COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

CINCINNATI -- Those supermarket operators that position their detergent aisles as a laundry-care center will benefit most from the growth in the category and best be able to compete with other classes of trade, according to an official with the nation's leading detergent manufacturer."There is a great opportunity for the retailer in thinking about the total laundry process as a merchandising opportunity,"

CINCINNATI -- Those supermarket operators that position their detergent aisles as a laundry-care center will benefit most from the growth in the category and best be able to compete with other classes of trade, according to an official with the nation's leading detergent manufacturer.

"There is a great opportunity for the retailer in thinking about the total laundry process as a merchandising opportunity," Charlie Pierce, vice president and general manager, U.S. Laundry Products at Procter & Gamble Co. here told SN.

"Historically we think of detergents as a class of product and fabric softeners as an entirely different class of product. If the retailer were to think about those as part of a system to solve the task of restoring used clothes back to ready-to-wear, like-new condition, there are certainly some merchandising opportunities there," Pierce said.

"For example, retailers should consider having a fabric softener, like Downy, cross-merchandised with Tide every time a detergent ad is run. They should sell the concept of the system to the consumer. While just about everybody in America uses laundry detergent, only about 2/3 of people use a fabric softener. There are certainly opportunities to expand total laundry product sales by capitalizing on some co-merchandising opportunities," he explained.

Pierce said laundry-care products are available in more types of retail outlets today than ever before, with everyone seeking a piece of the action.

"The key is for the grocer to understand and determine how to meet the needs of their shoppers with our types of products, as many grocers are doing successfully today. Many grocers have been awakened by the increase in business that some of these new formats are achieving, and the supermarkets are faring pretty well," Pierce said.

"Those retailers, first and foremost, are in touch with their shopper. They have learned the unique needs of their shopper which they can uniquely address, and compete better against the discounters and the other folks.

"The detergent category can be and should be an important tool in that effort because of the size of the category, frequency in which the category is shopped and the ability of high-reach items, like Tide, to draw in a very attractive shopper for the grocer. I think in many cases the grocer has more flexibility and opportunities than some of the other formats do because of the nature of the product offerings which they carry," Pierce said.

To assist retailers with building total category sales, P&G has developed a category-management program in which it is "actively working with many, many retailers" on improving the mix of the category.

"The biggest focus to date has been on efficient assortment and looking at the right mix; how many items ought to be in distribution to meet consumer needs and work for the retailer in performance for the entire category," Pierce said.

Changes in the culture and social fabric of the United States, such as the onset of "casual Fridays," bodes well for the fabric care industry and retailers who properly merchandise the category, Pierce said.

"As we look at trends on garment projections, certainly we would expect there to be a growth opportunity for the laundry detergent category. All of us are wearing more casual, machine washable clothing. For everyone who has casual Fridays, the odds are they wear something that can be thrown in the washing machine, vs. sent out to the dry cleaners. We expect to see some level of market growth due to that trend."