A Matter of Health

By David gill

Consumers' growing concerns for the environment have increased their interest in air and water purifiers.

These products can be expensive; some of them cost hundreds of dollars at retail. But although the economy is still in a deep trough, consumers have shown a willingness to spend money to clean-up the air they breathe and the water they drink.

Indicative of the increased demand for these products is the fact that they are among the featured offerings in the new eco-intelligence section of ABC Carpet & Home, which debuted early last year. The air purifiers in the eco-intelligence area are priced from $345 to $999, and the water purifiers go for $595 to $650.

Amy Chender, ABC's vice president of social responsibility, described the air and water purifiers as "anchors" for the section. "They are essential to the whole experience," Chender said. "We're positioning them from the point of view of both your home and your body being eco-systems."

Education will also be necessary as consumers look to improve their knowledge of how these products work. "We look at our role as educators," Chender said. "We're working to create the understanding for these products through signage and the training of our sales associates. People are spending a lot of money on these products, so they want to understand them."

The health benefits of these products remain strong drivers to their sales. "Although overall sales are slightly less than a year ago, air purifiers offer asthma and allergy sufferers relief from their breathing maladies," said Chan Tinkle, executive vice president of Blueair. "Additionally, sales have increased recently due to media coverage of the swine flu virus."

Blueair has continued its focus on the high end in air purifiers. Its top-selling units, Tinkle said, are those with HEPA-type filtration, dust and odor sensors, and change-filter indicators. Retailers have been able to push sales for these products through promotions and by emphasizing the quality and value points of these units, he said.

The laggard economy's influence on consumers is also playing a key role in boosting demand.

"It goes back to people spending more time at home," said Peter Mann, chief executive officer of Alen Corp., which also manufactures air purifiers. "People are spending more time indoors, and you might as well be in an environment that is healthy and that you enjoy."

Obviously, these factors apply to water as well--especially considering homeowners' ongoing concerns about both tap water and bottled water.

"People want safe drinking water," said Andy Butler, chief executive officer of Zuvo, which produces the Zuvo Water Purator. "Bottled water has come under attack because of the environmental impact, with bottles being tossed into landfills and the carbon footprint from transporting it. In this economy, bottled water costs from $3 to $8 a gallon, 80 percent of which is transportation."

Even with these health and ecological concerns, however, price is a sensitive issue for these products at retail.

"Consumers are reducing the amount of dollars they are spending," said Myron Mullens, founder and CEO of Purely Enterprises, which manufactures the Purely Anion air purifier. "So retailers are looking for items that will drive traffic. The uniqueness of these products has become a big driver, as long as the products are within a cost structure that allows retailers to make a good margin."

Makers of air and water purifiers also have become more conscious of design. Manufacturers are launching products that look as if they belong in the home's decor.

"According to our experience, the products have become smaller, quieter and less noticeable," said Martin Stadler, marketing director of Swizz Style, whose Henry line of air purifiers was designed by Swiss designer Matti Walker. "The look (of these products) should not be so mechanical. It should be less machine and more furniture."

At the International Home & Housewares Show in March, Alen Corp. unveiled the "fall collection" of the Paralda line of air purifiers. This is a group of purifiers that comes in autumn colors such as bamboo, twilight and espresso.

Naturally, technology is another key facet of these products' uniqueness. The Zuvo Water Purator, for example, filters water with a technology that combines elements from nature. "It uses ultraviolet light, ozone from the atmosphere and activated charcoal filtering, which is the same as filtering on rocks," Butler said. "The output is water that's safer than that from faucet attachments, and that tastes better because it's oxygenated by the ozone."

The Zero Water line of water-filtration products use a patented five-stage ion-exchange filter to remove dissolved solids from tap water.

"The bottled-water market has slowed. There has been some negative press about it, and people are migrating back to tap water," said Doug Kellam, CEO of Zero Water. "Our strategy, very simply, is to get consumers to switch from bottled water to tap water by offering a straightforward solution to purifying their water."

The Purely Anion air purifier from Purely Enterprises uses fluorescent light bulbs that clean the air of smoke, dust, germs and pet dander.

Mullens said the product is an example of the use of negative ionizers. "Our bodies are being bombarded by positive ions from TVs, P.C. screens and flame retardants," he said. "These ions lead to increased incidences of asthma, depression and memory loss. The Purely Anion is a negative ionizer, and these have been gaining support from all over, particularly the mental-health community."

The drive toward improving one's health will continue to fuel demand for both air and water purifiers down the road.

"More and more people, particularly children, are diagnosed with allergies and asthma each year, which continues to drive additional growth of the category," Tinkle said. "Additionally, consumer awareness of the category will increase saturation, which now stands at just 20 percent."

Even with these health concerns, however, enlarging the channels of distribution will be an essential to maintaining the category's momentum.

"We're looking to develop a smaller version of the Paralda that we can sell to the big drug chains," Mann said. "We would also look to gear the line toward kids' retailers, with all the concerns parents have about their health."

HFN Staff | News & Commentary

HFN provides detailed information on the key home classifications: Housewares, Tabletop, Floor Covering & Rugs, Furniture, Home Textiles, Lighting, Home Decor, Mattresses & Bedding, Gifts, Major Appliances and Consumer Electronics as well as Business, Finance and Retail.


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