Britons Lured From Sink at Reckitt Benckiser Suds School: Retail

After meals in the kitchen of their three-bedroom row house in Hitchin, about 35 miles north of London, the Quinn family washes the dishes by hand. They don’t own a dishwasher, and Louise Quinn doesn’t think they need one.

“I absolutely don’t mind doing the washing up,” said Quinn, a 44-year-old customer service manager at a pet supplement maker. “We all chip in and help. It doesn’t take long, and it sets a good example to my daughter, too.”

That’s the challenge facing manufacturers of dishwashers and related detergents in Britain, including Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc (RB\) and appliance makers BSH Bosch & Siemens Hausgeraete and Electrolux AB (ELUXB), Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its March 26 edition. Dishwasher sales in Britain have fallen 11 percent from a 2007 peak, researcher GfK RT estimates.

“Compared to western Europe, automatic dishwashing is considered less of a necessity and more of a luxury by many U.K. consumers,” Euromonitor International analyst Lee Peart said. “It’s a cultural thing. Driving sales of the appliance rather than the cleaning products is essential.”

Four in 10 adults own a dishwasher in the U.K., according to researcher Mintel. That compares with 77 percent in Germany, 52 percent in France, and 49 percent in Spain, Mintel said. In Europe, only Greece and Turkey have lower ownership rates than Britain. About 78 percent of U.S. homeowners have a dishwasher, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

To improve sales, Reckitt Benckiser Chief Executive Officer Rakesh Kapoor announced last month that his company would shift more of its marketing budget toward consumer education and away from television ads.

Dwindling Growth

Converting more Britons to dishwashers would help Reckitt Benckiser’s Finish, a detergent that had 40 percent share of the western European market in 2011, according to Euromonitor.

Automatic dishwashers use less water and energy and save time, versus washing dishes by hand, according to a 2010 study of 150 Britons published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies. Almost half those surveyed incorrectly thought manual dishwashing requires less water, according to the study, which was partly funded by Reckitt Benckiser and BSH.

Liz Falconer, a BSH spokeswoman, said the company sells a Bosch dishwasher that uses only six liters of water per cycle, about one-eighth the average amount used by participants who washed dishes by hand in the study.

Unnecessary Luxury

Still, four in 10 Britons consider dishwashers expensive to run, and an almost equal amount see them as an unnecessary luxury, Mintel found. To change such thinking, Reckitt Benckiser and Electrolux have teamed up for a marketing campaign to highlight the convenience of dishwasher use, claiming that manual dish cleaning amounts to spending one week a year at the sink.

Tight kitchen space acts as another deterrent, said Anthony Stocker, an appliance buyer at Home Retail Group Plc’s (HOME) Argos chain. So dishwasher makers have responded with models that are 25 percent slimmer, and Argos carries 32 “slimline” options.

Such machines have won over some doubters, and U.K. penetration is double the 20 percent level of 1999. New-home construction, which peaked at an 18-year high in 2007, also spurred adoption. The housing slowdown that began the following year has “severely impacted” dishwasher sales since, Stocker said.

Regardless of how much you save in the long run, buying a dishwasher is more expensive than purchasing a bottle of washing-up liquid, and economic reasoning is biased toward the short-term, according to Dr. Benjamin Voyer, assistant professor of management at Richmond, the American International University in London.

Old Habits

Voyer, also a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ Institute of Social Psychology, said the reasons Britons give for not owning a dishwasher disguise the simple fact that old habits die hard.

“If you have lived without one for years, why would you suddenly change?” said Voyer, who once worked as an assistant brand manager at Reckitt Benckiser. “People simply find rational excuses for not having a dishwasher, which are not necessarily the real reasons why they don’t have one. Consumers sometimes construct what we call ‘attitudes on the spot.’”

For Kapoor, halfway into his first year as CEO, changing those attitudes -- real or imagined -- will take time. In developing markets like Brazil and China, meanwhile, Reckitt Benckiser has tried to align itself with local dishwasher makers to make sure they recommend Finish, according to Harold Thompson, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG.

“Dishwasher penetration is around 5 percent in emerging markets, so its potential for growth is enormous,” Thompson said in an interview. “In India, dishwashers might initially be more about status rather than convenience. So the role of Reckitt is also about changing consumer habits.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Boyle in London at mboyle20@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sara Marley at smarley1@bloomberg.net

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