting damage. They also allow easy storage and transportation at the manufacturer’s end reducing the overall shipping cost.

Understanding the changing trends in the market, manufacturers have come up with new ideas to live up to consumers’ expectations. Since carton packaging is difficult to carry, many brands have added a plastic handle on top to resolve the issue. Premium brands such as Ariel by P&G and Surf Excel by Unilever provide detergent in carton packaging with plastic handles on top. It adds to the functionality of the product while maintaining its appeal as a premium product in the market.

Evolving with social practice and technology

Nowadays, washing machines are common in every household and is considered a basic necessity. This is especially true in urban areas. Taking this as an opportunity to expand, many brands have introduced detergents compatible with washing machines. They are formulated to be used in all types of machines such as top load, front load, automatic, and semi-automatic.

Being aware of the potential of good packaging, manufacturers ensure that the packaging of detergents reflects the modern requirements of consumers. Earlier, the packaging showed the gentle formula of the product using flowers in the graphics This was a way to project that automated machine wash spares damage to the hands – something to lure the female demographic and especially mothers.

However, since washing machine use has become widespread, the graphics now abstractly show the steel mesh drum of the washing machine and its circular movement – reinforcing the idea that machines represent an aspirational modernity and that the product is especially compatible with washing machines. Lately, most brands – premium and middle range – depict the same idea on their packaging including Surf Excel, Ghari, Ariel, Rin, Tide, and Henko.

Major players such as Surf Excel and Ariel have changed the packaging of their products along with the technology of washing machines. Meanwhile, since washing machines are not yet widespread in rural areas, popular detergent brands have shown little or no change in their packaging over the years. Moreover, with the introduction of liquid detergents and bulk-sized packaging, manufacturers are opening up to different forms of packaging solutions such as standup pouches, plastic containers, and carton packaging.

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