Richard Hopping
Richard Hopping is a Mintel Analyst specialising in researching and providing insight around UK brands across a number of different categories, notably Household Care.

The emergence of sustainable cleaning into the mainstream

Sustainability in the household care industry is not necessarily a new topic – prominent European eco brand Ecover was founded in 1979 with the mission of creating phosphate-free cleaning products.

However, in line with more recent wider consumer behaviours and attitudes, the issue has never been more relevant. As the perceived threat to the environment grows, there is no doubt that people are taking far more responsibility for the decisions they make than they used to.

This personal responsibility is encouraging people to make the best decisions they can, even in what were traditionally low-engagement categories like household care. In Italy, for example,  just over a third of eco-friendly household care product buyers have bought more compared to 12 months ago.

Source: Mintel GNPD

Build on engagement in the category

The importance of sustainability is dovetailing with something of a resurgence in the dynamism in the household cleaning space. Recent moves from Courtney Cox and Kris Jenner into the homecare space highlight the newfound ‘cool’ image that the industry has, building on the increased level of engagement that consumers have had since the start of the pandemic.

Source: Instagram

Although such moves may seem frivolous on the surface, they actually represent the number of eyes on the industry and the scale of the opportunity for brands that can get it right. Household care is being recognised as an opportunity to make money, and, perhaps even more critically long-term, to make a difference to the planet and society as a whole. Data from Mintel’s Sustainability Barometer shows the extent to which consumers consider that household care product manufacturers have a responsibility to protect the environment.

The environmental space is already becoming crowded

In Europe, the share of products carrying ethical/environmental claims in the hard surface cleaner category reached 71% in 2021, according to Mintel GNPD – which means that it is already proving to be a challenge to cut through to consumers with environmental positioning.

The launch of cleaners in concentrated formats has continued to take hold, creating the advantage of cutting down on the amount of plastic needed for packaging and encouraging reuse of existing plastic trigger spray bottles. Lower-cost own-label versions of these are now available in supermarkets like Tesco and Aldi, highlighting the fast rate of adoption.

Source: Mintel GNPD

The reduced shipping load of products in more compact formats such as concentrated cleaners are also considered to have an advantage when it comes to carbon. Eco2Pur’s cleaning tablets highlight its lower carbon emissions as well as reducing plastic waste.

Eco2Pur Bathroom & Toilet Cleaner aims to reduce plastic waste and carbon emission. Source: Mintel GNPD

Away from packaging, we have seen the emergence of brands trying to become more circular in their product creation, utilising waste ingredients from other industries as functional or fragrancing components in homecare products.

Via Verde Eco Primia Dishwashing Gel is made with biodegradable surfactants of vegetable origin obtained from residues of the food chain, such as sugar beet and wheat. Source: Mintel GNPD

Much of what we have already seen happening in this space is in mitigation – trying to ease the environmental impact that products have. While this might not be an end solution, it does represent a form of progress. But it’s important to recognise that consumers will urge for more ambition.

How the household cleaning industry can stand out in the future

Many companies in the cleaning space have made significant pledges about reducing their carbon or plastic footprints. It will be very important for those same companies to continually update consumers on those pledges, their progress and their plans to meet milestones as early as possible.

Context is everything though. Information and numbers without context or clarity will cloud the issue and make it more difficult for consumers to really engage. This will be particularly important for relatively new concepts like carbon, which consumers have limited experience of. Tangibility of claims is critical – in Germany and France, nearly three-quarters of household care buyers agree that brands should provide more proof of their eco-friendly claims.

No company can or should be expected to make significant changes by themselves. Instead, companies need to see themselves as part of a collective, even alongside competitors. Companies, governments and academics will all be critical players in this collective towards sustainability – working together can create real change and position household care as a leading industry towards a more sustainable future.

Cleaning Products Europe

Join Richard Hopping, Category Director, Household Care at Cleaning Products Europe in Prague, where he’ll be speaking on the future of sustainability in household cleaning products on the 29th March 2022.