NEW PRODUCTS ENTERING THE CYCLE

At times, it seems the proliferation of new fabric softeners and dryer sheets is more abundant than April showers. But retailers say product innovation, along with the corresponding television commercials and coupon drops, is key to building sales and maintaining consumer interest in the category.Here's what's new in the fabric softener and dryer sheet category.Industry leader Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati,

At times, it seems the proliferation of new fabric softeners and dryer sheets is more abundant than April showers. But retailers say product innovation, along with the corresponding television commercials and coupon drops, is key to building sales and maintaining consumer interest in the category.

Here's what's new in the fabric softener and dryer sheet category.

Industry leader Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, is beginning shipment of new Mountain Spring Downy dryer sheets today that are replacing its Sun Rain fragrance.

In May P&G also redesigned its Downy line so it is all merchandised in uniform packaging with different color caps and labels for various fragrances and varieties.

"Now consumers can easily tell the difference, because the caps are all different colors and the labels have different colors. It makes it easier for the consumer to find Downy and select the fragrance they like, and the retailers like it because it provides a better integration of the Downy line," said Mark Leaf, a P&G spokesman.

In May P&G also began shipping its Downy Ball to the retail trade. Long available as a mail-order premium, the Downy Ball is a reusable plastic orb, about the size of a tennis ball, that the consumer fills with liquid Downy and tosses into the machine at the beginning of the wash. During the rinse cycle the orb "magically" opens, dispensing the Downy at the appropriate time.

"The Downy Ball is good for people that have older machines without dispensers, and also for those consumers who do not trust their dispensers," said Leaf.

In April Dial Corp., Phoenix, introduced Purex Toss 'n Soft Singles dryer sheets in a Gentle Rain fragrance. Dial also introduced a line of Sta Puf liquids in April. In the East they are marketed under the Purex Sta Puf name, while in the West they are known as Purex Rinse 'n Soft.

Lever Bros., New York, a division of Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever, recently restaged its Snuggle line to improve the fragrance benefit with the new Cuddle Up and Morning Fresh scents. The company has also changed its sheets to a single-dispensing package.

"Our research shows that fragrance is the No. 1 benefit that users seek. We're now delivering a long-lasting freshness," said Christina Korduba, group brand manager at Lever Bros.