NEW YORK: Brand owners like Procter & Gamble, Sun Products and Henkel are all competing in a new section of the laundry market, in a test case for whether a "first mover" advantage pays off.

Procter & Gamble, the FMCG group, rolled out Tide Pods, tablets filled with detergent that can be put straight into the wash, last month, after eight years of development and 6,000 consumer tests.

Alex Keith, P&G's general manager, fabric care, argued it was the biggest "disruption" in the laundry category, worth some $6.5bn a year, since Tide liquid in 1984, according to the Financial Times.

"It's been three decades since the lives of people in the laundry room were changed in a meaningful way," said Keith. P&G also spent an estimated $150m on marketing Tide Pods to raise awareness.

However, as the firm missed its original launch date by five months, Sun Products was able to introduce All "Might Pacs", a similar line, at the same time, although this may actually prove beneficial.

"The number one challenge we have is educating consumers about what these are, how to use them and what they do. I'm in the mindset that the more people advertise, the quicker the uptake," Michael Lyons, senior manager for the All brand, said.

Henkel has also created Purex UltraPacks to battle against these products, and Eric Schwartz, its general manager, US laundry care, equally suggested primacy was not always essential.

"The first mover sometimes overcomplicates in the beginning," he said. "At the end of the day it's not about how intricate you make a new offering. It's about how close to what the consumer wants your offering is."

Jim Craigie, CEO of Church & Dwight, which sells Power Paks pods, said last year: "I ... applaud Procter for driving the category through innovation, this is an innovation, and as far as what percent of the category it will take, that's to be seen."

Other commentators have been less enthusiastic. Mary Marlowe Leverette, a laundry expert at consumer advice site, said Tide Pods were simply "one of the crowd". "Do I think it's innovative? No," she added.

P&G has pegged potential sales of Tide Pods at $300m for the next year, and Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor at London Business School, argued the company had considerable strengths.

"There's tremendous romance around the idea of pioneering, breakthrough innovation," he said. "It's not a big deal. They still have all the other advantages of being Procter: brand, distribution, great execution and the ability to keep improving the product."

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff