Suds set to fly in soap giants' revolution

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The Independent Online
IT COULD revolutionise the way we wash our clothes as much as the tea bag turned the tea market on its head. Britain's leading detergent manufacturers are planning a tablet that could replace washing powder.

The suds are bound to fly as both Lever Brothers and Procter & Gamble plan to bring out their own version of the tablet later this year, adding more fuel to the ongoing soap wars.

Traditionally detergent has been sold in powder or liquid form. The advantage of the tablet is that it would allow people to use the correct dose and cut waste and spillage. The advantage to the manufacturers is less clear-cut as consumers usually, at present, use too high a dose.

Neither Lever Brothers, the home laundry division of Unilever, nor Procter & Gamble, would reveal the exact dates of the tablets' launch. Helen Fenwick of Lever Brothers said: "We will be launching nationally and we will be the first to do that." She added the tablets were in response to customers' desire for "simplicity and convenience".

Procter & Gamble are more cautiously launching their version, Ariel Discs, in Grimsby and Cleethorpes in a test-marketing operation. "We're making sure that it is something that consumers want," said Dominic Hayes, public relations manager.

The renewal of the soap wars comes almost four years after Unilever launched the disastrous "Persil Power" detergent which had a manganese accelerator to give greater cleaning power. Unfortunately the accelerator was defective and tests showed it could rot clothes in the wash. Unilever eventually had to withdraw the product.

If the tablets work, they will herald a "revolution", say industry watchers. But the tablets must perform as promised if the detergent makers are not to find themselves in the midst of another fiasco.

David Benady of Marketing Week said : "[Manufacturers] had the technology for several years but they've held back because it would take away extra sales. I think now Levers doesn't have that much choice because they have seen their market share decline." He added that there were technical difficulties, that the tablets must "dissolve in water but not dissolve in the packet and there's some difficulty in that".

But Mr Hayes said that Procter & Gamble had cracked that problem with a soft inside and a hard outside which only dissolves in water. "It's phenomenal," he said.