Persil Power axed from more supermarkets

Now Sainsbury and Waitrose step into the soap wars. Nigel Cope reports
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The Independent Online
Sainsbury and Waitrose, two of Britain's largest supermarket groups, are to remove the controversial detergent Persil Power from their shelves at the end of this month.

The move comes after a similar announcement on Wednesday by Tesco, which said it was phasing out the detergent and replacing it with New Generation, a detergent due for launch by Lever Brothers next month.

The action by the supermarkets marks a new stage in the "soap wars" that have raged between Britain's largest detergent manufacturers since the launch of Persil Power by Lever Brothers last year.

Rival Procter and Gamble said the product's manganese ingredient rotted clothes after frequent washing.

Lever Brothers denied it and the two have engaged in a war of words ever since.

The battle reached the level of farce last summer when Procter and Gamble executives paraded pairs of boxer shorts in public, saying that in tests commissioned by them, Persil Power was found to have damaged the underwear.

The Consumers' Association is due to publish the results of its tests - the largest it has undertaken on a washing powder - at the beginning of next month.

Laboratory tests on the original version of Persil Power, which was withdrawn last year, did show substantial damage to clothes, the association said.

Explaining its decision, a Sainsbury spokesman said yesterday: "Persil Power will be withdrawn on 30 January and replaced by New Generation. The decision is related to sales. We think New Generation will generate a level of consumer demand that Persil Power did not."

New Generation, which is being backed by a £19m advertising campaign, does not contain the manganese ingredient.

Lever Brothers says New Generation will be marketed as an everyday detergent while Persil Power will be promoted in the UK as a niche product for stain removal.

The company denied yesterday that the decisions by Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose sounded the death knell for the powder. A spokesman said: "These are significant store groups but they are not the whole of the market. We stand behind the technology in Persil Power."

Procter and Gamble immediately went on the offensive. "We've always thought that the right thing to do was to withdraw the product from the market," the company said.

The UK market share of Persil Power has halved since the controversy broke out, costing the company a valuable slice of Europe's £6bn detergents market. Procter and Gamble, maker of Ariel, is also launching a new powder, Ariel Future, at the end of this month.

However, some retailers are remaining loyal to Persil Power. Safeway, part of the Argyll group, said yesterday that it would continue to stock the product and has been running a special promotion on Persil Power for the past two weeks. "We have had no complaints from customers so we will continue to stock it together with the new product," a spokesman said. Asda also said it would keep Persil Power on its shelves because it was popular with some shoppers.