P&G, Unilever defend dishwasher turf

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Unilever's Sunlight brand and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Cascade are fending off Benckiser's Electrasol Tabs with their own new-product entries in a $522 million dishwasher detergent category that's become fiercely competitive in the past year.

Starting in January, Unilever will back its new Sunlight Dishwasher Detergent Tablets with the first media advertising for the brand in several years, including TV, print and newspaper coupons from BBDO Worldwide, New York. Spending wasn't disclosed.

The move follows the launch of P&G's Cascade Plus, featuring an oxygen bleaching system to remove caked-on foods. It is available in powder only and sold alongside regular Cascade powder. Cascade Plus is backed by TV and print ads from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, as part of Cascade's existing $20 million "Mom knows best" campaign for the brand.


Still waiting in the wings is Cascade Power Tabs, P&G's own entry into the tab segment, which began test marketing in March in Omaha, Neb. Since P&G test markets generally run at least a year, the Cascade tabs aren't likely to roll national until sometime in the second half of 1999 at the earliest.

The belated activity comes as P&G and Unilever respond to share lost to Benckiser since its launch of Electrasol Tabs in the summer of 1997, backed by a $20 million campaign of its own.

All three competitors have marketed tablet versions of their products in Europe for several years, but Electrasol got the jump in the U.S., breathing new life into the brand.

For the 52 weeks ended Sept. 27, Electrasol sales were up 56.4% to $92.5 million, according to Information Resources Inc., catapulting the brand past Sunlight to the No. 2 category position and accounting for virtually all growth in the category.

Cascade sales, meanwhile, were up 3.6% to $254.8 million in the same period. Sunlight sales slid 9.3% to $83.1 million.


Unilever is positioning Sunlight tabs as "triple action," formulated to remove stuck-on foods from dishes, eliminate tough stains and fight spots and streaking, therefore eliminating the need for a rinse aid.

That's a veiled shot at Electrasol, which also markets Jet Dry rinse aid.

Packages also claim Sunlight tabs dissolve completely in the dishwasher, countering a problem some consumers have had with Electrasol tabs.

Sunlight's tabs are priced the same as Electrasol's, though Benckiser has lowered retail prices through aggressive trade promotions in the past year, retailers said, in anticipation of tab rollouts from its bigger rivals.

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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