Last week. The Wall Street Journal reported that there is: “a war bubbling up in laundry aisles of Wal-Mart” (paid subscription of free metered view), and it involves two global giants in the consumer product and household goods area, namely Procter & Gamble and Henkel and their respective premium-priced laundry detergent branded products.  This story is yet another example of how Wal-Mart can leverage the power of any supplier, even one with a long-lasting and presumed highly collaborative relationship.

Wal-Mart recently decided to stock and feature Henkel’s Persil laundry detergent along-side the iconic Tide branded detergent. According to the report, Tide currently accounts for 60 percent of all U.S. sales of laundry detergent along with an estimated 85 percent of the profits. The brand received a prior sales boost with the introduction of Tide Pods in 2012, but that came after an uncharacteristic and visible supply stumble involving the product’s initial introduction.

Persil itself has generated over a billion dollars in annual sales and is available in 60 countries. However, the brand was not featured in the U.S., at least not till Wal-Mart’s recent actions. Last year, to drive more revenue and profitability, P&G elected to raise the consumer price of Tide while reducing the amount of detergent and number of loads per container.

The WSJ cites as spokesperson for Wal-Mart as indicating that the stocking of Persil provides U.S. customers another laundry detergent option and that the brand is already stocked in the retailer’s other global based stores. Another spokesperson indicated to the WSJ that competition is good for the category and good for consumers.  Who can argue with that.

However this new development involving the marketing and availability of laundry detergent is from our lens, a clear “shot across the bow” among two previous strong collaborators. It is therefore keen to keep abreast of how this U.S. laundry detergent war eventually turns-out.

If there was any supplier more experienced in working with and collaborating with Wal-Mart, it was P&G. Their collaboration in joint marketing, supply chain stocking and promotional initiatives was the basis of many a consumer product goods marketing case study in win-win. Now that relationship may have suffered a setback.  However, Henkel and its Persil brand stands to gain a rather powerful U.S. presence, one that can be leveraged to other retailers down the road.

Supply Chain Matters has featured recent commentaries relative to the tectonic market shifts occurring in the consumer goods market, and their associated supply chains.  Those shifts are predominantly on the demand and cost pressure side. This latest development involving Wal-Mart and two laundry detergent giants is an indication of perhaps other dynamics involving prior long-standing relationships among key retailers. Then again, we are discussing Wal-Mart, and this global retailer gets to play by its rules.

Bob Ferrari