The trouble with wet wipes: will the “Fine to flush” certification help consumers and brands?

Plastic pollution has stirred up the public in the last few years and has become an issue consumers are genuinely concerned about. Wet wipes are a major part of the problem, as they contain plastic, which ends up in the ocean. Their widespread use can also seriously affect the sewerage. Last year BBC cited Water UK, which had measured that 93% of blocked UK sewage pipes are caused by wet wipes

Wet wipes are a hugely popular product. Using a multi-answer steer we asked 508 consumers what kinds of wet wipes they had bought in the last six months, according to application:

The results make it clear that wet wipes are widely used for both cleaning and personal hygiene purposes. Manufacturers and retailers have been exploring solutions to the environmental proble, which would allow consumers to keep using the convenient product. In their efforts to preserve sales, some brands have used claims that their wipes are “flushable” but failed the water industry’s disintegration tests last year. As a result many consumers distrust “flushable” claims. In a simple choice steer we asked 510 consumers to choose between two identical packs of wet wipes, each accompanied by a different claim:

There is a 26-percentage-point preference for “biodegradable” over “flushable” wet wipes, likely due to the latter claim not seen as reliable.

In response to both water industry’s and consumers’ worries, this January Water UK introduced a standard to regulate “flushable” claims. Subsequently, only one branded product on the market managed to secure itself the “Fine to flush” logo – a mark for passing Water UK’s test.

Coming next, a line of wet wipes by Waitrose became the first private label product to be certified in August. The retailer has announced that the products will soon carry the “Fine to flush” logo, which we were interested to test in terms of influence over shopping decisions. We ran a split-by-image steer showing two different images accompanied by an identical description to two distinct groups of respondents. One of the images featured the ‘Fine to flush’ logo, while the other did not:

With the certified product scoring five percentage points higher than the uncertified one, it appears the logo puts some shoppers’ mind at ease. Waitrose should aim to display the “Fine to flush” logo on packaging as soon as possible to take advantage of a more sustainable positioning.

Could this, in turn, justify a price increase? We asked 501 Waitrose customers, who had confirmed they buy wet wipes, how much they would pay for the flushable wet wipes, not featuring the certification:

The profit maximising price at a unit cost of £0.60 is £1.10. Slightly below 70% of Waitrose shoppers would buy the product at the price. This corresponds to the current retail price of the product, confirming that the retailer has priced it appropriately. To find out whether consumers would accept a price increase if the logo is in place, we ran another Qualified ‘Would Pay’ steer, asking Waitrose consumers how much they would pay for the flushable wet wipes, featuring the logo:

The profit maximising price remained £1.10 after adding the certification mark, however the proportion of consumers who would buy the product increased to about 76% from 69%. It is likely that the retailer would manage to offset certification expenses by boosting sales figures rather than increasing the retail price. 

To confirm these findings, we ran a reference pricing steer, aiming to determine the best price for the newly ‘Fine to flush’-certified wipes, based on a competing product. We used for a reference product the Natracare branded ‘Fine to flush’ certified moist tissues, sold in Waitrose for £2.00:

The profit maximising price has increased to £1.40 but fewer consumers would buy the product – under 50%. As Waitrose stocks Natracare’s flushable wipes, it is likely that the retailer could lose some of the potential private label sales to this familiar brand.

Vypr can gauge the potential of a product claim, based on measuring consumer attitude and awareness by testing purchase intention rather than asking attitudinal questions. Discovering consumer preferences indirectly by comparing products is Vypr’s way of obtaining objective answers and revealing insights into consumer behaviour.

The new Cif Ecorefill: how much would consumers pay for sustainability?

Unilever’s Cif Power & Shine cleaning range has just added new Ecorefill bottles to its lineup with the aim to “dramatically cut plastic use and transport emissions”, according to a related company press release. Each Ecorefill is a 70ml fully recyclable plastic bottle containing ten times more concentrated kitchen or bath cleaning detergent, intended to be diluted with water in the consumer’s existing regular Cif Power & Shine trigger spray bottle through an innovative ‘twist and click’ technology. Usage instructions state: “simply fill the bottle with ordinary tap water, twist and click the ecorefill and concentrated liquid is seamlessly released into the bottle”.

The manufacturer has claimed that diluting the product at home would mean “97% less water being transported, 87% fewer trucks on the road and less greenhouse gas emissions” and promised that diluting would have no effect on product performance. Most importantly, the refill bottle is made from 75% less plastic, which reflects commitments within the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan to ensure all plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Last week the refills were introduced in Sainsbury’s at the promotional price of £1.50 but Grocery Trader reported that the RRP of the new products would be £2.50 after the promotional period ends. This price is lower than Power & Shine original sprayers, with RRP of £3.30, but is it low enough for the consumers to switch to refilling their old bottle? We were interested in establishing which price would make best profit for the company while keeping consumers satisfied.

Vypr has two types of pricing steers and we ran both of them for the Ecorefill in order to compare results. The reference pricing steer compares the new product with an existing option, aiming to establish how much consumers are ready to pay for the new launch based on pricing information regarding the existing product. In this case we considered that comparing the refill with the original sprayer bottle would be most informative for consumers, helping them to understand what the product is. We selected a £2.30 price for the reference product, as at the moment this represents the average in retail. The graph below shows the result obtained:

In the descriptions of both the reference product and the new launch we included the fact that each lasts for 583 cleans, to make sure that consumers understand that the options are comparable, despite the much smaller size of the refill. The result highlighted a profit maximising price of £1.90, provided that the unit cost is anything below £1.35. Under these circumstances, around 57% of our consumer community would buy the product, compared to 32% who would buy it at £2.30 and 22% – at the suggested RRP of £2.50.

Qualified ‘Would Pay’ Pricing uses a different method for enquiring about best price. It first asks a qualifier question, which in this case was “Do you buy cleaning products?”, followed by a pricing question. The panel was in this way narrowed down to people who buy cleaning products and are, therefore, likely to recognise the brand due to its popularity.

This steer gave us a similar profit-optimising price of £2, provided that the unit cost is below £1.40. In this scenario 71% of our panel would buy the product, compared to only 35% of people willing to buy it at £2.50. As a take-away, it seems that consumers require to be able to make a more substantial saving when they opt for refill products, therefore brands need to consider rewarding shoppers more for reusing their old bottle in an effort to reduce plastic waste. 

Once consumers get to know the new refill products and are convinced that they are as effective as the original spray, they might be likely to opt for promotional packages comprising a sprayer bottle and refill. We took at look at what the best price for such offers would be. The RRP of the original spray is £3.30 but it is sold by Sainsbury’s at a regular price of £3, currently running a promotion at £2. The price of the refill is expected to vary between the promotional price of £1.50 and the RRP of £2.50. In a reference steer we used a Cif Power & Shine Bathroom Spray priced at £2.50 as a reference product, obtaining the following result:

The profit maximising price for the promotional pack is £3.50, assuming that the unit cost is £2.50. The ratio of consumers who would buy it at this price is low, at 22%. The Qualified ‘Would Pay’ Pricing steer for the pack had a similar result:

Around 25% would buy the pack at £3.50 and around 19% – at £4. The only method to attract a majority of consumers is to include the refill for free in the pack as part of the promotion. 65% of our panel would buy the pack for £2.50.

Unilever has stated that according to its research two-thirds of the public felt guilty when throwing away plastic and shoppers were looking for easy switches that can have a positive impact on the environment. The question arises whether consumers are indeed ready to pay more for sustainable products. Practicality is leading in consumers’ choices of household products and companies should aim to market refills as good value. Unilever is aware of this principle and seems to be willing to incorporate it in its new Cif Ecorefill range, although our analysis shows hitting their target pricing may be a struggle.

Grocery refill stations – will Waitrose’s trial be successful?

The fight against plastic pollution has put pressure on supermarkets to reduce packaging, mostly resulting in more loose fruit and vegetables being made available. Waitrose has recently made a further step in this direction, attempting to spark a refill culture among mainstream shoppers. The supermarket chain has chosen a store in Oxford for an 11-week trial in which customers can fill their own containers with groceries, rather than buying packaged products.

As part of the campaign, Waitrose’s Botley Road store in Oxford offers a wide range of products for shoppers to refill their own containers with. In-store interviews, conducted by the BBC, have highlighted positive initial reactions to the overall idea. However, it is likely that some product categories will be more successful than others, especially in an eventual nationwide launch of the format.

In order to establish the most likely winners and losers we ran a multi-answer steer, asking our consumer community which products they would buy from a refill station at a supermarket. From the results obtained, we determined the mean based on which we calculated the likelihood of purchase in each product category:

Pasta, cereal, and rice are the top three categories, with consumers more likely to make refill purchases. Being basic everyday staples, these products could potentially make a difference if sold packaging-free. ‘Loose fruit and vegetables’ is fourth, which is not a surprise, considering that most supermarkets have been making an effort to promote packaging-free options in the segment.

Accepting 5% above the mean as a cut off point in consumers’ willingness to use a refill service for a type of product, we think that the remaining categories are not yet ripe for grocery refill services. Certainly this could change in future with shoppers becoming more familiar with the format and its environmental benefits.

To reward shoppers for making an effort for the cause, Waitrose is offering a 15% discount on unpackaged products. Additionally, the refill format gives consumers the opportunity to buy as much or as little as they need. While the purpose of Waitrose’s refill campaign is promoting sustainability, its customers could also be influenced by other factors. To establish whether this is the case, we ran a single-answer steer, giving our consumer community four options, including ‘None of these’ to account for possible rejecters:

44% of consumers pointed out that packaging reduction was their main motive, while 35% made the 15% discount their single choice. The discount offered makes a difference for a substantial part of the community. The likely rejecters of refill services, choosing ‘None of these’, were around 5% of our panel. 

Waitrose have made an informed decision in selecting Oxford for its refill campaign. As described in the BBC’s interviews, Oxford is eco-conscious and Waitrose has taken note. Based on the single steer results above, we attempted to establish where in the UK such campaigns are most likely to succeed. The table below shows ‘None of these’ responses by region in order to highlight the places with less rejecters:

North West, Northern Ireland and North East had no rejecters in our steer. In Northern Ireland the discount offered had twice as much influence as packaging reduction, while a substantial 65% of our North East consumer community opted for the latter. 

Waitrose’s refill campaign is an innovation in mainstream retail. Grocery refill might take time to become popular, however, retailers could make an effort to both inform and reward consumers for shopping sustainably. We think that the format should be implemented gradually, starting from pasta, cereal and rice refill stations in the regions with high acceptance. Staples that consumers buy frequently are both more likely to be successful in a refill format and would make a bigger difference in respect of sustainability, due to frequency of purchase.

Which scents sell air fresheners?

In general, consumers tend to make relatively traditional choices in air freshener fragrances. However, preferences often have a seasonal angle, which could inspire scent innovation in the segment. Air fresheners are often grouped in fragrance families, most popular of which are linen, floral, fruity, gourmet, outdoor and tropical. High end perfumery could also influence some more upscale offerings.

We selected ten popular room fragrances and asked consumers whether they would buy air fresheners featuring them. The result is summarised in the graph below:

Spring and cherry blossom scored highest, with over 80% of the panel responding positively. Both options are floral fragrances, clearly associated with the spring season. They are followed by vanilla, a classic gourmand scent, relevant in every season.

Orange & grapefruit comes next in terms of popularity, associated with invigorating properties and the summer season, whereas the lavender option, mostly perceived as relaxing, scored much lower with 70%.

Coconut, which is trending in new air freshener launches, was not able to make it to our top five. Influenced by high popularity in personal care, the ultimate beach fragrance is touted as a future winner in the segment, but its popularity has not yet reached the level of more established fragrances of air freshener.

The next step in our research was to establish which option consumers would pick if they can only choose one. We used a steer to ask the panel for a single preference out of the top five above:

Our clear winner was Spring, with almost 27% of consumers exclusively choosing it over the other alternatives. Orange & grapefruit, featured by Air Wick’s Energising aerosol, moved up to second position, which highlights that fragrances associated with summer are taking over.

Beyond determining the top fragrance of the season, air freshener brands should strive to meet the unique needs of consumers. A combination of steers could be used to discover location-specific preferences, for example, given that many would opt for specific scents for each unique area of the home.