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There’s a lot of eco-chat, but not much action from cleaning brands.

July 20, 2012 2:00 by

FUNCTION STILL trumps the environ­mental concerns in the Gulf household cleaning sector.

Despite the impressive green slogans that often front campaigns (Unilever’s 2011 campaign “double business, half carbon footprint,” for example), few believe it’s the biggest selling point.

Stain removal or fighting grease is far more important.

That is, at least, according to the prod­uct manufacturers themselves, who de­spite publicly supporting the green drive, quietly concede that most consumers are ambivalent.

They usual response from manufactur­ers to questions on eco-awareness in the Gulf tend to be: “there’s no motivation” and “it’s not a priority”. The fact is, that were it not for the large expat population in the GCC, green would not even be part of the discussion.

Gulf Arabs are just not as “sophisti­cated” about the environmental debate compared to their US or European coun­terparts, says one brand manager at a multi-national consumer goods giant who wished to remain anonymous.

Some say Saudi Arabia has perhaps the weakest appetite given its smaller ratio of expats against locals.

But environmental apathy spreads beyond the Gulf to the wider Mena re­gion, according to some.

Alexandre Beaulieu, general manager at TBWA\DJAZ in Algiers, says: “Every­thing ‘green’ is not really a preoccupation of Algerian consumers, although we’re monitoring consumer sentiments.

“The reason might be that Algeria is a resource-rich country and that for the time being consumers are more con­cerned about reaching a Western-like level of living, rather than being focused on preserving the environment.”

He adds that Algeria is in many ways atypical of the rest of the Mena, “assuming the Mena region itself means something apart from the common language”.

Still, green reticence hasn’t stopped earth-conscious brands making headway in the region.

US-based ECOS has been successfully selling eco-products for the home in the Gulf for years.

“It’s a harder sell than other regions,” admits Ray Schuschu, director of international sales for ECOS.

“But the saving grace is the larger presence of expats in places like Dubai.”

Schuschu adds that the firm redesigned its bottles to save seven per cent on plastic. This increased the number of bottles per pallet in shipping, cutting environmental fatigue and saving costs.

Other brands are using “badges” on their labels to increase their sustainable credentials.

It seems that Europe and North America are taking strongly to this idea.

This isn’t just a marketers’ gimmick. R&D departments at FMCG firms are increasingly developing more sustain­able products from the outset.

The UK’s Colgate-Palmolive an exam­ple, as it offers a horizontal product rage under the name ‘Natura Verde’.

The firm is still using the overall product name (for instance Softlan for its softener, Ajax for its glass and Palmolive dishwashing liquid), but add­ing the ‘Natura Verde’ claim.

It’s unclear whether this idea would take over in the Gulf as it may prove a more costly way to represent green pro-activeness.

For now it seems that many house­hold cleaning brands in the Gulf still fear that any large-scale, ambitious investment into green products might land them in the red.

*First published on Gulf Marketing Review

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