ELECTRASOL TABS AIMING TO TAKE ON P&G'S CASCADE: BENCKISER BRINGS DISHWASHER DETERGENT TABLETS INTO U.S. MARKET

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Benckiser Consumer Products, traditionally a low spender in the U.S. dishwasher detergent category, is upping the ante with a new product and an ad budget it promises will match or exceed that of market leader Cascade.

The extension of the Electrasol brand will introduce the U.S. to automatic dishwasher detergent in tablet form, a popular alternative in Europe.

Electrasol Tabs "will receive massive advertising and marketing support," said Jack Weekes, VP-marketing. "We've made a major commitment to daytime and prime-time" TV.

Advertising starts in October.

MATCHING P&G'S SPENDING

Mr. Weekes wouldn't specify a spending total but said it would at least to match that of Procter & Gamble Co.'s Cascade. Given that P&G's measured spending on Cascade was $16 million last year, that's a huge investment for Benckiser. Electrasol's sales were only about $56 million, according to Information Resources Inc., for the 52 weeks ended April 27.

Along with a TV campaign, couponing and hand-delivered door-to-door samples are planned. Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York, is the agency.

Creative hasn't been determined yet, but it will include the statement, "Introducing the next dimension of clean," also flagged on packages of Electrasol Tabs that will be on store shelves by August.

The tablet form of automatic dishwasher detergent may be new here but it's already established in Europe. Tablets account for more than half the dollar sales in the category in Austria and Germany and nearly 43% in the Netherlands, according to Benckiser.

The packaging will also be new to the U.S. Electrasol Tabs will come in canisters with a peel-back freshness seal. Inside the canister are premeasured, individually wrapped, two-layer tablets. The small canister contains 15 tablets at a suggested retail price of $2.49; the 26-tab version is priced at $3.79.

The blue layer is an enzyme that Mr. Weekes said gives the product superior cleaning power.

Although Benckiser said it is the worldwide leader in automatic dishwasher detergents, its value-price and largely unadvertised Electrasol brand is a relatively small factor here.

CASCADE CLAIMS 49% SHARE

P&G's Cascade led the $490 million automatic dishwasher detergent category with a 49% share for the 52 weeks ended April 27, according to IRI. Lever Bros.' Sunlight was No. 2 with 19.3%. Electrasol's share was 11.4%.

With the new product, Benckiser is hoping to start a revolution.

"New Electrasol Tabs will change the North American dishwashing detergent industry forever," said Doug Meyer, president of Benckiser North America.

But although P&G, Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Lever have the tablet technology, they may not be so quick to roll it out here, said Burt Flickinger, a consultant with Reach Marketing.

Part of the reason for tablets, popularity in Europe is the close living quarters with limited cabinet space, Mr. Flickinger said, noting that some tablet-based clothing detergents, like P&G's Salvo and Colgate's Fab One Shot, didn't work in the U.S.

Retooling factories to make tablets "may not pay out," he said.

He also noted that the critical factor will be whether Benckiser sustains ad spending for Electrasol, "a brand that has no voice now."

OTHER RIVALS ARE KEY

It will be hard for Electrasol to carry through its promise to top Cascade's outlays, given P&G's history of hiking ad spending to blunt competitive new products, Mr. Flickinger said.

He noted that the key to a U.S. launch of a tablet dishwasher detergent from P&G would be the entry of another competitor into the segment.

"If one other [competitor] goes [into tablets], P&G, Lever and Colgate will all

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