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.

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