Retailers get tough on dirt products

It may still be a niche market but South Africa’s major retailers say they are seeing a rising demand for eco-friendly household cleaning products. 

David North, the chief strategy officer for Pick n Pay, said the green product movement is a relatively small but growing market. 

“Consumers have become increasingly aware about ingredients, sourcing and packaging and are more actively seeking out those products that meet their expectations.”

Pick n Pay pioneered its first “green” range of eco-friendly cleaning products in the 1990s, “long before it was fashionable to consider environmental considerations in retail”, he said.

These products are certified as vegan, cruelty-free and are not tested on animals. They are made with biodegradable, naturally derived active ingredients — except for the furniture polish — and the packaging is 100% recyclable. 

Dis-Chem Pharmacies started its Home Butler Eco-Home range in 2012, which, it said, replaces harmful chemicals, eliminates waste and “delivers truly sustainable cleaning solutions” through biotechnology. 

This involves the use of living organisms or their components, such as bacterial and enzymatic strains, to produce useful cleaning products, according to the pharmacy group. 

These biotechnological processes are environmentally smart. 

“They involve the use of renewable raw materials so we do not have to use crude oil and other fossil raw materials and as a natural consequence of the production method, the products become biodegradable and can therefore return to the natural cycle after use,” said Dis-Chem.

“In this way, we get sustainable production. These products are usually produced with less energy compared to traditional chemical production. This results in lower emissions of greenhouse gases and thus reduced impact on the climate.”

The price, according to the pharmacy group, depends on the category and product. In some instances they are very competitive with non-biodegradable products, it said, adding that sometimes, consumers will buy eco-friendly or green products regardless of price.

There is growing consumer awareness, in South Africa and globally, of the benefits of these products, which has led to increased demand. 

According to a 2016 study by Job Dubihlela, of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and Tandiswa Ngxukumeshe, of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South African customers are increasingly justifying eco-friendly product consumption aimed at protecting the environment — and are more willing to pay high prices for eco-friendly products and services.

Woolworths said its Earth Friendly range was developed “with the safety of our planet and people in mind”. The range, according to head of corporate communications, Kirsten Hewett, assists customers in “leading a more responsible lifestyle” by reducing the negative effects their household cleaning products have on the natural environment. 

“We use only naturally derived active ingredients, which are animal- cruelty free and do not contain any potentially harmful substances and the packaging is fully recyclable. In response to our growing customer demand, we have expanded our range over the last 10 years and now have 25 products on offer,” Hewett said, adding that regular promotions are run to encourage customers to try the range, which have been well-received.

(John McCann/M&G)

In 2018, Checkers launched its private label wellness range, Simple Truth. The eco-friendly range of cleaning products are biodegradable, cruelty free, have naturally derived cleaning ingredients and are paraben-free. 

“Many of the [storage] bottles contain recycled content,” it said.

Retailer Wellness Warehouse said its range of natural household cleaning products is locally made and affordable, “helping customers make the easy switch” to natural cleaning products.

“They range from R39.95 for your typical cleaning surface spray to R89.95 for a small 500g all-purpose cleaning gel and R459.95 for a 5kg bulk laundry cream. 

“Many of our products are multi-purpose, and one product could replace many conventional alternatives at a fraction of the cost,” the retailer said. 

“Instead of using harmful chemicals that take years to biodegrade, or are unable to break down naturally, our range of eco home cleaning products uses natural ingredients that are known for their grease-cutting, dirt-busting and bacteria-zapping qualities. These include orange oil, vinegar and coconut oil and extract, among others,” said Wellness Warehouse.

The retailer has seen increased demand for its products as consumer awareness about the presence of toxic chemicals in conventional cleaning products grows.

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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