Two trends-high demand for new products and an older population base-are creating a greater need for the services of product testing companies. Whether a marketer is rolling out a new hairspray, lipstick or oven cleaner, it creates a greater demand for safety and efficacy studies, and more suppliers say demand for their services has been on the upswing for years across a variety of categories, but especially in skin care, where consumer interest in all things anti-aging is surging.
"Business has been excellent this year. With the economy improving, we have seen the placement of more studies across all categories of the clinical testing spectrum," said Bryan Reynolds, marketing coordinator, Hill Top Research, Inc., Cincinnati, OH.
He noted that there has been greater demand for sensory work, especially in the area of skin care. At the same time, "we have seen a tremendous increase in demand for antiperspirant studies, anti-aging studies, consumer preference acne studies, hand wash claims and ethnic-related claims," said Mr. Reynolds.
"The industry is bouncing back up with many new formulations," agreed David Hinden of Essex Testing, Verona, NJ. "Anti-Aging remains a top category, with companies looking at the effects of different endpoints such as forehead lines, nasal labial fold and smile lines."
At the same time, many household and personal care companies concede that product testing is not one of their core competencies. As a result, some firms have decided to eliminate entire testing departments in favor of outsourcing in an effort to reduce costs. Adding to demand are corporate lawyers who insist that their chemists use an outside lab to ensure objectivity.
The increase in demand for testing services led Optometrics to enter the field. The Ayer, MA-based company is best-known as a worldwide supplier of high quality optical components, but it also markets the Optometrics SPF 290 analyzer.
According to George Lunardo, a supervisor at Optometrics, the testing service is ideal for companies that cannot afford to purchase the analyzer, but need to measure the SPF levels of their creams and lotions. Moreover, the company can provide results in as little as 24 hours.
Get The Results.Faster
But regardless of whether a testing company is measuring a sun care product's protection factor, a skin cream's efficacy or the safety profile of an eye care product or household cleaner, speed-to-market has become a universal concern for companies such as Clorox, Procter & Gamble, L'Oréal and Estée Lauder. And as a result, testing companies have made a concerted effort to reduce the time it takes to get results back to the client.
"Speed-to-market issues are having the greatest impact on our business," said Debra Harrison, president of Harrison Research Laboratories, Union, NJ. "Clients are focused not only on how quickly a test can begin, but also on how quickly the final report will be sent. We have increased our technical staff by almost 20%. Not that I am complaining, but often we must work overtime and/or weekends to accommodate our clients' tight deadlines."
For example, Harrison Research Laboratories has been able to decrease the length of time it takes to release a final report by about 50% in the past few years because procedures have become highly computerized.
Just how long it takes to release a final report depends on myriad factors, including the length of the test; the number of subjects; the number of data points; number and type of reactions; complexity of analysis required and any unusual circumstances, noted Ms. Harrison.
The Impact of Regulations
For most suppliers to the household and personal care industry, more regulations usually mean more headaches. But for testing service companies, when government agencies get involved, it usually means more business.
"Any new regulations typically bring more business into the company," observed Mr. Reynolds of Hill Top.
But an executive at InVitro International, a leading player in non-animal test methods, said agencies in the U.S., have hindered widespread use of in-vitro methods in the household and personal products industry.
"We need government tolerance for less than 100% correlation between in-vitro tests and traditional animal-based test results," charged Rich Ulmer, president of InVitro International. "Governmental agencies don't realize that there are differences between the eyes of one rabbit and another, as well as differences from one lab to the next.
"Our in vitro tests show a 90% correlation-that's an outstanding result."
While U.S. agencies may be difficult to work with, InVitro is having great success outside the U.S. In November, the company formed a global relationship with INT.E.G.RA, a partner of Res Pharma S.A. in Milan, Italy. INT.E.G.RA had re-introduced InVitro International's Irritection Assay System dermal and ocular non-animal irritation testing methods for years in Italy and other select markets. Now the companies are partnering to introduce the system in other countries as well.
Outside the U.S., there has been a gradual acceptance of in-vitro testing, because it cuts costs and saves time, especially for topical applications. Mr. Ulmer said InVitro International can produce results in 24 hours, whereas animal test results could take anywhere from 4-6 weeks.
There's more good news coming out of Europe for in-vitro testing companies. Beginning in 2009, personal care companies will not be able to market cosmetics that have been tested on animals. InVitro International is working with the European Regulatory Authority, ECVAM (Euro-pean Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods), to gain approval as an in-vitro broad screen topical irritancy test method.
Back in the U.S., Hill Top Research has acquired a research company in New York City previously known as International Consumer Evaluations (ICE). According to Mr. Reynolds, this new site offers product testing services including safety, use, efficacy, sensory, claims substantiation and consumer preference evaluations using Asian populations.
"The Japanese, Korean and Chinese consumers in the Hill Top database tend to continue to speak, eat and socialize in a manner consistent with their cultural traditions because they generally stay in the U.S. only three to five years," said Mr. Reynolds. "Therefore, these panelists are typically not affected by the American lifestyle and are ideal clinical research subjects for use in testing products targeted for Asian consumers."
The Hill Top executive said the acquisition will enable the company to provide a faster, more convenient and cost-effective solution for companies who want to conduct their tests in the U.S. compared to the high costs and potential obstacles of testing overseas.
In addition, Hill Top increased the capacity at three of its U.S. sites-one in Arizona and two in Florida (St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach)-to keep up with the intense demand from both the personal care and pharmaceutical industry's testing requirements.
The demand for greater efficacy and safety is creating new opportunities for many testing service companies. As marketers roll out an ever-wider array of products, industry sources expect demand for testing to continue to rise.