While consumer spending has been down this year, spending on personal care has remained steady, according to various reports, but with consumers more willing to buy the necessary items than other, higher-priced discretionary products.
It has not been a great year for consumer spending. Various programs to stimulate consumers to buy big-ticket items like cars, such as Cash for Clunkers, have resulted in limited success. A proposal for a similar program to push consumers to buy appliances is looking doubtful. However, when it comes to personal care, consumers continue to buy items they consider necessary. Personal care products makers aren’t letting up, many coming out with new products, new packaging designs, and new ads to push consumers toward more spending.
Unilever released its Q2 and first half 2009 financial report the first week in August, and the news was surprisingly good, despite the recession.
Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, has only been in the driver’s seat since January of this year, but his comments reflected optimism, albeit prefaced with caution. “This is, without any doubt, the longest and deepest recession during the post-world-war period, and, whilst it might have bottomed out, we do not believe that there are any signs of a fast recovery,” he told shareholders and journalists in the August press briefing. “In fact, we expect many parts of the world such as Western and Eastern Europe still to soften before even bottoming out.”
In this climate, Polman noted, consumers aren’t necessarily “fleeing to discounters” but “rather they are looking for value without frills.” Polman said that nearly 60% of Unilever’s business units contributed to positive momentum, with growth widespread across categories and countries.
A look at the numbers
Unilever saw strong performance in deodorants and hair care products, both in the company’s personal care unit, which rose 5.4% in Q2 and 4.6% for the first half of 2009. Home care grew by 9.2% in Q2 and 9.9% in the first half with strong performance in laundry and household care products.
The Proctor & Gamble Co. (Cincinnati, OH) also saw its earnings moving in the right direction, with diluted net earnings per share for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009 of $4.26, up 17% and exceeding the company’s guidance range of $4.20-$4.25. This was due primarily to a gain on the sale of the Folgers coffee business.
P&G’s individual business units had mixed results. The beauty segment saw net sales decrease 4% to $18.8 billion in fiscal 2009. Retail hair care volume grew in the low single digits behind the Pantene, Head & Shoulders, and Rejoice brands. Prestige fragrances and professional hair care volumes both declined, as did skin care and personal cleansing.
Health care net sales were down 7% to $13.6 billion, and unit volume declined 4%, including a -1% impact from the divestitures of ThermaCare and other minor brands. Baby care and family care net sales increased 1% for the fiscal year to $14.1 billion on 1% volume growth.
According to Rick Noller, global marketing director for PolyOne GLS Thermoplastic Elastomers, TPEs have revolutionized the personal care industry. “TPEs are found in a multitude of personal care products including toothbrushes, razors, and cosmetic packaging,” Noller says. “TPEs give a designer the opportunity to differentiate their product performance and aesthetics from the competition.”
Within the personal care market, PolyOne’s GLS TPE materials are an option for devices that require both longer life and improved durability. “They offer impact and chemical resistance, excellent aesthetics and color retention, and improved tactile feel of the final product,” says Noller.
While personal care spending is down globally, Noller says that the growth of TPEs in this market has exceeded the overall growth of the personal care market. “If you look at how the personal care market has grown, TPEs have grown faster,” he adds.
PolyOne’s GLS materials also come in “green” compounds, such as the company’s reSound biopolymer compounds and Versaflex Bio, both of which were recently introduced to the market. The patent-pending reSound platform is formulated with 30% minimum bio-derived content, and combines compatible engineering thermoplastic resins with bio-based polymers such as PLA, PHB, PHBV, and biopolyesters. Key improvements include high heat resistance up to 120°C (248°F) and impact resistance up to 53 J/m (12 ft-lb/in), according to PolyOne.
Versaflex Bio TPEs for injection molding are formulated with up to 70% renewable resources vs. typical compounds that contain a maximum of 15% or 20%. This product line features translucent grades, available in hardnesses ranging from 40-70 Shore A, that compare favorably to typical styrenic-based TPEs.
“These new solutions were designed to help our customers address their sustainability and environmental needs, and reduce the environmental impact of their products,” says Noller. “The Versaflex Bio family of TPEs also can help a customer address current and future standards such as those governed by REACH, RoHS, ELV, and WEEE.”
Innovation in packaging
Rexam PLC has built its name helping consumer products companies design creative packaging with eye-catching appeal, and using molding technology to make these designs come to life. Based on years of research and patented innovations, Rexam’s latest lotion dispensing containers—the sleek Nea pump and the ergonomically designed Prodigio—represent a “new generation of personal care product packaging,” say Rexam sources.
Prodigio is an airless dispenser for applications such as facial care products (moisturizing creams, anti-aging creams, masks, or facial scrubs). A patented mechanism prevents the system from clogging with dried cream in the dispenser. Made of polypropylene and polyethylene, Prodigio is 100% recyclable.
With production sites in Europe, the Americas, and Asia for flexibility and reduced production time frames for international launches, Rexam offers its customers in this market what they want: cutting-edge design to help them stand apart from the competition, as well as recyclability. Nea, for example, represents what Rexam says is “the ultimate expression of superior form and function.” The containers are available in both plastic and metal (for more luxurious products), and are used for facial applications, eye or lip formulations, foundations, and moisturizers.
The containers have customizable components (cap, push-button, and collar are available in a large choice of colors and finishes), and come in three sizes (100 ml, 150 ml, and 250 ml) that allow for customization in specific coverings to respond to exacting design requirements.
Package designs go green
Nancy Kane, product manager, Home & Personal Care, Rexam Personal Care, says that ease of use and convenience is number one in personal care products, but cost is also critical. “Consumers are value-conscious, so one feature is a package in which the consumer can completely evacuate the entire product from the package,” Kane explains. “Consumers are conscious of the size of the package in terms of extra components that don’t necessarily need to be there. . . . [They] are becoming more conscious of excessive packaging and really want simpler packaging.”
To provide what consumers want, personal care product manufacturers rely on Rexam to create designs that eliminate extra components and reduce the package weight (via thin-walling), which reduces transportation costs and therefore the product’s carbon footprint. Recyclability is also important to consumers.
Creative package designs often challenge Rexam’s designers. Kane notes that when designing products for bi-injection (one part molded with two different materials) or multicomponent products, Rexam always takes recyclability into account. “Coming from a design and engineering perspective for consumer products, we’re concerned with recyclability,” she says. “We try not to get too many different materials in one product to make recycling easy for the consumer. For many materials, there’s an acceptable level or another material that will be compatible in the recycling stream, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, so we are conscious of those levels when designing multimaterial components so the entire product can be recycled.”
Kane says that another trend is the movement of inmold labeling (IML) from the food packaging industry to the personal care industry. “The label is made of the same material as the package material, so the entire package is recyclable,” says Kane. “While this presents challenges in terms of inventory—labels might change—if a company can be smart and flexible, IML can be a huge advantage.”
As a packaging producer, IML pushes the limits, Kane adds. “How far can we push IML? In the personal care market, the volumes are fairly large and the number of SKUs is also large, so we need to push our suppliers to help us meet those challenges.”
Rexam has developed several new dispensing systems, and is also working on sampling packages that “speak to consumers wanting to try a product before they buy a large package,” Kane explains. “Also, consumers in many emerging markets such as Brazil or Mexico can’t afford to buy a large size. In those markets more trial-size packages are popular. Consumers will buy two to three trial sizes at a time to save money.” Kane notes that Rexam will be introducing a new deodorant stick that’s smaller and costs less.
“Consumers are still looking for ‘luxury’ products but the definition is different,” says Kane. “These products are not necessarily found in a high-end store, but where consumers in all walks of life can go—Target or Wal-Mart—and find a ‘luxury’ item that fits their idea of luxury. That’s really meeting consumers’ needs.” —Clare Goldsberry