As a child the ubiquitous water pistol was part and parcel of every toy box. Fast forward to today and for water pistol read trigger sprays as they have advanced from their inception in the late 50s to their current technology and market place positioning. Steve Thomas-Emberson reports

There is folklore concerning the birth of the trigger spray. It goes like this. A certain Mr Tetsuyaeda back in 1957 designed a trigger spray product for dispensing both liquids and also sprays. It is alleged that in trigger spray history his was Genesis.

Whatever the truth, the reason for the birth of the spray was the Japanese desire to have an alternative to the aerosol container to enhance the environment. This position, taken in the late 50s, is significantly ahead of its time and has really only come into its own as an issue for trigger sprays since the mid 80s. Mr Tetsuyaeda’s product was the product that gave Canyon Corporation in Tokyo its starting point.

Today’s use of the trigger spray as a method of dispensing both liquid and spray is widespread. Hugh Ross, managing director of Canyon Europe based in Belfast, explains the phenomenal growth. “If one is selling any product today in any market place the input from the consumer is critical.

“A desire for safety, ease of use and an understanding of the technology used is at the forefront of consumer thinking. In fact, these elements have now entered the shoppers’ self-conscious. It is a way of measuring not only the content but also the actual pack itself.

“Even though we are the pack producers for the consumer product, we get a lot of customer feedback on how a trigger spray performs. The consumer feels a lot happier using this particular dispensing method. It feels easy to control, is fully understood and, as such, gives a lot of added value to the product itself.”

One of the markets that has and continues to see growth for trigger spray application is household products. Not only have the dispensing mechanisms changed for the better but the ever-expanding brand lines of household products have also assisted in the trigger growth.

Packaging designers, who have done much to develop the potential of the pack, have also promoted the popularity of trigger sprays. Bottle shapes have evolved into ergonomic structures that aid the dispensing process as it provides a better hand-held feel.

The design work has also meant that brands in whatever market have been able to develop a range of kindred products that are in the same shape bottle with the differentiating factor being product colour. This is a very attractive off-the-peg solution to dispensing.

As the trigger spray marches on, it is important to evaluate what the significant stepping-stones have been along the way. After all, as a method of dispensing it is still low tech. Looking at further potential, Mr Ross expands: “Quality and robustness have been the two main drivers for triggers.

“There used to be a time when a spray consisted of 16 or 18 separate parts and some of these parts, particularly the valves, were not all made of plastics. Nowadays valve springs are plastics and users benefit from upside down valves, which facilitate underneath spraying.

“Different plastics are now used in the assembly and the number of parts that make up a trigger spray has dropped to as low as six or eight. The actual liquids that are dispensed have had a major influence on trigger design. As a background most liquids used to be water-based and, as a result, were quite safe and easy to dispense. “This has all changed. Chemicals are a big issue. Items such as enzyme-based cleaners – where there is a requirement for a measured dispense – continue to shape the marketplace.”

Trigger spray mechanisms depend upon application. After all, the dispensing of a thick chemical-based car wax is somewhat different from a baby care product.

Guala Dispensing has been one of the leading players in trigger spray developments since the beginning of the 90s as sales director Roberto Mazzucato explains. “Up until the early 90s the market or the triggers had not really changed for 30 years. We at Guala entered the marketplace in 1992 with the first pre-compression trigger spray.

“This meant that the liquid itself was under pressure so the amount dispensed was the same every time. We developed this with Reckitt for its household cleaning range of products. The firm’s TS1 allows the spray to be controlled to alter the actual angle of spray.

“This means that the dispensing method suits each Reckitt product. It was the first snap on fitting, a big plus when it came to filling and sealing.

“As the TS1 was going to be used across a range of products we also built in a tamper evidence element – a further enhancement into the trigger spray marketplace. This was not a cheap trigger solution but found immediate demand in the private label marketplace that dealt in high volume and where the dispensing mechanism could be sold to the consumer as a very valuable added value item.”

The TS1, which is still a strong market player, was the shot in the arm that this particular packaging market-place needed. It was all too easy to coast along. After the TS1 Guala produced the TS2, complete with a Gore membrane, which was the first spray that operated upside down and at any angle. This double-valve action also offered the pharmaceutical industry the prospect of the liquids being irradiated within the actual container, a significant cost saving.

What international companies such as Guala, Canyon, Afa Polytek, Calmar and others have done is to engineer a range of trigger sprays that have the ability to answer virtually all desires. It is a business based on an off-the-peg solution rather than the development of a bespoke item.

“The costs in developing a completely new trigger spray are large indeed,” says Mr Mazzucato. There are an estimated 400-500M trigger sprays within the European marketplace made by only four or five significant players. Indeed, there are probably no more than eight players world-wide.”

Since it was set up in Belfast in 1987 to service Europe, Canyon Europe has seen year on year growth. It exports more than 70% of its product outside of the UK to Europe and North America. There is no reason to doubt that the other major European players are not enjoying similar expansion.

The current split in the trigger spray marketplace in Europe is roughly a little less than two-thirds house care and a third personal care and others representing just 5%. A look at the smallest sector reveals a myriad of marketplaces worthy of close examination such as the automobile market – an expanding one for trigger sprays. Others include horticulture, laundry, pet care and pharmaceuticals. The latter comes to the fore. What does the trigger spray have to offer this untapped marketplace? The two-way valve allows the interior solution to be irradiated – a major time and cost saving element. Once the pharmaceutical customer realised that irradiation was possible, the money saved made the cost of the trigger spray irrelevant.

Drugs used in the treatment of body damage are often found in aerosols packs within both the hospital environment and the chemist shop. Yet, the trigger spray has potentially more to offer. In the treatment of burns, for example, the interior cooling and healing element is costly so a trigger spray should be able to offer an advantage.

There can be a measured delivery both in the amount and also the fineness of spray with trigger technology. From an environmental aspect, it is also both eco-friendly and not so liable to spill out into the atmosphere. Then there is the treatment of the common cold via the throat and dental care to consider.

In order to open up this market, trigger spray technology may have to shrink in size but, with a European and North American ageing population, the potential is immense. This market-place is not being touched and is an area that is not short of investment and long-term opportunities. The trigger spray does not deserve such obscurity!

Personal care products, particularly items such as sun care, are growing at a phenomenal rate in Europe. Even in the UK, which is not known for long hot summers, Boots is developing a range of child sun-care products complete with trigger sprays. The personal care market has fully understood the fundamental deliverables of the trigger and has started using it as an effective dispensing option for some of the most difficult products.

Adam Healthcare, which markets products for cleaning aseptic pharmaceutical manufacturing areas, recently started using Guala’s TS2 trigger systems as the critical nature of operations meant that the product, packaging and delivery system all have to be terminally sterilised by irradiation to ensure sterility.

As part of Adam’s revamp, they also commissioned a new 500ml bottle in HDPE from Scanbech. Donna Foster, Adam’s purchasing manager, says: “As well as the benefits to our filling operation, the new trigger is practical and user friendly and its overall look presents a stylish, modern image.”

Trigger sprays also give companies the ability to re-launch ranges, as Fly Away found when it used Guala’s original TS1 to re-launch its range of insect repellents for horses and pets. Canyon Europe’s work for Henkel is an excellent example of trigger spray R&D at its best. The challenge was to develop a mechanism that, because of the aggressive solvent contained within the pack, would not render the spray inoperable. The liquid had the ability to remove the lubricants within the chambers of the spray and expand the components over a period of time.

Canyon’s answer was to produce a trigger spray, which used different materials during construction, to eliminate large expansion and reduce the amount of lubrication removed.

All this revision of technology did not leave design on the side. The whole pack and trigger spray was transparent, giving it a high tech, high performance look.

There are many other instances where the ‘extra’ was required. Afa Polytek’s OpAd FO-CR trigger spray with certified child resistance locking procedure is one in a long line of tamper evidence/child resistance initiatives for trigger sprays.

Calmar has produced a trigger mechanism for the pharmaceutical industry called the Accupump, which provides a controlled spray pattern as well as the essential dose control.

These are all good examples of innovation in trigger spray technology and, despite the high investment costs, the returns are good.

There are opportunities in abundance, partnerships to build and above all some blue sky thinking is required to capitalise on just where a trigger spray can go!