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DIVERSITY BOSTON

Suds with splash

Procter & Gamble rolls out dish soap with Latin flare

Julia Bonet of Randolph said she is a fan of the entire Gain dish line. Julia Bonet of Randolph said she is a fan of the entire Gain dish line. (Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe)
By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / June 12, 2011

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Procter & Gamble Co. is taking its battle for Hispanic consumers all the way to the kitchen sink.

When the consumer products giant launched its Gain dish-washing soap last year, it was the first new hand dish-washing brand for P&G in nearly 40 years. It was also an attempt to go after the nation’s largest minority group and one of the fastest growing demographics by using colorful packaging and citrus aromas.

“With the explosion and projected growth of the minority population, changing how we develop products has become more important,’’ said Felisa Insignares, P&G’s ethnic program manager. “The US Hispanic consumer has different expectations of her dish soap than the general market.’’

The story of how P&G targeted the liquid to Hispanic consumers speaks to the burgeoning buying power of the community. Between 2000 and 2010, census data show, the Hispanic population rose 43 percent to 50.5 million. And it is estimated that the group has a collective buying power of about $1 trillion, according to a recent report by Packaged Facts, a research firm.

P&G found that a powerful soap that makes plates sparkle is not enough for Hispanic consumers; they want a cleaning product that smells good, too. Indeed, products that make cleaning feel more enjoyable are particularly appealing to this community, according to a report from Mintel, a research firm.

“Being aware of these emerging consumers helps P&G design products that better meet her needs,’’ said Gain manager Michelle Lohman. “In the case of Gain dish [soap], this means helping make her dish-washing experience better by giving her an amazing scent experience while she cleans the dishes.’’

Making a dish soap that smells good became P&G’s mission in March 2009. Rather than creating an entirely new brand in the thick of the recession, the company turned to one that had been a proven success with minorities, particularly Hispanics.

Gain, a laundry brand that struggled for decades to distinguish itself against rivals, found a loyal following after P&G began focusing more on scent rather than pure cleaning prowess. By 2009, more than 50 percent of Gain laundry purchases came from Hispanic or African-American consumers, and the booming popularity transformed Gain into a billion-dollar brand.

Leylha Ahuile, a senior multicultural analyst at Mintel, said Gain offers tremendous potential for P&G given the rapid growth expected in the Hispanic population.

“Gain has tapped into a group that is price-conscious and loves aromas, and it’s made them quite successful,’’ Ahuile said.

But P&G would need more than a brand name; throughout 2009, researchers at the P&G headquarters in Cincinnati worked to formulate the perfect dish soap. Hundreds of consumers experimented with trial products in their homes and at P&G’s labs in Cincinnati.

The feedback from the testing, along with focus groups, helped the team adjust colors and fragrances over several months. For example, the Citrus Splash scent was added after the concept stage because Hispanic consumers told P&G that they loved citrus aromas. The company also made sure to design formulas in bright, fun colors.

Ultimately, P&G selected Apple Mango Tango, Lavender, Citrus Splash, and Original, which, according to some rave reviews online, smells like a summer’s breeze. All of the Gain packaging is bilingual, and a 30-ounce bottle of Ultra Gain costs $2.25 at Family Dollar in Holbrook, compared with $3.25 for a 29-ounce bottle of Ultra Dawn.

“P&G has talked to consumers extensively and done tests to ensure that Hispanic consumers would give permission for Gain to travel outside the laundry room and to other parts of the household,’’ said Bruce Cohen, an analyst with Kurt Salmon.

Once the product and packaging were completed, P&G geared its entire marketing plan to reach Hispanic consumers, Insignares said. The company tried to spread the passion for Gain dish products through social media and other channels and put its budget toward advertising on national Spanish language TV, and Hispanic print publications and websites.

P&G partnered for the first time with Sabado Gigante, the iconic Hispanic variety show on Univision, for a 10-week contest around its Apple Mango Tango product. Consumers were asked last fall to create and submit videos that answered the question “What does your ‘Apple Mango Tango’ dance look like?’’ Viewers then viewed, voted, and chose the final champion who was announced at a live Sabado Gigante showing. Additionally, P&G handed out free samples at retailers like Wal-Mart that reach a large Hispanic demographic.

P&G declined to give separate sales numbers for Gain dish-washing liquid, but word of mouth has attracted some Hispanic shoppers to the new product. Julia Bonet of Randolph is a fan of the entire line and said it is too hard to choose her favorite scent. She learned about the brand six months ago from a friend after watching her do the dishes.

“I love the smell. And my hands don’t get as itchy and dry like they do with other detergents,’’ said Bonet, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.