THE BIG INTERVIEW: Will O'Brien, Country Manager Ireland For Reckitt Benckiser

By Donna Ahern
THE BIG INTERVIEW: Will O'Brien, Country Manager Ireland For Reckitt Benckiser

On 14 May, Dettol pledged its support to the HSE in the fight against Covid-19 with a donation of 40,000 Dettol antibacterial products to hospitals and health service facilities countrywide over the next 12 weeks. Will O'Brien, country manager Ireland for Reckitt Benckiser (RB), tells Maev Martin why this donation is so important to the Dettol brand and to the RB team in Ireland

RB has been working closely with the HSE over the last number of weeks to assess how the company could be of assistance to the health service during this pandemic. “A donation of our product was a solution that we all agreed would satisfy their greatest need and be a significant help to them and that is what we are delivering on,” says O’Brien.

“We want to play our part in keeping these environments hygienically clean and we want to extend our warmest and heartfelt thanks to all of those who have been working hard, for long hours, under extremely challenging circumstances to protect the nation against this virus and save lives. We are delighted to give extra support to the HSE at this time and we really hope that this will help them fight the pandemic in Ireland.”

The company and the HSE have agreed that the Dettol products will be distributed by the HSE to hospitals and other health service facilities nationwide, including residential care facilities and nursing homes.

Dettol products will be also distributed to Community Assessment Hubs around the country, all with the aim of helping to keep these environments hygienically clean. The Dettol products (hand sanitisers, antibacterial spray, antibacterial wipes, and Dettol liquid) will be issued with PPE equipment.


A team effort

“This initiative has meant an awful lot to our RB team in Ireland and we are delighted to be supporting the HSE,” says O’Brien. The requirement to adapt quickly to a new work environment has not stopped Will O’Brien and his team at RB Ireland from rolling out this mammoth product donation. “We cleared out our office at a moment’s notice and nobody has been back there since mid-March,” he says.

“Virtual working had its teething issues, but within days we had completely adjusted to the new way of operating. As demand for disinfectant products reached unprecedented levels, we wanted to do whatever we could to assist those who were working hard on behalf of communities around the country.

The team here at RB reached out to the HSE and established where we could help and we were able to pivot our operation in short order to ship a range of donated Dettol products to our central depot for distribution across a range of healthcare facilities in Ireland.”

Protect, heal and nurture


O’Brien says that RB is driven by its purpose ‘to protect, heal and nurture’ in the pursuit of a cleaner, healthier world. “We work hard to make access to the highest-quality hygiene, wellness, and nourishment a right for everyone,” he says. “It is a very proud moment for all of us at RB to donate product back to where the brand started 86 years ago, when it was used in hospitals for cleaning and disinfecting surgical tools.

While Dettol started by preventing infection and sickness in hospitals, the brand’s mission was always much bigger, aiming to keep people healthy by protecting families as part of their everyday lives in the home. Every year, Dettol pledges to do more for the health of families across the world - from going into schools to teach children the importance of hand-washing, to providing starter kits to new parents to help them care for their new-born baby’s hygiene.”

Effective against Covid-19

A study designed to increase the understanding of methods to combat the spread of Covid-19, which was published on 27 May, confirmed that active ingredients in many of the leading hygiene brands are 99.9% effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The findings were published in The American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC).

The study is the first published evaluation of the viricidal efficacy of personal care and surface cleaning and disinfection products against SARS- CoV-2 using internationally established standards. The laboratory tests examined active ingredients in well-known and widely used brands (Dettol and Lysol) antiseptic liquid, hand sanitiser, hand wash, disinfectant spray, personal care and surface wipes, bar soap, surface cleanser and laundry sanitiser.


The study found all microbicidal actives to be effective at inactivating SARS-CoV-2, demonstrating a reduction of infectious virus within the tested 1 to 5 minutes. The researchers highlighted that the findings are significant, given the practical importance of microbicides having efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 in the home, community, and healthcare settings.

“Our hope is that these findings will be useful to the infection prevention and control community in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dr Bruce Charlesworth, chief medical officer at RB. “This is a positive development and is fully consistent with our expectations. We will continue to develop scientific evidence to support our product portfolio to enable effective, science-led communication around hygiene.”

Myth-busting facts

Speaking of science-led communication, Dettol warned consumers against using disinfectants to treat the coronavirus, after US President Donald Trump fuelled speculation on social media around the use of disinfectant in patients. “As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstances should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body, through injection, ingestion, or any other route,” says O’Brien.

“As with all our products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines, which can be found on our labels and safety information. We, as a company, have a responsibility in providing consumers with access to accurate, up-to-date information as advised by leading public health experts. We’ve set up a website with myth-busting facts and information – www.covid19facts.com.”


Huge increase in demand

On 30 April, Reckitt Benckiser Plc forecast better than previously anticipated results for 2020 after reporting record quarterly sales growth, as customers stocked up on Lysol disinfectants, Mucinex cough syrup and Dettol soap in coronavirus lockdowns. The growth marked the best sales increase since the company was formed in 1999 through the merger of Reckitt & Colman Plc and Dutch firm Benckiser NV.

“We have seen a huge increase in demand for our products of late across the Dettol portfolio,” says O’Brien. “As you can imagine, trying to manage the supply and logistics constraints has been very challenging. We are working day and night with our partners in the field to try to ramp up supply and identify areas where we can increase our production. The demand is unprecedented.

Our global results for quarter one revealed that we have experienced a 13.6% rise in sales for our health business, which is where the Dettol brand sits. Consumer demand has been strong, particularly in March and April, and we are seeing a clear split between defensive buying and higher levels of underlying consumption. At this stage, it is uncertain how quickly this will change in the months ahead.”

Outperforming the category

Not surprisingly, Dettol is the biggest selling product in RB’s hygiene portfolio in Ireland. The Hard-Surface Cleaners category ranked 67th in the top 100 categories listing in Checkout and Nielsen’s Top 100 Brands 2019 publication. Within the category, Dettol came second, after CIF pushed it out of the top spot, with Flash, Cillit Bang and Mr Muscle taking the third, fourth and fifth spots. Is O’Brien confident that Dettol will reclaim the top spot in this category in 2020?

“The growth that we have seen in Dettol this year is unprecedented, with the brand outperforming the category in the year to date,” he says. “In the 12 months up to the end of March, Dettol has doubled its growth compared to the market (Nielsen Scantrack Data – 52 weeks to 29 March 2020,) so we would be very confident that we will be reclaiming the number one spot in the hard surface cleaners category of the Top 100 Brands this year.”

Sustainability strategy

Despite the current emphasis on all things Covid-19 related in all industry sectors, including grocery retail and FMCG, O’Brien is keen to point out that any future new product development (NPD) or advertising campaigns will be underpinned by sustainability. “That will be consistent with the strategy that we had been employing until the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in March,” he says.

“We had a major NPD launch in our wipes category earlier this year where we rolled out biodegradable wipes and we hope that this message will come to the fore again. Those wipes have been performing extremely well since the launch and we will continue to apply a sustainability mindset to all of our innovation going forward.”

Global investment, increased capacity

Reuters reported in February that Reckitt Benckiser had launched a corporate revamp that will invest £2 billion in the business over three years ‘as it seeks to reclaim ground lost to sector peers and generate stronger revenue growth’. It also reported that the new investment will be funded through internal ‘productivity savings’ of £1.3 billion, and by aligning its brands around three categories - hygiene, health and nutrition.

What impact will this corporate revamp have on the selling and marketing of Dettol and RB’s other products in Ireland? “It is hard to quantify the impact in Ireland, but any investment of this magnitude will safeguard the production expectations,” says O’Brien. “As we go into a period where there will be a longer-term increase in demand, it gives us the assurance that the capacity will be there to deal with it.”

The trusted brand

O’Brien points out that the company is in uncharted territory in terms of predicting demand. “However, based on what we have seen in the hygiene portfolio, the increase in demand has come from new shoppers entering the category and from an increase in spend from existing shoppers in the category,” he says.

“In addition, what people do in terms of home hygiene will determine future demand, and significantly more people are now working from home, so the more time people are spending in their homes, the more they are likely to use our products.

We believe that these factors will result in continued increased demand, but the extent of that demand is uncertain at this point. The overall cleaning category has increased dramatically and within that the Dettol brand growth has been significantly higher than the category growth, so that tells us that people are looking for a trusted brand – and when the dust settles Dettol will be strongly placed to lead the pack.”

© 2020 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Maev Martin. Click sign-up to subscribe to Checkout.

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