Persil Power squares off with watchdog

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A furious row is expected this week between the Consumers' Association and Unilever, the giant consumer group, over the testing of Unilever's controversial soap product, Persil Power.

Sources within the consumer goods industry suggest that the Consumers' Association is at last ready to pronounce on Unilever's product after months of testing.

It will be the last such assocation in Europe to conclude its testing.

A press conference is expected to launch the result of the tests, possibly on Wednesday.

Neither the Consumers' Association nor Unilever would comment ahead of the test results. However, a source close to Unilever said that he expected the Consumers' Association report to be critical of Persil Power. Unilever's arch rival, Procter & Gamble, has consistently alleged that the product damages clothes.

The source added, though, that Unilever had made many approaches to the Consumers' Association to see if the organisation would revise its testing protocols to make them more acceptable to the industry. "The CA has refused to discuss its methods, which we think have been unsatisfactory, with us."

According to the source, the CA's tests have been conducted on just two garments, both of which are vulnerable to the Persil product, which contains a manganese accelerator. And they have ignored the washing instructions on the pack, he says.

Attempts to test the garments on inmates of Bedford jail failed; instead the CA had asked its own staff to wear them.

Unilever accepts that its controversial product reacts badly to a number of dark dyes, but it stands by the product as long as its washing instructions are adhered to.

Whatever the strength of Unilever's attacks on the Consumers' Assocation this week, an adverse finding will be another blow to the future of Persil Power in the UK. In recent weeks, both Sainsbury and Tesco took the product off the shelves in favour of anew Unilever product, Generation Persil.

Although Unilever intends to stand by its product in the UK, it may be forced to bow to consumer pressure. However, the company has maintained that in countries where there has been less media furore over the product, such as France, the market share of Persil Power has held up well.