Beauty packaging suppliers are swiftly pivoting to meet new client demands due to the coronavirus pandemic, from requests for more sustainable and hygienic offers to more compliant solutions for e-commerce, as that channel booms.
Last year and the start of 2021 have been highly challenging, with country lockdowns leading to supply chain stoppages plus raw material shortages — including for plastics — and skyrocketing prices, among the various woes.
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Suppliers’ business has not normalized, but it is functioning better today, driven by numerous phenomena.
“The secular trends that happened pre-COVID-19 were only accelerated by the pandemic,” said Dan Wolfe, senior vice president of business development at Cosmopak.
Sustainability is the biggest focus now.
“Every brief is asking for a sustainable solution,” said Eric Firmin, president of HCP Packaging France.
“The pandemic has really pushed CSR into the center of discussions,” agreed Aude Charbonneaux, CSR manager at Albéa. “There is no meeting with customers that is not around sustainability.”
“This year, we can see that brands are really shifting their interest to getting more circularity and focusing on recyclability,” continued her colleague Cathy Nicolay, product manager at Albéa.
As consumers are ever more concerned with what’s good for themselves and the planet, there’s a rise in packaging briefs with an emphasis on the likes of carbon footprint and shorter lead times.
As such, suppliers have been focused on using more bio-based materials, such as Ecowood at HCP and bioresins at Aptar.
Cosmopak has for about the last five years been investing in post-consumer recycled plastics made with bioplastics, produced from renewable biomass sources, such as sugarcane.
“We’re starting to see some of the payoff of that investment,” Wolfe said.
All packaging suppliers are on a continual quest for new sustainable — especially mono-material — solutions.
“[Developing] new items in a single material helps to reduce the use of different substances, minimizing waste and increasing the possibilities of reuse,” said Maurizio Ficcadenti, global research and development manager at Baralan.
The Italian company just launched the Biobased Packaging Series, a recyclable line for fragrance and cosmetics produced with a biopolymer combining natural fibers and waste materials.
Eastman has recently introduced a new line of molecularly recycled polyesters to help brands meet their green goals. Produced by Eastman’s Advanced Circular Recycling technologies, these sustainable resins include Cristal Renew, made using up to 100 percent certified recycled content.
With the same processing ease of virgin polymers and level of performance in terms of clarity, luster, color compatibility and durability of Eastman’s heritage products, these materials deliver environmental benefits, including landfill diversion and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, according to the company.
“We are offering these solutions at scale, for manufacturing globally. This means that brands don’t have to wait to address their sustainability needs. They can do the right thing right now,” said Tara Cary, market development manager, specialty plastics — cosmetics and personal care packaging at the company.
Mono-materials are also a focus at APC Packaging. The group produces a jar wholly of PCR.
“We are working on a mono-material packaging pump,” said the group’s founder and chief executive officer Lisa Lin.
A bane for all packaging suppliers is that it’s impossible to use 100 percent recycled plastic, as the molecules are hard to mold.
“About 15 percent of the plastic in our containers is recyclable, but it’s recyclable from waste that we have in our factory,” said Michael Salemi, CEO of The Packaging Company. “It’s not something that we take from the junkyard.”
The best alternatives remain glass, aluminum and tin.
Lumson, for one, is betting big on aluminum, having recently launched TAL, or Techno Airless Aluminum, which is recyclable, light and easy to customize, along with meeting the market’s increasing demand for safety, with the group’s Hermetic Snap Closure System.
Eco-design is another must for beauty packaging solutions today.
A metal spring might be replaced with a plastic one in a pump, or a valve made of silicon might be substituted with TPE, as silicon disrupts the recycling process, explained Sabine Bouillet, global business development director for personal care at Aptar.
“It’s a very big technical challenge,” she said, adding: “Our goal is to have concrete actions that will make a big impact for the circular economy.”
Lin said simultaneously people want packaging to be beautiful and draw attention.
“Decoration is going to become more important — to decorate your packaging in a way [that’s sustainable], but still presentable,” she said. “That will be a big topic in the future.”
Reusability is also key in packaging creation. Three years ago, the concept was considered futuristic, said Bouillet, while today it’s becoming an eco-conscious innovation priority.
An increasing number of suppliers are focusing on refill technology, and some have had to pivot from packaging for makeup to skin care, as the latter category has soared.
“We took a pretty significant hit,” said Ariel Kuzon, director of marketing at HCT Group, referring to color cosmetics having historically been the company’s bread and butter. “Skin care is definitely shifting a little bit into more of a core business for us.”
HCT has designed airless pumps for skin care formulas with packaging including an inner lining made from a commercially compostable material, which can be refilled.
Meanwhile, APC has been creating refillable airless bottles and jars using from 75 percent to 100 percent consumer-recycled material.
Reusable packaging leads to fewer units of products sold, so can dent suppliers’ top line.
“You can consider it as a threat, but it can also be considered as an opportunity,” Bouillet said. “Because the consumers are going to put more value on the packaging. It’s not a piece of plastic that they’re going to throw away every week.”
As the pandemic heightens consumers’ awareness of hygiene and safety, packaging to keep products sterile is gaining traction, including pump applicators, airless options and sprays that are anti-bacterial or self-cleaning, noted Lumson’s marketing director Romualdo Priore.
“Hygienic solutions are now a key priority for our clients,” said Priscille Caucé, CEO of Cosmogen.
The company’s bestselling Squeeze’n line with a patented On-Off closure system protects product formula and after that’s been dispensed the packaging can second as a massager, for instance. Cosmogen has recently released a model to be used with a refill.
“We saw an acceleration of interest in accessories like spatulas,” Caucé added. Those could be in ceramic, semiprecious stones or woods, such as bamboo.
There has been a notable rise in requests for antibacterial packaging solutions, as well. Some ready-to-go offers included blending sponges, while Cosmogen created a next generation of antibacterial items during the pandemic.
“Now, we can inject an antibacterial agent into a plastic tube,” said Caucé, adding that it can kill 99 percent of bacteria.
Cosmogen has conceived makeup brushes with antibacterial fibers, too.
As there’s a cross-pollination of product categories (think makeup with skin care benefits), new needs arise for brands.
“We have started on working on cosmetics clusters, such as the ‘make-care,’ for some time, developing solutions that can enhance makeup products but also preserve the skin care formulations,” Priore said.
“Is there a sweet spot between hygiene and sustainability?” mused HCT’s Kuzon. “That’s what we’re trying to work on to solve with a lot of our clients.”
One sticking point can be that eco-friendly packaging often comes with a higher price tag.
“It does cost more,” said Salemi, noting an increase of 30 to 40 percent over traditional solutions, and that it’s the smaller brands, headed by entrepreneurs, who are more likely to make such an investment.
These days, suppliers are finding it is important to be able to produce closer to their clients, so as to have manufacturing facilities that can easily pivot — sometime to new categories — and increase capacity when demand ramps up. Sustainability-minded reasons include reduced shipping distances.
“Today, HCP has a global footprint in Europe, but also in the U.S.,” Firmin said.
In 2019, the group doubled the size of its Mexico plant’s capacity, with a new building expansion of 113,020 square feet. The same year, HCP debuted a 398,265-square-foot facility in Huai’an, China, and enlgarged its plant in Germany, where HCP invested in new injection molding and assembly machines, plus decoration equipment.
Baralan’s geographic reach, with headquarters in Italy, and branches in New York, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Shanghai, played an important role in managing speeded up time-to-market demands.
“Baralan’s stock inventory management on packaging and accessories is located in multiple areas and allows the group to be flexible and to respond promptly to different product orders, making the company very competitive on the market,” Ficcadenti said.
An Albéa factory in France diversified after making packaging for lipstick — a slow category during the pandemic — to manufacturing other types of products for local customers in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Prior to the health crisis, the group had centers of excellence for specific types of products.
“With the pandemic, we saw that [increasingly] customers want a shorter supply chain, to be more responsible in their production,” said Nicolay, adding they also hoped to have better control over their production after shortages caused by COVID-19 closures.
“Our new strategy is to diversify our plants to be able to answer more locally to big and small customers with closer production,” she said.
Some Albéa plants now produce multiple types of packaging. The group is also replicated its Fast-Track Beauty program, involving lower minimum orders and speedier product turnaround times, in the U.S., while also expanding the offer.
Numerous pain points exist for beauty product packaging that’s not e-commerce compliant. In a survey conducted by Aptar, 50 percent of respondents reported leakage a major issue, followed by damaged product packaging.
“We have seen pumps in general, but especially lotion pumps, have been considered the product technology with the biggest needs of an e-commerce packaging compliant solution,” said Luigi Garofalo, director of business development personal care at Aptar Beauty and Home, adding dispensing closures in some cases aren’t robust enough.
Packaging executives are focused on the ISTA 6-Amazon.com protocol with three levels of certification. Aptar, for instance, has adapted the Over-Boxing standard to assess its dispensing solutions for online sales.
“These are very rigorous and challenging tests,” said Garofalo, explaining that includes a drop test with nine orientations and a transit simulation. “If we pass all the tests, then we claim our product as e-commerce capable.”
Those that don’t are adapted.
“What’s important is to have within the existing range the right products that are e-commerce compliant,” he said.
Aptar had started using the protocol prior to the pandemic, but accelerated the process due to strong demand. Passing the tests is now mandatory for all new developments. Among the challenges for the mid- to long-term is to reduce the number of components and variety of materials used in packaging.
“The other goal is to ultimately reduce the cost of the full [e-commerce] supply chain, because today [it’s] very complex,” Garofalo said.
Before the health crisis, the e-commerce channel was largely viewed separate from brick-and-mortar, and big customers asked for different sorts of packaging options for the each.
“We see more and more customers interested in omnichannel solutions,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to develop one solution that fits with all distribution channels.”
This can give consumers a consistent experience, while interesting trial sizes and mini items can catch their attention.
“Because of hygiene matters and of shops being closed, we needed to reinvent sampling,” said Albéa’s Nicolay, adding sustainability is being taken into account, too, with more durable and reusable options at top of mind.
Packaging suppliers agree no one should go it alone, especially on the sustainability front.
“Sustainability is not a journey that concerns only product launches, but it’s an ongoing challenge encompassing the whole supply chain,” Priore said.
“Clearly there is still a lot of work to be done to get to a truly circular economy, a necessary component of a sustainable future,” said Cary, adding that Eastman actively seeks out and forms collaborations with companies across the value chain, customers and other organizations “to create standards and build frameworks aimed at preserving our natural resources and accelerating the circular economy.”
Aptar, for one, has already entered into some partnerships and will partner increasingly with various stakeholders.
“It’s important that we actors in the supply chain work together in order to meet [a] common goal,” Garofalo said.
“We cannot build this future alone,” Bouillet said. “We need to work altogether inside the ecosystem of beauty.”
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