You can object and say that the quality of dish detergent is the last of Brazil’s worries – or that there is nothing wrong with dish detergents, that the Brazilian dishes are very well cleaned, thank you.

What I’m trying to do here is to discuss the notion of product quality in this country, and how we calibrate what is the “standard quality” in a product category. Furthermore, what price we are willing to pay for it. So, let’s go.

After years washing dishes with the imported detergent Dawn, (available only at Sam’s Club in São Paulo), I found myself staying at a friend’s house,  where the Brazilian Limpol product (launched 40 years ago) is used.

The first time I washed a dish, I was disappointed: the liquid was too “thin,” anemic, made little foam. It flows down like water. Maybe my perception was biased by the belief that everything imported from the US is better than made in Brazil?

Well,  as I had recently moved, I brought with me a half-full bottle of Dawn. So I was able to make a “head-to-head” comparison, although somewhat subjective.

First, I turned the bottle of Limpol upside down, and the liquid spilled almost without squeezing. When I put it on a wet sponge, it was quickly absorbed and made little foam. I had to put more detergent after a few dishes. Dawn brand: I put on a small amount (had to squeeze the bottle), some water and the foam was thick, full-bodied. It covered the dishes with a white, abundant foam, enough for several plates, glasses, knives, and forks. To give an idea of the consistency of the products, I put an equal amount of detergent in the same sponge. From the photo, it seems that I put more Dawn, but what happened is that the Brazilian brand was absorbed more quickly.


Second test: I put a little of each detergent in the sponge, a little water and squeezed it three times. The result appears below. Although visually they do not look so different, the foam consistency of the American Dawn was much more robust.


I could write a whole chapter about the marketing of each brand, the quality of the label, the bottle (why the bottle of Limpol gets “dirty”? That’s serious for a product which aims to clean stuff). What about promotional claims? Compare:

·      Cleans greasy dishes 2x more ·      Eliminates odors
·      With active SUDS ·      Concentrated
·      Dawn helps save the wildlife ·      New
·      Ultra ·      Dermatologically tested
  ·      Aloe Vera perfume

The benefit of Dawn is clear: cleans greasy dishes twice more. Right to the point. What does the consumer want most from a detergent? Clean it well. If it cleans greasy dishes, the better. If it cleans greasy dishes twice more, much better! The benefit of Limpol? “eliminates odors?” Your plate may have pieces of food stuck to it, but who cares? It smells good, great! Besides, I believe the aroma of aloe vera is somewhat polarizing.

Dawn: With active foam? Who wouldn’t want that? It sounds like the foam will (actively) jump on the plate and do the cleaning itself. And “helps save wildlife”? Beyond effective, it is ecologically conscious !!! Just do not ask me how Dawn saves the ducklings. Perhaps the active foam volunteers to clean up the victims of oil tanker leaks (post-script: this was meant to be a joke, but I saw a video, and they really use Dawn to clean oil-dirty birds). ULTRA! Everyone knows that anything ULTRA is better.

Limpol: New (New? Really ?? Launched 40 years ago?). Concentrated? Only if it is in the sense of absorbed, focused because the consistency sucks). Two shameless overpromises. How about “dermatologically tested”? Wow, what a great idea for a product used on the hands be tested on the skin… but what about the test results? Did they test dermatologically and … the skin peeled, leaving the flesh in the raw? Did the nails fell??  Okay, okay, I am going a little too far here. But perhaps “approved by dermatologists” could be an attribute much more valued by consumers.

One more point: price. Limpol, at Walmart in Sao Paulo, costs US$ 1.00 / liter. DAWN at Target in the US, US$ 3.92 / liter. But wait, the purchasing power for each country must be considered. The American consumer has a purchase power four times greater than a Brazilian.  So in concrete terms, Brazilians pay US$ 1.00 for a liter of the lower-quality Limpol and Americans “feel in their pockets” as if paying US$ 1.09 per liter of Dawn.

A final dimension: productivity. How many dishes can I clean with a liter of Limpol? How many using a liter of Dawn? I can guarantee you that a liter of Dawn cleans much more than three times a liter of Limpol), which makes Dawn a much more cost-effective product. And I must emphasize Limpol is one of the best detergents in Brazil – I do not want to imagine the other ones.

I have a friend who worked in the international marketing department of a major cleaning products manufacturer (NOT Bombril). I once asked him how they managed the pricing of products in different countries. The answer: we determine the price according to the average per capita income of each geography. Then I asked how come the corporation was ok working with lower profit margins in the poorest countries, where they had to charge lower prices. He replied that all geographies operated with roughly the same profitability. What is the secret of this miracle? I asked again. Easy, he said: dilution. The lower the average income (and consequently the price), the more water they put in the formula sold in the country.

So, for Brazil, that’s perfectly acceptable! We are used to putting water in cooked beans, alcohol in gasoline, splitting one dose of yellow fever vaccine in five. Why not water in the detergent? Dilution is as Brazilian as Carnival and Futebol.