The moves by Germany's Henkel to ally with Dial Corp. and Japan's Kao Corp. to license a new product to S.C. Johnson & Son open new fronts in the global package-goods war.
Although some observers debate how much threat Henkel and Kao pose to P&G in the U.S., the two are big enough threats globally that they enjoy special status in P&G's agency conflict policy, along with archrivals Unilever and Kimberly-Clark Corp.
"As the global game plays out, P&G has to be as conscious of them over here, as they are increasingly of [P&G] over there," said Gary Stibel, principal with New England Consulting Group. "They are a threat. . . . You may be seeing a harbinger of what's to come."
But Wendy Nicholson, analyst with Salomon Smith Barney, said Henkel's and Kao's recent moves don't add up to much of an issue for P&G.
"Each of those businesses already has a U.S. operation, so I'm not sure why strategic alliance[s] would necessarily make them a bigger threat to Procter," Ms. Nicholson said.
ACQUIRING CUSTOM CLEANER
Henkel last week announced that its U.S. joint venture with Dial had bought Custom Cleaner home dry-cleaning kits.
The small, lightly marketed brand was developed by Consumer Products Resources and actually beat P&G's highly touted new Dryel into distribution by two years.
A repackaged Custom Cleaner is expected in U.S. and European stores this fall, a few months after P&G's Dryel rollout.
Observers also indicate that Dial/Henkel may be nearing the launch of an upgraded version of Purex laundry detergent, likely to be backed by the brand's first media advertising in more than a decade.
DDB Worldwide, whose New York office handles other Dial brands and whose German affiliate handles Henkel brands, appears likely to land both assignments.
Henkel also may be preparing to bring detergent tablets to the U.S. from Europe, where they've become a hot segment for several marketers, including Unilever and P&G.
Both Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive Co. have discussed with some retailers the possibility of rolling tablet detergents into the U.S., but P&G sales reps have downplayed tablets' potential to retailers.
In the '60s, P&G marketed a tab called Salvo, which didn't dissolve fully in some washing machines and was discontinued.
ROLLING OUT PLEDGE GRAB-IT
Henkel's moves follow Kao's agreement to license its Japanese electrostatic dust mop and cleaning cloths to S.C. Johnson, which plans to roll out the product as Pledge Grab-It fast on the heels of P&G's similar Swiffer cleaning system, which began hitting store shelves last week.
For its part, P&G says it isn't concerned about Henkel and Kao offering rivals to Dryel and Swiffer.
"It's what we expected," a P&G spokesman said. "Overall, competition is going to be good, especially since we're building new categories. . . . It reinforces everything that our research said -- that these are big ideas and there's potential to make a lot of money off of them."
Though P&G is the dominant player in laundry detergents with nearly a 60% share of the $4.5 billion category, an upgraded Purex would more likely challenge other mid-tier players, said Ken Harris, partner with consultancy Cannondale Associates.
ALSO AFTER SAM'S
An improved Purex also could help Dial fend off a new threat from Wal-Mart Stores' detergent brand, Sam's American Choice, which has begun rolling out into its stores.
Dial does a disproportionate 17% of its business in Wal-Mart, said Sue Riley, Dial's senior VP-chief financial officer, at a conference hosted by Salomon Smith Barney in May.
Henkel, in addition to its venture with Dial, also owns a substantial stake in Clorox Co., which recently entered the $250 million fabric-refresher category started by P&G's Febreze.
Ultimately, the growing presence of such European retailers as Ahold and Sainsbury in the U.S. could help Henkel, said John Bess, a longtime P&G executive, former president of International Home Foods and a consultant with Price Waterhouse Coopers.
As Mr. Stibel noted: "There is no more U.S. There's just the American segment of