Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Jun 25, 2004
Marketing - Brands
Industry & Economy - Soaps & Detergents
Consumer body digs up dirt on detergents
Mumbai , June 24
LALITAJI's clever pitch `Surf ki kharidari me hi samajhdari hain' (buying Surf makes sense) may not wash. And, it could well apply to a host of other detergent brands. Tests done by a consumer organisation suggest that multinational brands such as Surf, Ariel and Henko that rule the roost in the Rs 5,000-crore industry may not offer as much value for money as some of the ordinary brands when it comes to removing dirt.
Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI), an independent organisation that fights for consumer rights, has found that while low-end brands such as Sasa Green, Nirma, Wheel Active and Chek cost a rupee per wash, premium brands such as Surf Excel Auto cost Rs 8 per wash and Ariel costs Rs 7 per wash.
In terms of soil-removing capacity (detergency), low-end detergent brands' washing efficiency was similar to that of the premium brands, and there is definitely no cost advantage in choosing a well-known brand over a lesser-known brand, says Dr A.R. Shenoy, Chairman, CGSI.
Detergency is expressed as the percentage of dirt removed from a fabric, and is measured by determining the `reflectance readings' after washing a standard soiled cloth. The test protocol was as per IS 4955: 2001, Indian Standards prescription for household laundry detergent powders (fourth revision).
CGSI tested 19 brands to check their dirt-removing capability. A wider price disparity among these brands did not result in a distinct change in washing benefits, CGSI says in its report titled `Comparative Detergency Values: Which washes cleanest.'
Manufacturers of premium detergent brands cry foul over CGSI's contention and question its standards. "Consumer end-point for laundry is a sum total of lots of variables apart from basic detergency like stain removal, whiteness of the garments, extent of damage to colours, extent of damage to garments, damage to hands, odour removal from the fabric and perfume of the fabric. Premium powders deliver highly on all of these apart from basic detergency, while low-end powders have poor or no delivery for most or all of them," said a Hindustan Lever spokesperson in a written response to the test report.
Sasa Green, made by Mahila Udyog, the makers of Lijjat Papad, has a detergency of 67 per cent as against Hindustan Lever's Surf Excel, which has a detergency of 74 per cent. On the other hand, the cost per wash for the former is only 90 paise compared to the latter's cost of Rs 5 per wash. Similarly, P&G's Ariel has a detergency of 80 per cent as against Lever's Wheel Active detergency of 74 per cent. Ariel's cost per wash adds up to Rs 7 per wash while Wheel Active's costs only Re 1 per wash.
A P&G research and development spokesperson responded to CGSI's contention claiming that the reports focussed only on one aspect of product performance.
P&G, however, chose to put money on its own findings. "Based on our intensive consumer tests across the length and breadth of India and the strong consumer response we have received to the price correction on Ariel and Tide, we know that consumers do recognise and appreciate all the superior benefits that Ariel and Tide provide, which, however, cannot be dimensionalised in a single `test'."
Like HLL & P&G, which rebutted the research findings, Henkel Spic also maintained that the findings were uni-dimensional.
However, Mr Vijay Subramaniam, General Manager (Marketing), Henkel Spic India, was pleased to note that the CGSI report findings rated its detergent as one of the most effective brands in terms of cost per wash.
Mr Subramaniam said, "We are happy to note that among premium brands like Ariel, Surf Excel, Henko's cost per wash is the lowest - this is line with our internal tests and is testimonial to our superior quality."
These 19 brands were tested as per BIS protocol on solid white fabric and blocking the extra fluorescence generated by the detergents while measuring `reflectance' after washing as per BIS protocol to do justice to actual performance of the active matter in the detergent formulation. This is the spine of the CGSI study.
As regards stain-removing efficiency, both HLL & P&G have their proprietary protocols and CGSI is game to test these samples again for stain-removal efficiency if these companies are willing to share their respective protocols.
"We are also keen to test `other performance parameters' as claimed by premium detergent makers," says Dr Shenoy.
Detailing the test methodology, he said the samples were purchased from different areas of Mumbai and coded to mask their identity. The testing was done at a laboratory accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL). All samples were tested and compared against standard Grade I detergent control formulation assigned a value of 70 per cent and put through on a machine wash, as hand wash using a brush could have resulted in variations. Amidst this exchange of views on efficacy and other performance parameters of detergents, the only thing intriguing to consumers would be that the truth still resonates in the classic Alyque Padamsee copy for a leading detergent: Dhoondte Reh Jaoge.
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