High-tech lines refresh stale air-care segment

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Already growing at double-digit rates, the air-freshener business will add bluster with this fall's anticipated $50 million-plus push by Procter & Gamble Co. to extend the Febreze brand.

P&G will launch Febreze Air Effects spray air fresheners in aerosol cans (similar to those of category leader Glade and Wizard) and Febreze Scentstories, plug-in air fresheners that look like CDs and come at a heretofore unheard-of retail price close to $35.

The Febreze products, which ship in August, are the latest in a host of new forms that have made air fresheners a surprise growth engine in a supposedly sleepy household products category. Air fresheners have been the star performers among health and personal care categories over the past year, according to data from Banc of America Securities, with sales up double digits in 10 of the past 12 four-week periods through May 15.

The Febreze product launches are part of the trend pushing up sales and ad spending in the air freshener category, with ad spending up 32% in 2003.

Last year, SC Johnson, marketer of the category-leading Glade brand, launched Oust, aimed at going one better on masking of odors with a product the company claims kills odor-causing germs in the air. Reckitt Benckiser countered with Lysol NeutraAir. Combined, the two created a segment with $55 million in sales and ad spending of $48 million last year. Including sales at Wal-Mart Stores and club stores, sales were likely closer to $100 million.


To back its established Glade brand, SC Johnson spent $20 million behind two new gadgets-Glade Plug-Ins oil scents with built-in variable-speed fans and Glade Car, another oil-based air freshener that clips onto car vents.

For its part, Reckitt Benckiser restaged its U.S. Wizard brand as Air Wick, the name it goes by in most of the rest of the world, as a key part of the company's plans to concentrate spending on a streamlined group of global brands. Despite the risk of changing the brand name, the No. 2 brand gained on Glade.

In July, Reckitt aims to one-up Glade's variable-speed Plug-Ins with Air Wick Mobil Air, a mobile, battery-operated unit similarly designed for distributing scent across a whole room with a variable-speed fan but without being bound to a plug. An all-in-one replacement unit includes batteries and scented oil.

Development of air fresheners with fans has been "a big boost to the industry," says Rodney Northern, a former executive with SC Johnson and now managing partner of consultancy Nucleus Group.

`cleaning replacement'

About 30% to 40% of growth in the air freshener market is also driven by what might be called "home cleaning replacement," Mr. Northern says. Time-strapped, two-income couples may clean less often or less thoroughly, but also use air fresheners, "not to mask anything, but to add something different to a home that gives a feeling of cleaning-that somebody has done something here."

The new Febreze products, which retail executives say will get around $50 million in ad support from Grey Global Group, New York, breaking in September, could further boost category growth.

"This is a logical step for the Febreze brand," says a P&G spokeswoman. "Almost 70% of shoppers who buy Febreze Fabric Refresher are also frequent air-care product shoppers. The air-care category is a large, dynamic category with room to grow."