A virtual stagnation in the uptake of detergents targeting the high-end consumer despite the vibrancy in the lower-end segment has sparked a fierce brand war among manufacturers.
Brands like Omo, Ariel and Persil are fighting to carve out new identities in the market, which is growing to be more competitive by the day.
Unilever, the makers of Omo, has been on a high powered marketing campaign (Dirt is Good) while Procter & Gamble (P&G) has relaunched Ariel in the hope of driving volumes.
At the beginning of 2006, Unilever re-launched Omo again with a new ingredient "Multi Active" to win new and retain old consumers with a promise that the new detergent was gentler to the hands.
But with reduced spending, people have been going for cheaper brands like Kapa Oil's Toss, Bidco's Powerboy and Gental and yes, Unilever's Sunlight.
Sunlight, which is also a bar soap, has been growing steadily since its launch in 2002.
According to AC Neilsen research on market share volumes in detergents, in March-April last year, Omo's market share was at 42.6 per cent while Sunlight was at 13.7 per cent but a year later the share for Omo had dropped to 33.8 per cent while Sunlight had grown to 16.3 per cent.
However, bar soaps still dominate, with 58 per cent of most households still using it to wash together with a little detergent.
With the likes of Omo and Persil detergent fluttering in the market, P & G saw an opportunity to recapture the market. It first introduced the detergent into the Kenyan market about ten years ago.
"Products re-launch when they see an opportunity in the market," says Sue Omanga, managing director of Exclamation Marketing. Ariel was introduced into the Kenyan market 10 years ago and P&G hopes that its new active ingredient ,Enzymax, will win more customers.
"They are repositioning the product, giving it new life," says Edward Mwakima, a senior branch manager at one of the Uchumi outlets.
He remembers the first time Ariel came into the market when Omo fought to protect its dominance. Then, as now ,Unilever has responded through advertising and rolled out a countrywide door-to-door promotion.
Ariel is the number one brand in 16 countries of the 85 countries it is sold.
"We now have "Winning in Africa" strategies while before we employed the one size fits all," says Nozizwe Awuor, the Ariel Brand Manager.
The new ariel adds consumer aesthetics like foam and will compete on the colour platform with Omo which has changed from blue to white. When Ariel was launched in a white colour all detergents were blue following a perception then that white detergent powder had bleaching properties.
Ariel will also come in the regular sizes of 40 grammes, 100 grammes, 500 grammess and one kilogramme instead of the previous, 80 grammess, 110 grammes and 400 grammes that was based on the Egyptian packaging system.
The company is not leaving anything to chance and is giving live demonstrations in retail outlets countrywide.
It will leverage largely on a distribution network that has proven effective in moving products like pampers in its target to sell 60 per cent of the product in rural areas and the rest in urban settings.