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Line extensions for specific cleaning tasks are spurring growth among branded products in the broad hard-surface household cleaners market.

These "improvements," accompanied by new technology, price cuts and a healthier economy, have cut into the private-label growth that took root during the economic slowdown in the early '90s, says Andrew Shore, managing director at PaineWebber.

Comet, leader among abrasive cleaners, has been revived the last two years with line extensions that include a liquid gel with bleach and a bathroom cleaner spray. The extensions are P&G's response to market surveys that showed powdered cleaners were not convenient at a time when consumers are spending less time on cleaning chores.

In the highly fragmented market, abrasive/cleansers recorded revenue of $198.4 million, up 3.8% (Comet holds a 39% share); household cleaners, $446.8 million, down 2.6% (Comet has 2.6% share); and sprays, $720.4 million, up 0.9% (Comet has 5.1%), according to IRI.

P&G also continued to support concentrated "ultra" line extensions among household cleaners, spending $5.7 million in media on Mr. Clean Ultra liquid cleaner and $4.7 million on Spic & Span Ultra liquid cleaner.

Sales of Mr. Clean rose 8.5% to $72.4 million, ranking it third at 16.2%; Spic & Span sales dropped 13.8% to $40.7 million, ranking it fourth at 9.1%.

These two brands trailed Clorox Co.'s Pine Sol, with 17.3% of the household cleaner market, and segment leader Lysol, now owned by Reckitt & Colman (with its purchase of L&F Products from Eastman Kodak Co. in 1994).

Sales at Clorox, No. 1 among hard-surface cleaner marketers with a 23.6% overall share, epitomize the listless market-a collective $322 million, down 2.7%, for Pine Sol, Clean Up, Soft Scrub, Formula 409 and Tilex.

Among abrasives, Soft Scrub sales fell 6.3% to $74.4 million, cutting its share 4 points to 37.5% and opening the door for Comet to take the top spot at 39%, up 6.2 share points. In fact, Comet was the only abrasive among the top 10 in the segment to gain in sales.

Clorox' sprays, Formula 409 and Tilex, couldn't keep pace with market leader Windex from S.C. Johnson & Son. Sales of Windex, available in glass cleaner and clear glass & surface cleaner versions, jumped 26.4% to $116.7 million, giving it 16.2% of sprays. Media support also doubled to $15.2 million.

Also following Windex's lead were the sprays from DowBrands, which had uninspiring sales figures. DowBrands consolidated its $100 million integrated marketing budget for all its household brands last November at Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis.

One company with a different marketing theme is Colgate-Palmolive Co., for its Murphy's oil soap products. Ads tout Murphy's as a "safe" household cleaner, a tactic not employed by other major competitors. Murphy's is pH-neutral. Most household cleaners are in the alkaline range and may tarnish aluminum if too akaline.

The Colgate strategy appears to be boosting sales. For calendar year 1994, Murphy's sales grew 13.7% to $15.2 million, placing it eighth among IRI's household cleaners at a 3.4% share. But the marketer seems stuck on what to do with Ajax. Sales are evaporating, slipping 9% to $23.7 million for a 11.9% share in '94. The product lacks extensions and media support, the latter hitting only $87,000. The Ajax brand hasn't pulled seven-figure media support since 1991.

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