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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,” says 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, western Europe’s dishwasher soap champ, and appliance makers BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte and Electrolux (ELUXY). Dishwasher sales in Britain have fallen 11 percent from a 2007 peak, researcher GfK RT (GFK) estimates. “Compared to western Europe, automatic dishwashing is considered less of a necessity and more of a luxury by many U.K. consumers,” says Euromonitor analyst Lee Peart. “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., says researcher Mintel. That compares with 77 percent in Germany, 52 percent in France, and 49 percent in Spain, Mintel says. 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. Converting more Britons to dishwashers would help Reckitt Benckiser’s Finish, a dishwashing detergent that boasted a dominant 40 percent share of the western European market in 2011, according to Euromonitor. Automatic dishwashers use less water and energy and save time, vs. washing dishes by hand, according to a 2010 study of 150 Britons published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies. But 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, says 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. Still, 4 in 10 Britons consider dishwashers expensive to run, and a near-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, says Anthony Stocker, an appliance buyer at Home Retail Group’s 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. But the housing slowdown that began the following year has “severely impacted” dishwasher sales since, Stocker says.
Benjamin Voyer, assistant professor of management at Richmond, The American International University in London and a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ Institute of Social Psychology, says 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?” says Voyer, who once worked as an assistant brand manager at Reckitt Benckiser.
The bottom line: Only 40 percent of British households have an automatic dishwasher. Old habits and lack of space may be the cause.