A decade ago the aerosol was the villain of the piece. Today, with the elimination of CFCs and an energetic recycling campaign, aerosols are regarded in a completely different light throughout Europe where the industry has experienced steady growth. In America, however, a more parochial and less well informed consumer still views the pack with suspicion says Rodney Abbott
British aerosol exports developed in the early 90s when the single market for Europe was created. Many multinationals decided to centralise their businesses in this country so the UK has become the centre of excellence for aerosol filling.
Today UK companies dominate the European scene. They export about 50% of production and they fill 30% of all aerosols manufactured in Europe.
“In the early 90s we had strong growth every year but that was due in the main to movement of the industry on a world-wide basis,” explains British Aerosol Manufacturers’ Association director Sue Rogers. “Today aerosol manufacture is a good, stable and mature market so I think organic growth is going to be steady.
“A lot of business has been undertaken between one multinational and another but the industry has also been successful in exporting to Russia and Eastern Europe… but that is getting fiercely competitive because of the exchange rate.
“Here, as in most of Europe, the market is for body-sprays [deodorants] so the demand for deodorants is burgeoning. Antiperspirants are very much an Anglo Saxon phenomenon, only found in the UK and USA.”
Market sectors also rise and fall constantly. Market changes are understandably brought about by many demographics, particularly fashion.
The personal care sector still shows the greatest potential for future growth and there is also a lot of innovation going on in the DIY sector.
Elsewhere it has taken a long time for the market to pick up on shaped cans and brand differentiation has so far been restricted to personal care.
The food sector has begun to show more of an interest in the aerosol pack, particularly for cream in Europe. In the UK there are now colourings for icing sugar and in France dough is available in aerosols.
In America, the aerosol is used for mayonnaise, cheese spreads, cooking oil and pan sprays and, in Japan, it is used for coffee and other beverages!
Material usage for the pack is about 65%/35% aluminium/steel-tinplate. The choice comes down to two things – what sort of image the packer filler wants to project for its product and what the brand leader uses in terms of material.
Occasionally, brand owners will select one material over another if they have historically used nothing else. While tinplate is cheaper, price differentials vary enormously from one country to another. But the cost of aluminium fluctuates very much more than it does for steel.
“If a product is very cost dependent and users want to know roughly what their costs are going to be over a longer period of time, they will choose tinplate,” explains Sue Rogers. “If cost is less of an issue and brand image is more important, particularly where graphics is concerned, then brushed aluminium has always won hands down.
“As printing quality improves, the difference between the two materials is receding. This means that aluminium costs will have to become more competitive and definitely more stable if they are to hold on to the business at the quality end.”
Glass is also used for aerosols. Sara Lee’s Ambi Pur air freshener was recently launched in a glass aerosol. Here the manufacturer is trading on the purity of the name so they are going for a glass pack. Glass, however, is restricted by size and is also breakable.
Aerosol actuators have been the focus of much innovation over the past five years, as the UK’s biggest brands increasingly look to the smallest details to give their products more consumer appeal.
Pack format and design is undoubtedly integral to brand appeal and the aerosol has re-established its popularity with the consumer in recent years.
In 1995 consumer research identified that the aerosol was viewed as an old-fashioned pack but, by 2000, fresh research showed that consumers are tempted by the new designs that they are seeing on shelf.
Special actuators, in which the functioning and aesthetics have been specifically designed for a single brand, have become more prevalent over the past five or six years.
Big brand owners especially favour them as they set the product apart from the competition, while offering convenience and efficacy to the consumer.
Aerosols have always been popular with consumers but the industry recognised the need to build on that and redefine a pack that was almost in danger of becoming too familiar.
The step change can largely be attributed to partnerships formed between the component manufacturers and brand owners, which have resulted in packs that not only perform better but also stand out on shelf.
As shaped cans start to emerge onto the market, the actuator can now be supplied in an array of shapes, sizes and colours.
Over the past two years, manufacturers in this field have launched a number of specialised actuators for leading personal care brands, including:
• The ‘slide-and-press’ actuator developed by Lever Fabergé and manufactured by Coster Aerosols for Lynx – the UK’s biggest male deodorant brand. The mechanism took three years to develop and allows consumers to use the spray without having to remove the cap. It was also designed in such a way as to ensure that the product will not operate accidentally in luggage or gym bags.
• The ‘twist-lock’ actuator was developed and patented by Lever Fabergé and manufactured by Coster Aerosols for Impulse body spray and Physio Sport deodorant body spray. The actuator is linked to the collar which is twisted to reveal the insert [the opening through which the spray is directed], thereby removing the need for a cap.
More and more brands are looking to develop their own version of this actuator. This, not only gives these products a point of difference to others on shelf, but also has the added benefit of providing protection against accidental operation, both in transit in the supply chain and in the consumer’s handbag or gym bag.
• The WS30 actuator, developed by Seaquist Perfect Dispensing for Boots’ Stuff hairspray, has been designed to look more aesthetically pleasing by fitting over and hiding the valve cap.
“Today, aerosol manufacture is a good, stable and mature market so I think organic growth is going to be steady”
• New actuators have also been developed by the Lindal Group exclusively for Nivea shaving gel and Soft & Gentle antiperspirant, with the former making use of a special bi-injection moulding process that helps to reduce costs by eliminating assembly procedures. Characteristics of the gel actuator are the striking design and the use of a two-component system for the actuator’s finger pad, which is made from an elastomer material that gives a ‘soft-touch’ effect. Lindal has also developed a patented system of actuators for spray, gel and foam products that allows one size of actuator to be used for differently sized aerosol cans.
“Within our business – and it’s probably representative of the industry – the volume of specialised actuators has doubled over the past year so that they now account for a very high percentage of all actuators made,” says Coster Aerosols general sales manager Don Andrews.
Joerg Lichtenberg from the Lindal Group agrees: “The emphasis of our business is on personal consulting and development performance, with customer specific developments being one of our main abilities.”
“In the personal care market particularly, there is no question that the market is demanding new styles for actuators to create a point of difference,” says Seaquist sales manager Terry Adderley.
“Many players simply don’t have the necessary capital to develop their own actuators but still want their brands to compete with the big brands on shelf. We definitely see the way forward for us being in developing new actuators and creating new standards to meet the market demand.”
Kim Bailey, commercial manager at Precision Valve UK, concludes: “These developments have, to date, been very much focused in the personal care market. However, manufacturers of household and industrial products have tended to steer clear of these actuators because of the cost issue but I think we will now see more of them exploring that option.”
So what are the major challenges currently facing the aerosol industry? “I think cheap production and imports from other countries are top of the list,” says Sue Rogers. “The high price of Sterling against the Euro is also key.
“I think the price pressure that is appearing in the UK retail market, where retailers are looking to return to prices of five, 10 or even 15 years ago, makes it very difficult for our members to be competitive. It’s a pity that the retailers have failed to recognise that aerosol manufacturers and filler/packers also have to make a profit to stay competitive.”
Waterguard foamers for in-shower personal care
Airspray’s new WaterGuard foamers are cutting edge and have computer engineered mechanisms that allow a precise mixture of liquid and air with a single stroke of the smooth-action button.
They have been designed to appeal to makers of body washes, shampoos, soaps as well as other consumer products commonly used around the bath or shower.
A specially designed base cap, nozzle and [in some versions] protective shell combine to direct water away from the contents of the dispenser.
Both microbial build-up and ‘watering’ of the product in tub and shower environments are considerably reduced.
Sophisticated valve technology is said to ensure reliability as well as ease of use.
The consumer gets creamy foam with just one stroke of the pump.
Unlike some other mechanical foam dispensers, the WaterGuard foamers may be fully filled and emptied completely, thanks to the angular design of the dip tube, which facilitates use of the dispenser at an angle.
Customers are able to select from an appealing range of custom colours and container shapes, including square, triangular, domed, oval or flat.
One-piece spout cuts costs and adds value
Traditionally, hair care mousses and other mousse-based products are provided with a separate cap and actuator.
Ten Cate Plasticum now offers an alternative by introducing a one-piece spout. An injection-moulding tool is being produced at Plasticum’s UK plant, the first user being a major UK packer-filler. The first products are expected to appear on UK shelves soon.
The single-piece-dispensing device has been developed to offer packer fillers significant cost savings over conventional cap and actuator systems. Not only will it be cheaper to buy than two separate components but, as a one-piece component, the assembly line costs can also be significantly reduced.
In addition, the tight fitting new spout will eliminate de-capping during shrink-wrapping, a problem often faced with conventional loose fit spout over caps. This new spout is suitable to fit both tilt and press valve cans.
Small nibs moulded between the actuator and the spout’s inner walls, which must be broken before first use, provide tamper-evidence. The new spout is fully tested to withstand the required top loading without any over cap.