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Top tip – feel the difference

Traditionally, closures had just two masters – application and cost – but contemporary design has imposed two impostors – lifestyle and format – especially in fmcg sectors such as cosmetics and toiletries. Rodney Abbott reports

Brand owners are becoming increasingly ambitious in their bid to meet competitive challenges and closures are no exception. Differentiation is needed, with companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever demanding that as much attention be given to the quality feel of materials and the tactile experience of using the closure as is given to achieving a new look.

“The drive for differentiating one brand from another is challenging closure manufacturers to deliver previously difficult or expensive effects like profiled tool shut-offs to allow a curved or even a wavy split line or interface between bottle and closure,” says Steve Kelsey, creative director at PI3. Double or multi-shot translucent materials, where special attention has to be given to the design of the injection point – on aesthetic rather than technical grounds – are also popular. The use of mixed materials, such as polymers and elastomers, is also common today.

“Brands are continually seeking new ways to reinforce their difference and quality. Companies like Eastman are responding to this by working with designers to define new materials such as genuinely glass-like PET. Cellulosics are being reinvented due to their clarity, ability to produce jewel-like colours, weight and perceived sustainable source. Cellulosics are a natural for high margin inspirational brands and will set trends that filter down to the mass market over time.”

Kelsey continued: “Additives, which were once considered too expensive for the mass market, will make an appearance. Eastman is also pioneering the way here, actively working with designers to explore new roles for additives. This was previously an area reserved for improving the technical performance of a polymer. Now Eastman is exploring aroma among other effects.”

“Closure function was once dictated by technical factors – sealing, dispense rates and opening force. Increasingly, brand owners are seeking to differentiate their product by user experience and so, as with materials, the design of a closure’s dispense effect will be determined by aesthetic and tactile demands.

“This will challenge closure and cap designs to achieve singular protectable effects that build on a brand’s values. A shampoo pack that dispenses a conditioner and a shampoo simultaneously to give a creamy, frothy dispense with the effect adjustable by the consumer is just around the corner. The link between health and beauty is fundamental and dosing is an area that will receive more attention as health concerns expand from what we eat to what we put on our skins and in our hair. A hypoallergenic shampoo that does not dose will come to seem an anomaly.

“Finally, just how far can you go? The upmarket SKII cosmetic brand is one example of the extremes to which closure and dispensing development will go one day. The SKII foundation pack dispenses its product using an electrostatic charge to give a perfectly even coat. It’s not science fiction. You can buy it in Japan right now.”

That’s the designer’s viewpoint. What does the manufacturer think? Rieke Packaging Systems, Englass sales and marketing director Warren Wharton says that a dispenser’s main functions are to deliver the required amount of product efficiently and easily, to ensure that dosing works just as effectively on the last delivery as the first, and to empty the container without leaving too much, often expensive, product behind.

But he also points out that manufacturers invest a great deal in creating the right image for their product so attractiveness and on-shelf impact are essential elements of a successful pack and a dispenser has to harmonise with the overall design.

This need to combine practicality and attractiveness is the key challenge that dispenser manufacturers face with every enquiry. “Our products can be personalised to individual brands through the use of masterbatches for the dispenser components, special finishes such as metallising or soft-touch materials or the printing of brand names and messages,” says Wharton.

However, the greater challenge facing dispenser manufacturers is in the characteristics of the products to be dispensed. Manufacturers are responding to competition with products devised to differentiate their brands from their rivals. This creates more sophisticated, complicated products, which nevertheless still need to be dispensed easily and accurately.

“Viscosity, for example, is a key feature of many products in the personal care market,” says Wharton. “A pump for a shampoo needs to dispense product with minimal effort and return quickly to its start primed position. Highly viscose creams and lotions are not self-levelling and require special systems to ensure total product evacuation.

“Market trends are an equally important driving force in the development of new dispensing systems”, he says. “For example, there is an increasing move away from the use of additives and preservatives, which means products need more protection to help prolong their shelf life. For the dispensing industry this has involved the introduction of non-metal contact construction and systems that prevent air entering a container as the product is pumped out.

“Selection of the correct material with which to manufacture the pump can also be critical. Our own experiences have included the development of materials to manufacture pumps for products as diverse as industrial hand cleaners and aromatherapy treatments.”

User-friendly features

Wharton also believes user-friendly features are important. “At the simplest level, this involves ensuring pumps are convenient and easy to operate. Pumps that can be locked in the down position for efficient transportation and then re-locked in the up position after opening provide added convenience. Tamper-evident and child-resistant features enhance product security and offer consumer reassurance.”

Plastohm UK’s marketing manager Jeremy Lauret says its pan-European Marketwatch has identified three strong consumer trends that have an impact on packaging. The first is ‘cocooning’, which reflects the fact that consumers are increasingly trying to save time for an easier life. This translates into a preference for speed and convenience reflected by the development of all-in-one and ‘ready-to-use’ products.” Pampering and taking time to relax is no longer perceived as selfish or narcissistic, as witnessed by the strong development of spas and wellbeing centres.

This strong consumer demand for convenience has prompted the launch this month of Plastohm’s PopUp, a cap that consumers simply press to open. The press-action opening is said to be effortless and it is thought to be the first cap to open with a press of the thumb.

“Consumer behaviour evolves constantly and we have taken into account recent changes to launch new packaging concepts,” says toiletries market product manager Berengere Kuhn. “We created PopUp in response to consumers’ needs for convenience, ease of use and time savings. Using just one hand allows parents to hold on to their baby during bath-time. The effortless opening concept is perfect for young children and trendy and entertaining for teenagers. For women, PopUp is compatible with long fingernails. For senior citizens, lack of manual dexterity is no longer a problem.”

The second area identified is self-preservation. The emergence of the health-conscious consumer has led to the development of “healthy” brands such as bio-products and environmentally-benign and preservative-free products. One side-effect is that the more sensitive formulations require packaging solutions that offer higher barrier protection than traditional packaging, a need addressed by airless packaging systems.

However, these systems can be high cost, with significant investments required in new filling lines and have limited flexibility in terms of bottle shape and size. Plastohm sought to address these problems by launching AirFree, claimed to be the first one-part airless bottle and closure packaging solution. Using conventional co-extrusion technology, the AirFree bottle has a rigid external wall and a contractible internal pouch.

“AirFree offers a strong cost advantage,” adds Kuhn. “Its manufacturing process reduces assembly risks and manufacturing costs significantly. Its higher barrier properties offer better protection to fragile formulations than traditional piston-based systems. AirFree, in its Protect+ version, incorporates an additional layer of EVOH or PA for a further enhanced barrier against water, oxygen, UV and aromas. AirFree bottles can be used in any position and spray at all angles for true 360° application. Multi-position is a significant advantage for several market segments such as bodycare, suncare and tanning, haircare and professional beauty.” Plastohm also says that while most airless systems can only take cylindrical or oval shapes and are available in a limited number of sizes, AirFree can take almost any shape and size. Brand identities can be preserved and enhanced with consistent bottle shapes and large decoration areas.

The final finding from the survey is labelled “affirming one’s personality” – some consumers are pursuing rarity and exclusivity and search for a high level of personalisation which manifests itself in low brand loyalty and strong impulse purchasing patterns. Novelty and packaging features often ignite these purchasing decisions. This makes packaging the first contact between the consumer and a product, a strategic element of the product and a key part of the marketing mix.

Sleek harmonious contours set Unilever’s new Dove liquid soap product packaging apart from others on-shelf. Featuring custom closures manufactured by Seaquist, the rounded snap top on the soap and inverted flat lid closure used for conditioning products ensure safe and clean dispensing. The gloss finish to the finger recess contrasts with the matte finish of the main body of the closures.

As product formulations become ever richer and thicker, jars are becoming an increasingly popular, indeed essential, packaging component. Another recent addition from Seaquist is Camélia, a dispensing jar closure with flip-top dispensing convenience. As conventional screw-off closure systems require two hands to use, accessing the product inside can be awkward and the package can become contaminated with product and Camélia now addresses this problem.

Seaquist has also developed a distinctive bi-injected snap top closure. Gemini is said to be ideal for both upright and inverted applications in the hair, shower, skin and facial care markets for packages ranging from 125-300ml and is available with Seaquist’s SimpliSqueeze valve technology for non-drip, no mess dispensing.