Getting the Product Out: Eight Dispensing Challenges
Dispenser designers recount their biggest concerns.By Christina Elston
In the cosmetic and personal care market, each segment—makeup, skin care, soaps, and shampoos—has unique needs when it comes to dispensing systems. Add the market’s emphasis on aesthetics and brand identity, and the field keeps experts hard at work thinking ahead and meeting new challenges. Following are a few common issues that keep packagers on their toes.
One of the first challenges that arises is determining customers’ needs, especially when customers aren’t sure of exactly what they want, says Nancy Kane, marketing coordinator for Crown Zeller (Libertyville, IL). “We have to really learn our customers, and their customers, the consumers,” she explains. And because consumers tend to be fickle, keeping tabs on their demands can be a lot of work.
When it comes to the look that a package will have, satisfying all decision makers can be tricky. “The biggest challenge with our most difficult projects has been identifying and addressing the key design elements that satisfy the needs of all departments—marketing, design, and purchasing,” says Des McEttrick, global marketing director at Emsar (Stratford, CT). “By concentrating on the development of a design brief that all parties have embraced, staying on track with the brief, and gaining upfront agreement, we’ve found it easier to overcome the challenge.”
Making It Manufacturable
Another challenge arises when a customer has settled on a package design that is tough to produce. This sometimes involves unique shapes that require complex tooling and molding. “They will develop a package that has a design that they love, but that is completely not manufacturable,” says Kane. “That is why it is important for our customers to involve us as early in the package-design process as possible.”
“In designing a new pump, the manufacturer always has to keep in mind cost, ergonomics, aesthetic appeal, ease and convenience, and other nonconsumer issues such as filling lines, stacking, shipping, and neck finishes,” says David Stob, director of business development at Airspray International (Pompano Beach, FL). “Adding to the intricate part count of the pump and incorporating very specialized materials is a challenge to any manufacturer.” To offer customers a unique look using simple parts and common materials, Airspray developed the Symplicity lotion pump.
Coping with Complex Products
Valois of America (Congers, NY) works to keep ahead of trends in cosmetics ingredients, says vice president of sales and marketing Eric Vaxelaire. “Every two or three years there is a big new molecule or ingredient in the market promoted by a huge communication from the brands, such as AHA or Retinol,” he explains. Studying these ingredients allows Valois to choose compatible materials.
Rexam Dispensing Systems (Evansville, IN) produces only elastomer-free pumps with no metal parts that will contact the product, says global marketing manager Eric Desmaris. The firm also offers airless dispensing. To handle harsh detergents found in the new Dawn “Direct Foam” dishwashing foam, Airspray had to develop an entirely new foam pump engine. And Emsar’s BC-NV Cosmetic Lotion pump was modified to expand the range of product viscosities that it would work with, specifically to prime quickly even with higherviscosity formulas, says McEttrick.
Balancing Fashion and Function
In cases where a product and a particular dispenser type simply aren’t compatible, companies sometimes need to offer a fashionable alternative. For instance, Cospack America Corp. (Edison, NJ) helps clients in the aromatherapy sector work with essential-oil-based products that are incompatible with airless dispensing systems, says Cospack’s David Hou.
For companies that want the upscale look of airless dispensing for their product line, but have products that won’t work well with that technology, Cospack has designed the Glacier collection, out since May. “This helps companies maintain a ‘family look’ for all their products, using airless dispensing where possible, and regular dispensing or jars with a compatible look when needed,” Hou says.
Standing Up To Distribution
Dispensers must be tough enough to protect sensitive products and to stand up to harsh ingredients, but they must also be able to tolerate an increasingly rough distribution environment, says Kane. During the past 5 to 10 years, Kane has noticed an increasing need for dispensers that can withstand “a lot of harsh activity” that packages now face in handling at large-scale markets and distribution centers. Crown Zeller, says Kane, uses increased wall thickness and opening force or lift force to toughen up dispensing systems.
Dispensers also must be tough enough for reuse. “Often the package now has to be stable, not just for the life of the product, but beyond,” Kane says.
Satisfying the Consumer
While the dispenser must stay closed tight during distribution, it must work smoothly and perfectly the moment it’s in the consumer’s hands. “The actuation has to be smooth, whatever the formula,” says Desmaris. “We don’t want the consumer to be struggling with product dispensing.” Since dispenser operation must be simple, the desire to design new mechanisms must always be balanced by ease-of-use.
Consumers also look for convenience, such as 360-degree spray, or the ability to spray more product with less effort. “Sometimes increasing dosages without significantly increasing the amount of effort to actuate the product is required for better consumer satisfaction,” says McEttrick. “We’ve recently done this with the Emsar standard fine-mist sprayer, 37MS Airforce II, for a sun care product.”
Cost is also a factor. “The skin care market is pulled by mass-market brands, and all these technical features mentioned have to be affordable,” says Desmaris, adding that Rexam uses manufacturing techniques and global marketing efficiencies to help ensure affordability.
“The focus is on how much the consumer will ultimately want to pay for the product,” says Vaxelaire, adding that companies might use higher-end finishing for higher-end products. Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena generally uses a Valois Evolution mechanism with simple finishing, while Roc, “la crème de la crème,” for its last launch chose metal materials, custom color, and a self-sealing actuator to keep the formulation from drying in the nozzle, he says.
Staying Ahead of Design Trends
Of course, all of this is for naught if your dispenser is dull. “Our main market is the high and middle end where customers are very trendy,” says Vaxelaire. “They want something new, not only in their formulation, but also in their packaging.”
Around the end of the 1990s, companies began switching from cosmetic pumps that were generally square, plastic, and shiny, to custom pumps or new standards that were round and matte, with new accessories such as smaller clips or caps, recounts Vaxelaire. It is essential for suppliers to stay ahead of trends such as this, rather than following them. “It’s risky, because you invest a lot, but it is necessary, and it is worth it when you succeed!” he says.
Creating a Unique Look
In many cases, companies want complete custom designs to keep their look fresh. “Consumers are looking for an upscale package,” says Hou. “They want the package to be at the same level as the product inside.” Cospack keeps a large inventory of stock airless dispensers available for immediate delivery, but with six-to-eight-week production lead time, the firm can special-order color combinations and surface treatments from its factory in Taiwan.
Rexam has developed ranges of actuators, caps, and collars to offer mix-and-match opportunities, says Desmaris. It also develops custom tools for unique designs.
Still, creating a package that immediately differentiates itself from the others on the shelf is a daunting task. “All the elements have to come together—from the pump to the bottle and graphics—to help make the total package jump out at the customer,” Stob says. When elements do come together, however, you’ve got something the consumer can recognize, can use easily, and will buy again—something that gets the product out, and brings profits in.