Smithers Apex hosted Cleaning Products US 2017 at the Westin Alexandria in Alexandria, VA, this October. The conference offered home care industry veterans from across the US an opportunity to network with peers and learn from information sessions presented by some of the most important thought leaders in the home care space. These sessions touched upon many of the most important innovations and challenges that are impacting the industry today.
Packaging trends in home care
Some of the most fascinating innovations currently influencing the home care space in the US are originating from the packaging side of the industry. At Cleaning Products US 2017, Francisco Paz, market development and value chain manager in the packaging and speciality plastics division of the Dow Chemical Company, presented a session titled “Sustainable Innovations in Flexible Packaging” in which he expounded on some of these packaging-related advances. Due to the reduced transportation costs and other benefits that flexible packaging provides, many home care manufacturers are currently wanting to make greater use of it. However, due to the lack of durability relative to more traditional, rigid home care packaging formats, manufacturers have been hesitant to adopt flexible packaging for some product categories. In his presentation, Paz noted that Dow Chemical is aiming to change this state of affairs with the launch of its proprietary PacXpert technology. According to Paz, PacXpert material not only features reduced weight and uses less energy to produce than rigid packaging, but it also offers durability that meets and even exceeds the standards of most rigid packaging formats commonly used in the home care industry today. Although the technology is currently only available in select European markets, Dow Chemical plans to bring this technology to the US soon.
One benefit that the PacXpert material does not provide, however, is recyclability. In a session titled “Changing how People Think about Garbage and Recycling”, Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCylce, spoke at length about ways in which home care manufacturers could better design their packaging to be recycled or reused. TerraCycle, which is a privately-owned company based in the US, has been extremely innovative in finding ways to reuse “non-recyclable” packaging at a point in the material lifecycle when that packaging would normally either be incinerated or sent to a landfill. Szaky presented some examples of his company’s successful repurposing of used home care packaging while also speaking to the dangers of flexible packaging. Though flexible packaging formats do often use less energy to produce than rigid packaging, they are almost never recyclable. Additionally, flexible packaging is typically much more difficult to repurpose for other uses than rigid packaging is – a state of affairs that would hinder firms, such as TerraCycle, from being able to find innovative uses for these packaging types after their normal lifecycles.
A light on the European home care market
Ian Bell, Euromonitor International’s global lead for home care research, also headlined a session titled “The Direction Laundry Care is Heading in Europe: Rise of the Machines – from Automation and Smart Home to Auto-Alchemy”, covering some of the innovations that are currently reshaping the home care industry in Europe – innovations that could also eventually have a huge impact on the US market. One of these advances is the growing popularity of washing machines that are able to utilise smart technology to determine the amount of laundry detergent that needs to be deployed for a wash load without direct user input. Since this technology helps to prevent laundry detergent overdosing, its uptake could lead to consumers purchasing less laundry detergent and in effect negatively impact the bottom line of laundry care manufacturers. Additionally, Bell spoke of the move by some home laundry appliance manufactures in Europe to branch into the home care space by developing their own branded laundry care products, which are specifically designed to be used with their machines. The German appliance company Miele and Cie KG stands at the leading proponent of this trend. This movement is likely to gather speed, providing an opportunity for OEM laundry care manufacturers, but potentially posing a serious challenge to many of the leading home care brands.