By Anam Hakeem
recently launched its fabric conditioner, Comfort, adding a new component to the laundry category. Pakistan
Globally, the fabric conditioner category is the fastest growing after detergents. In recent years success in this category has been focused on
South East Asia as owing to economic growth and rising incomes, developing markets have huge potential in terms of growth for the fabric conditioner category.
The dynamics of the fabric conditioner market are closely tied to those of detergents and according to Madiha Sheikh, Assistant Brand Manager, Comfort at Unilever Pakistan, the fabric conditioner category is best taken forward with laundry synergies. In a country like
, where five to 10% of households have been converting from laundry bars to detergents year-on-year and detergent penetration is about 99%, this was the right time to introduce a new laundry sub-category. Pakistan
“A fabric conditioner can easily ride on the back of the detergents category, which has matured,” says Sheikh.
According to Sheikh, research has indicated that Pakistani consumers have a latent need for fabric conditioner.
“The general public doesn’t just want stain removal and effective cleaning from a laundry detergent. They want their clothes to smell great and look bright.”
Comfort is targeted at consumers who use detergents (as opposed to those who use detergents and washing bars in conjunction). However, as there is also a Rs 10 sachet SKU (in addition to the 200 and 400 ml bottles), there is a chance that it may be picked up by other consumers as well. Sheikh says the brand wants to focus on housewives who purchase good quality detergent.
Comfort’s SKUs are different from those of Softlan, a brand manufactured by Colgate-Palmolive, and the only other significant player in the fabric conditioner category in
. Softlan also has a Rs 10 sachet but its larger SKUs include 500 ml and one-litre bottles. There is also a significant price difference between Comfort and Softlan. The 500 ml bottle of Softlan sells for Rs 100, whereas a 200 ml bottle of Comfort retails for Rs 110. Pakistan
Regarding the differences in price and SKUs, Sheikh clarifies that Unilever wanted to offer smaller bottles of Comfort to induce trial.
The higher price point is because Comfort is a concentrate while other brands are available in diluted form. Sheikh says that as a matter of global policy, Unilever is moving towards concentrates because “the Comfort concentrate gives a much better result, a ‘wow’ in the first use, which is needed to hook consumers. Furthermore, using a concentrate also helps drive Unilever’s sustainability agenda, as it requires less water, smaller packaging and thereby creates a more efficient use of resources.”
Unilever also faces competition from its own imported version of Comfort and a few other foreign brands that enter through the grey channel. Sheikh says that they will have to live with the fact that grey imports of their own brands will be part of the equation. The challenge that lies ahead for team Comfort is market development of a product category that is in its infancy. Unilever is aware of the challenge and is ready to invest, explains Sheikh.
“The ambition is to alter the laundry routine of Pakistani consumers by making them aware that detergents alone will not give superior results.”
Making the required breakthrough will require both time and money. Prior to Comfort’s launch, the majority of the small percentage of Pakistani consumers who were aware of fabric conditioners had either never used Comfort or were using it only for towels and baby clothes. As for the wider public, fabric conditioners are still not considered as essential to their laundry routine.
To overcome these issues, Comfort has based its selling proposition on the benefits of using laundry products, thus the tagline ‘Shine and fragrance that no detergent can deliver alone’ (although this is the same selling proposition that most detergents use). Comfort’s positioning is the premise that a conditioner will do what a detergent cannot do alone.
Sheikh is aware that for the habit change to occur, consumers need to be educated on a sustained basis, saying that fab-con education is a two-step process. Firstly, consumers need to understand why they should use it (the RTB or reason to believe). Secondly, they need to be told how to use it.
If the law of the mind (one of the infamous 22 immutable laws of branding), which says ‘it is better to be first in the mind rather than first in the marketplace’ is to be believed, Comfort may well reap the benefits of being the first to advertise fabric conditioners, (even though it was the second to launch in the category after Softlan). The development of the fabric conditioner category will also bring incremental growth to the detergents category and will benefit competing brands as well.
First published in the November-December 2011 issue of