“This is the end…” or where has all the soap gone? October 31 2014, 0 Comments


Off goes the brain searching through the memory again- this time landing on The Doors song “The End”. That’s an interesting outcome after contemplating the outcome of soap in the current marketplace…it feels a bit like that!

If you are like the majority of consumers these days, you probably haven’t noticed that the supermarket shelves now largely stock hand and body washes, where once they carried numerous commercial brands of soap. Most of the iconic soap brands have disappeared from the shelves…indeed, production has been ceased in many cases. Do you remember the brands…Dettol, Cashmere Bouquet, Camay, Imperial Leather, Lifebuoy, Lux, Rexona, Pears, Solvol and Sunlight Personal, to name the most common. Most brand names have now disappeared- it has become a memory exercise.

The main soap manufacturing companies- Colgate Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Pears, Procter & Gamble, PZ Cussons and Unilever- have progressively ceased soap production in favour of the more economical production of body washes/liquid soaps. The market infiltration of these products increased after the Colgate Company acquired the rights to ‘soft soap’ in 1987 from the Minnetonka Corporation- who had been manufacturing it since 1980 in the US. Minnetonka had achieved $25 million in sales in its first six months of operation. 

The marketing campaigns hit the media with vengeance- convincing consumers that body washes were a far more desirable option than soap. Here’s a video depicting the strategies of the “Say No To Soap” campaign used by Colgate-Palmolive to market their ‘Palmolive Naturals’ body wash: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDHoivL4Xm4

It would be hard not to feel manipulated after watching the campaign direction. Colgate-Palmolive was the global leader in body washes by 1993.

Body washes now hold the majority of sales in the marketplace- with soap sales continuing to decrease by roughly 5% per year. Many of the soap factories have been closed around the world- Unilever’s Sunlight UK (begun 1885) was closed in 2009; Unilever’s Rexona (begun 1908) was closed in 1989; Standard Soap Factory in UK closed in 2012; Lever Brothers, Baltimore in USA closed this year. Production of ‘Cashmere Bouquet’ was ceased in 2005, after being manufactured since 1872. Cussons in Australia closed its Dandenong factory in 2012. Unilever in New Zealand closed its Petone factory in 2013. Unilever has also expressed that it no longer intends to carry its now owned Pears soap in to the future. Procter & Gamble is currently negotiating to sell off its USA Ivorydale plant, where the iconic ‘Ivory” soap has been made since 1879.

Many of the iconic soap trade name licenses have been sold to manufacturers in Pakistan and India in recent years. Soap is definitely being shed by the big production companies in favour of body washes. The production time and costs of manufacturing body washes is far more commercially viable. The consumer has embraced the marketing campaigns- sales figures are proof. Sales figures for body washes represented $2.7 billion in the US last year- whilst soap sales were $1.5 billion.

If you’ve been following our blogs, you’d appreciate that body washes are primarily made from petrochemicals. They are a cheap buffered detergent suitably coloured and fragranced, and marketed as a product for ease of use. Yet these products have impacted considerably on the environment through plastic packaging and production methods. They are profitable for the manufacturer- yet they present a huge budget concern to the consumer, as superfluous product liberally gets washed down the drain.

Back to The Doors song:
“This is the end, beautiful friend
  This is the end, my only friend.
  The end of our elaborate plans
  The end of everything that stands, the end.”

How the battle will play out with time is yet to be seen. Commercially, a limited range of soaps remains in production to satisfy continuing consumer demand, but for how much longer is questionable.

The astute consumer is turning to handmade soaps as a solution for a better option in products. They are embracing the benefits that can be derived from a cold processed handmade soap, as our lives become more saturated with chemicals. Soap is fast becoming the domain of the artisan- continuing to use traditional soap making methods to create a superior product that is free of chemicals that irritate the skin.