In the laundry aisle, it can be challenging to differentiate your brand and products in a crowded marketplace. Beyond performance – an obvious must-have consumer expectation – the power of scent can provide the pivotal opportunity to activate shopper interest and deliver the winning “wow” factor. It’s no surprise that fragrance and laundry have long been intricately connected; scent plays a critical role in communicating “fresh and clean” messaging. Yet, how that message is presented can differ greatly, depending on the targeted consumer. When lifestyle trends converge with the exciting versatility of scent, the combination is potent: fragrance has the power to reinforce and elevate the product narrative, fueling purchase intent.
Looking ahead in 2019 and beyond, we expect to see fragrance driving the broader laundry category in three pivotal lifestyle trend areas: personalization, sensitivity, and eco-positioning. Each trend presents similar, yet uniquely different opportunities for fragrance development.
It’s All about Customization!
Long viewed as a mundane, functional chore in the home – albeit a necessary one – laundry has emerged to become (dare we say it!) both fun and playful, with scent leading the way. Never before have there been so many options for personalization in the category; the broad range of scented products available today is a true testament to the consumer’s desire for choice. From laundry detergent pods to scent boosters, the ability to both layer and mix-and-match fragrances now provides for virtually endless, highly customizable – and emotional – experiences.
“It’s a journey,” says Heather Killgo, vice president of perfumery at Arylessence. “Consumers are more engaged with fragrance than ever before and they’re looking for an experience that’s unique and meaningful to them. Allowing the consumer to personalize the ‘chore’ of laundry with a fun, custom fragrance experience creates an emotional connection, and can even instill a sense of pride.”
Michelle Harper, vice president of scent design at Arylessence, agrees. “For many consumers, they enjoy exploring a variety of scent options and finding the right combination that reflects their personal style and expression – it’s their signature scent.”
Scent boosters, in particular, are one of the key accelerators in the personalized laundry space. Essentially an innovative vehicle for fragrance delivery, scent boosters are credited for activating shopper enthusiasm in recent years and reinvigorating the category. Across the aisle, scent booster products continue to be introduced in both mainstream and specialty niche brands, featuring sophisticated scent stories – like Gain’s Moonlit Breeze Fireworks, for example – and are often ancillary extensions from core laundry programs. Beyond the customization aspect of fragrance, scent boosters deliver an additional product benefit: strength, and the ability to control it. This element is critical – the ability to “add a little or a lot” is the cornerstone of consumer choice and preference.
Another core tenet of strength is fragrance durability over time, with messaging around longevity (e.g. 12 weeks of freshness) being a key callout claim on recent laundry products in national advertising and at shelf. The ability to extend fabric freshness is of genuine concern for active and busy lifestyles, where laundry regimes may be intermittently done or clothing staples – such as jeans – are washed less frequently. This shifting norm is most evident in younger adults aged 18-34, with Mintela reporting above-average usage or interest in long-lasting scents (85% as opposed to 74% for the general population) and customized scents (81% to 66%, respectively) for this same cohort.
“Fragrance design and construction is a key factor in creating long-lasting scents with greater substantivity,” says Harper. “Of course encapsulation technology remains important, but we’re also experimenting with and evaluating the effect of new musk accords bolstered by earthy greens and rich amber notes for an added benefit. This also lends to the creation of uniquely natural odor profiles while providing extended scent delivery.”
Strength longevity also presents a pivotal value proposition that some category brands are fully leveraging: fragrance ecosystems. Procter & Gamble – who dominates the category with over 50% market share – has successfully created fragrance ecosystems across consumer products spanning the broader household category. Popular laundry scents like Gain Original and those from scent booster brand Unstopables can be layered and amplified across laundry products to neighboring fabric refreshers (and even air care!) – ensuring these experiences linger and last for the consumer.
“Because laundry is a highly fragranced category, scent migration to other scented formats isn’t a stretch, but an opportunity worth noting,” says Jennie Holub, director of marketing for Arylessence. “Scent is playing a critical role in making laundry fun, enjoyable, and an emotion-driven purchase for the consumer. As seen with both Gain and Unstopables, once the consumer is hooked on the fragrance, they’re more likely to adopt other products that share the same scent, as with wax melts or vehicle air fresheners. In this way, the ‘fresh and clean’ scent story continues well beyond laundry to activate consumer buying opportunities for other living spaces.”
Sensitive Doesn’t Mean Unscented!
Another pivotal opportunity for exciting fragrance development is within the sensitive laundry space, one that has experienced noticeable activity in the last several years. Shifting consumer focus on “better for you” ingredients and product formulations has permeated the broader CPG landscape, and laundry is no exception. Skin sensitivity is a valid concern for some consumers, with Mintel reporting that nearly three out of 10 adults worry about laundry products irritating their skin, making it a top-cited attitude in the laundry category. Responding to this specific consumer need – and focusing on simpler ingredient formulations and less overpowering scents – brands are rethinking the translation of fragrance to address the “fresh and clean” expectation of the sensitive laundry consumer.
It’s important to emphasize that “sensitive” does not always mean “unscented.” Instead, fragrance is strategically softened to both complement and support the sensitive laundry narrative. This evolving white space opportunity allows consumers who seek sensitive and hypoallergenic formulations the ability to experience scent without completely removing it – as with neighboring free and clear formats. In the past the choice was relatively all or nothing, with little room for compromise. Similar to the key takeaway from scent boosters, many sensitive laundry consumers still seek fragrance as a key communicator of freshness and cleanliness – they just prefer scent less amplified.
“Stronger isn’t always better,” says Killgo. “A well-balanced fragrance can relay both ‘good for you’ messaging and still deliver the ‘fresh and clean’ proposition. Soft and delicate white florals paired with clean, soft musks expertly support sensitive claims.”
“There are new options in play, as well,” adds Harper. “Beyond the ‘tried-and-true’ accords from Tide and Gain, we see notes like fresh-cut pineapple, creamy coconut, white amber, and natural woods moving beyond supporting roles to become central stories within new fabric care introductions. Similarly, the comforting nature of sensitive platforms lends beautifully to floriental directions, a trending type in fine fragrance. Here, themes of comforting, caring, luxury, and simplicity can all be achieved through this sensual olfactive family – and strategically resonate across a broad range of consumer demographics.”
Better for You, Better for the Environment
The last – and perhaps one of the most influential laundry trend movements – is eco-positioning. As sustainability themes and social responsibility continue to remain a critical focus area for consumers – especially Millennials and Gen Z – brands are swiftly responding with newer eco-positioned products in market, with messaging strategically reinforced by fragrance.
One of the most important pillars of the eco trend is environmentally safe formulations. Here, greater emphasis is placed on bio- or plant-based ingredient stories. Products tout specific percentages of their formulation makeup, such as with Gain Botanicals (“made from 65% plant-based ingredients”) or Tide PurClean (“75% plant-based”). Similarly, “free from” claims are paramount to “good for the environment (and ultimately you!)” product messaging. Phosphates, chlorine, dyes, parabens, and other ingredients potentially perceived as harmful have been removed and are proudly noted on pack. In this way, eco-positioned laundry products align expertly with the broader wellness trend.
“It’s an overarching wellness story for sure,” claims Holub. “Consumer interest in product sustainability and transparency is closely tied to health and wellness – for both the environment and, more importantly, the individual. Consumers feel positive about their buying decisions knowing that their purchase is making a difference for their families and the earth. In fact, from a recent national survey conducted by Arylessence of 1,000 consumers who purchase/use ‘natural’ cleaning products – including laundry – 62% of respondents claim they do so because they believe they are healthier for themselves and their families than traditional mainstream products – this was the #1 response. The second highest reason, at 55%, is the claim they are safer for the environment. These results align with similar findings we’re seeing from national research firms in the market.”
For eco-positioned laundry care, the term ‘natural’ is closely linked. “Across the consumer landscape,” Holub adds, “we continue to see products implying wellness benefits in tandem with eco-positioning and ‘natural’ platforms. In fact, ‘natural’ is a buzzword that continues to garner serious attention – with obvious health and environmental implications – yet how it’s defined remains largely inconsistent. Brands and products should take genuine care in authentic messaging when it comes to ‘natural’ because it can be quite confusing and ambiguous for consumers. From our same survey, we discovered nearly half of respondents define ‘natural’ products as ‘healthier for you, with better ingredients, but not necessarily all-natural.’ These results are a testament to the divided interpretation consumers have with the term, and also align with similar market research. Although there are definitely purists in the space, for many consumers, ‘natural’ simply implies that the product has better ingredients, but it’s not 100% all-natural.”
Consumers’ personal definition of natural has implications for fragrance, as well. With so much attention given to product labels and what’s not in the formulation, ingredients that are included should be valid and purposeful – including fragrance. “When you say natural, everyone has an expectation of what that smells like,” says Killgo. “A fragrance creation needs to support that expectation whether it’s made with man-made materials or naturally derived aroma compounds. The confusion for consumers is that a perceived natural product – knowing it’s most likely not 100% all-natural – may or may not have a natural fragrance in it. Both man-made and naturally derived fragrances can equally work – depending on the consumer’s tolerance – but they should also earnestly support the eco proposition; there is little room for fantasy. Instead, these consumers are seeking simple and direct fragrance offerings with raw, earthy relevance: herbals like lavender, rosemary, and basil, fresh greenery, aromatic woods, and clean citrus.”
“There’s an aromatherapy attribute to eco products, as well,” adds Harper. “The pervasive fanaticism of consumers who are passionate about essential oils is witnessed across scented products in the marketplace. Essential oils and similar naturally derived compounds are a perceived gateway to mental and physical wellness; this purchasing driver is definitely here to stay. Furthermore, stories around how these fragrance ingredients are made and sourced – such as organic claims and fair or ethical trade – also play a strategic role in the broader eco narrative.”
With so much care and concern given to the sourcing journey of the product, consumers are willing to pay up for higher quality laundry ingredients and fragrance experiences. Fortuitously then, eco-positioned products expertly tap into premium and luxury themes, where natural and organic ingredients are more common. Specialty niche brands such as Seventh Generation or The Honest Co. are perfect examples of brands leveraging this approach. Yet, despite the premium brand-name appeal, there is still exciting potential for eco-positioned fragrances within private label offerings, as well.
“Store brands remain a key opportunity area for retailers in the growing eco space,” says Holub. “As consumer acceptance continues to grow – and as performance, quality, and value perceptions become more on par with mainstream products – we see retailers tapping into natural and environmental themes with private label offerings, much like Kroger’s Simple Truth, specialty grocers like Whole Foods Market, and Sprout’s Farmers Market. Sustainability, authenticity, and free-from claims remain central pillars, but the fragrance and concept have to align with consumer expectation to truly make an impactful eco lifestyle connection.”
As the laundry aisle continues to evolve moving into 2019 and beyond, performance and innovation will remain essential must-haves for the category, but it’s through strategic fragrance design where pivotal lifestyle trend connections will be made and drive brand success.
In addition to the personalization, sensitive, and eco-positioned trend opportunities, continued focus on extending the life of scent and eliminating targeted malodors will also provide springboards for exciting new fragrance development. Similarly, look for a greater emphasis on the premiumization factor, where both naturally derived fragrance ingredients and fine fragrance inspirations such as florientals will gain momentum and expand their influence within laundry care and beyond.
a Mintel Group Ltd. “Home Laundry Products – US” August 2018