How we’re responding to a changing fabric enhancer market | Unilever
Home & Gardening

How we’re responding to a changing fabric enhancer market | Unilever

Fabric enhancers are designed to perform a number of tasks. Prolong the life of fabrics. Help retain colour and shape. And prevent fading and bobbling. But the overwhelming reason people use them is to make their clothes smell nice and feel soft.

While these are the main features people look for in a product, it’s also where things have become a little complicated.

Using conditioners on synthetic clothes like sportswear or on towels can affect the breathability and absorption properties of the fabrics. Often, the labels on such products say to avoid using conditioners altogether.

And for those who add scent beads to their wash, there’s another issue. Generally, when these are used on a machine’s short cycle – which people are increasingly opting for – they can leave behind residue of undissolved product.

We also know that consumers are looking for more sensorial experiences when it comes to these kinds of products. Not your everyday laundry kind of smell, but more sophisticated, authentic and nature-inspired fragrances.

Two innovations just launched by Comfort – the Botanicals and Elixir ranges – have been designed to address these consumer needs, tapping into an opportunity with huge potential.

The global rinse conditioners category is growing at over 10%, with fragrance boosters growing at more than 21%. ‘Sensorials & Lifestyle’ – essentially, enhanced fragrance experiences – is the main category value driver, projected to be an €850 million opportunity in laundry globally. In Europe, products like scent boosters are leading growth in the fabric enhancers category.

Advert for Comfort Botanicals showing three bottles and text that reads ‘A bloom of botanical freshness’.

A fabric conditioner that’s also suitable for sportswear and towels

Synthetic fabrics are much more predominant today than they were in the past, with more and more of the clothes in our wardrobes now made from synthetic fibres and the rise of athleisurewear.

Take sportswear, for example, which uses high-performance moisture-wicking fabric that pulls moisture away from the skin using tiny, built-in capillaries. Moisture is drawn to the exterior of the fabric, which makes it easier to evaporate, drying fast so the sweat doesn’t saturate the material.

Use of traditional fabric conditioner in that specific type of fabric can block these capillaries, limiting their breathability and moisture-removing properties. It won’t damage the fabric – it just won’t work as intended.

Similarly, if you use traditional fabric conditioners on towels, you may notice that it can take longer to dry yourself. It’s the same situation – the fibres could be blocked so the fabric is less effective at wicking the water.

New Comfort Botanical Fabric Conditioners were developed at our Port Sunlight R&D centre in the UK, where scientists are always pushing the boundaries of science to meet consumer needs.

Using the breakthrough CrystalFresh transparent formula – a combination of innovative surfactants and fragrances – this product delivers the benefits of a traditional conditioner while maintaining the fabric’s breathability and absorbent properties, so you can use it across fabrics like towels and sportswear. This is thanks to its micellar system – a special way to disperse ingredients in water via micelles aggregates that keep the transparency, unlike traditional ‘milky’ conditioners in the market.

Advert for Comfort Scent Booster Elixir showing three bottles and text that reads ‘Up to 10x more fragrance’.

Easy-dose scent boosters that don’t leave a residue

When it comes to scent boosters, most products on offer are solid beads that are placed in the washing machine’s drum. This can cause two issues for users.

Firstly, residues. Consumers complain about beads still being present at the end of a wash, in the drum or even caught up in the pockets of clothes. This is especially a problem on cold and short cycles when the beads have even less time to dissolve.

The second issue is fragrance benefit. When beads go in the drum, they must survive the entire wash cycle before doing their job of depositing fragrance. This invariably means some of the fragrance compounds and benefits end up getting washed away before being deposited.

Comfort’s new Scent Booster Elixir range tackles these problems with a unique formulation: a concentrated transparent elixir infused with tiny beads that dissolve easily, leaving no residue even in short cold cycles. And as it’s designed to be put in the dispensing drawer, it gets dosed in the final rinse cycle, ensuring more of its fragrance is deposited in the clothes.

The market for scent boosters is fast-growing. From 2017 to 2022, it grew at 12.5% – twice the rate of the fabric softeners segment as a whole – and is predicted to be worth €3 billion by 2028, up from €1.9 billion in 2023. It continues to be the biggest value driver for the segment and a huge whitespace opportunity for Comfort, particularly in emerging markets.

Both product ranges also deliver on the growing consumer desire for more authentic sensorial experiences even in their laundry, offering sophisticated fragrances inspired by nature and enriched with essential oils.

As Fernanda Costa, Global Fabric Enhancers Marketing Lead, says: “These launches from our power brand Comfort are the latest example of how the Home Care business group is delivering on Unilever’s Growth Action Plan: leveraging our strong science and technology capabilities to develop innovations that drive category growth.

“Our focus is on delivering for consumers who want superior products that are sustainable and great value. Using breakthrough formulations, both the Scent Booster Elixir and Botanical ranges are aimed at recruiting new and lapsed shoppers to the fabric conditioner and scent booster segment.”