Chemistry & Life Sciences

No Compromise on Performance in a Connected World

The Challenges on the Road to Non-Phosphate Dishwashing Tabs

06.05.2015 -

The global world is connected via social media, search engines and blogs. Mega trends are shared in seconds. Online communities give 24-hour guidance on ingredients, performance, use and price of detergents and cleaning products. Cleaning performance, in addition to convenience in use, is still the main prerequisite for purchasing a product (again).

Multibenefit tabs in automatic dishwashing are an example of this. They enable easy dosing and save time for the consumer without compromising on cleaning performance. However, with the phosphate ban for automatic dishwashing detergents in Europe taking effect in 2017, the performance levels in this category could change. The consumer in the connected world will take note of this immediately. It's thus time to make the right choice now.

Consumers Are Well-Informed Around the Clock

Globally, 80% of the population has a mobile phone. Smartphone penetration runs at an annual growth rate of 30%-50%. We are heading toward an almost universal mobile connectivity. Near-field communication will let our machines communicate with each other and directly with the supplier of refills when the auto dispenser is running low. Who would have expected to ever live in such a smart world?

In 2014, already one-third of shoppers in the UK compared products via their smartphone while shopping. What does that mean for retailers, for the formulators of consumer products and for suppliers of ingredients?

Besides price, consumers compare cleaning performance more often in this connected world. Nowadays, consumers are informed about the benefits of their cleaning products by watching TV or YouTube commercials and are evaluating the claims on the packaging to make their purchase and repurchase decisions.

Let's take the example of automatic dishwashing tabs. With their multipurpose cleaning and caring solution, as well as their easy handling, they have advanced to the leading category in automatic dishwashing detergents in Europe. However, their well-known cleaning level and the perceived benefits such as fat removal, drying of plastic, and perfect sparkling dishes and glasses could be subject to change in 2017, with the upcoming ban of phosphate for this application.

By now, most multi-benefit tabs consist to about one half of phosphates. They act as chelating agents to prevent unsightly scale on dishes by trapping the calcium and magnesium ions of water.

Phosphate performs this task superbly, but has a poor reputation in ecological terms. In 2017, a regulation change will take effect in the EU: The use of phosphates in dishwasher products, such as dishwasher tabs, will be limited.

With the regulation changes on the horizon, formulators of cleaning products in Europe are searching unceasingly for alternative chelating agents to secure the established and consumer-expected high cleaning performance level - not only for the branded but also for the private-label products sold in large numbers by regional retailers. Nobody can afford to put products on the shelves that do not satisfy consumer expectations.

Naturally, consumers do not speak the language of formulators - the producers of these tabs - in the way they express their know-how in cleaning, filming and rinsing benefits, as well as in drying properties on different surfaces or build-up on cutlery and tableware. Nevertheless, consumers are experienced in judging the results of these most important criteria of automatic dishwashing detergents as published in consumer test magazines. By studying these magazines or social media, they might even link their results to specific ingredients.

Phosphate Alternative - Let's Not Repeat Consumer Frustration

Brand owners had to learn this lesson the hard way, when the phosphate ban was introduced in parts of the U.S. market in 2010. Alternatives did not reproduce the strong chelating function of phosphate, leading to lower performance and dirty dishes. This experience should not be repeated in Europe. High consumer trust must be upheld, which includes the necessity to reformulate existing products in order to maximize performance. How can this be achieved?

Companies can develop products without phosphate by using highly sophisticated ingredients, such as powerful yet sustainable, readily biodegradable chelating agents. One alternative is MGDA (methylglycindiacetic acid), offered by BASF under the brand name Trilon M. Of course, the best ingredient is not enough. It additionally requires the top formulation expertise in the labs of the brand leaders and private-label producers.

Dear Retail: It Comes Down to Winning or Losing a Category - Performance is the Key

Naturally, retailers also need to be convinced to defend their strong category of automatic dishwashing detergents. Phosphate is not only a low-cost material but also extremely effective. The more sustainable alternative needs to be as powerful and high-performing but at the same time readily biodegradable. Why is this important?

Cleaning performance is and will remain the dominating buying factor long before price. Consumers are only willing to repeat their purchases in this category if the product meets their established, high performance expectations. Consumers are not willing to accept any trade-offs on clean and shiny dishes and are certainly not prepared to unload dirty teacups or dishes with bits of lasagna from last night's dinner. Nor are they willing to drink from turbid wine glasses. How annoying is it to rewash your dishes by hand at the last minute while waiting for your guests?

In the connected world, innovative choices for high-performing and more sustainable ingredients for detergents and cleaning products are available. It's time to choose.