Innovation Despite Recession

March 3, 2009

Even in a global slowdown, this is no time to skimp on research and development efforts in the household care segment, say industry suppliers.

Innovation Despite Recession

Even in a global slowdown, this is no time to skimp on research and development efforts in the household care segment, say industry suppliers.

Tom Branna
Editorial Director

Despite the gloomy economic picture, R&D departments are bustling with activity in the laundry and household care categories. Suppliers continue to get requests for innovative solutions from formulators of finished products as they attempt to meet the growing demands of consumers around the world.
The global laundry care market stands at about $6 billion. But companies that once posted annual gains of 5% or more are reporting growth of 3% or less these days. Still, global household care product veterans are taking the tough times in stride.
“For those of us who have been through this before, you realize that life doesn’t end. But you do have to be flexible and innovative,” said David Del Guercio, Evonik’s household care business director for North America.
In fact, Evonik has projects in the works that will debut in the second half of 2009 and into 2010.
“The requests for innovation haven’t stopped,” said Mr. Del Guercio, who noted that Evonik continues to get requests for ways to reduce packaging and new technology to support the next generation of compaction.
Dow Chemical executives have also observed a slight slowdown in overall demand, especially in the institutional sector, as people travel less and eat out less frequently.
“Despite the world economic downturn, we will continue to innovate and to offer a wide range of ingredients, technologies and innovative products to help our brand owners keep up with consumer expectations in performance, convenience and personal and environmental wellness,” explained Carlos Silva Lopes, global marketing director, Dow Fabric & Surface Care.
Following up on last year’s launch of the Ecosurf SA line of biodegradable surfactants, Dow Chemical has launch-ed Ecosurf EH Specialty Surfactants, a new line of surfactants that is not only are readily biodegradable but can also meet the criteria for the U.S. EPA “Design for Environment (DfE)” screen for surfactants. According to Dow Chemical, these surfactants provide excellent performance in the removal of greasy soils and crosslinked baked-on soils, have low odor to enhance fragrance impact, narrow gel ranges for concentrated formulations, and low foam profile for easy rinsing.
Rhodia’s response to the downturn has been to launch R&D programs to design cost-effective formulations that respond to customers’ needs for less expensive formulations. Formulations that use Rhodia’s high-performance additives can optimize cost, giving consumers the benefits they want at the right price, according to Sébastien Méric, global vice president, home and personal care, Rhodia Novecare.
“Our customers are consistent in their request for ingredients that do more for less and we are determined to meet their needs,” he explained.
Most observers agree that there is some tier-shifting taking place in the household cleaner category as cash-strapped consumers trade down when purchasing home care staples.
“Consumers are more price sensitive than before,” said Mr. Lopes. “To help our brand owners to stay ahead of the downturn, we continue to develop innovative technologies/solutions while staying very close to the markets such that we can anticipate changes well in advance, make accurate forecast on our brand owners’ order patterns and to ensure our key raw material offerings remain available.”

A Natural Step for Cognis

Decades ago, Cognis was one of the first suppliers to embrace the natural movement with the launch of its alkyl polyglycoside surfactants. Over the years, the company has created a cadre of ingredients to help household and personal care companies create natural detergents, hard surface cleaners and cosmetics. Now, Cognis executives say that they are taking green formulations to the next level with the introduction of its Green Formulation Grid to help chemists create green and effective products (see Happi, November 2008).
“We’ve lifted the green conversation to the next level,” explained Josef Koster, director of marketing, Care Chemicals North America, Cognis. “It started with raw material sourcing, but now we’re explaining how our products provide superior performance to overcome the misconception in the industry that green ingredients don’t work as well as traditional materials.”
Although Cognis offers a broad array of green ingredients for the global household and personal care industry, company executives admit that, at the current time, Cognis does not offer natural solutions for every formulation need. For example, the industrial and institutional (I&I) cleaning market still needs a natural surface modifier, while over on the personal care side of the ledger, there is no truly green UV filter, noted Rita Köster, director of global marketing, home care and I&I, Cognis.
“We know that right now, some things currently are not possible,” she said. “We’re very transparent and honest about these gaps, and we’re working to close them.”
But one solution that has already been accepted by formulators is Plantasil Micro (INCI: Dicaprylyl ether [and] decyl glucoside [and] glyceryl oleate), a transparent microemulsion which provides improved hair conditioning performance to shampoos.
“Plantasil Micro mimics the conditioning benefits that silicones impart to hair care formulas,” explained Ms. Köster.
Since announcing its 2015 Sustain- ability Goals in 2006, Dow Chemical has made a lot of progress in areas such as health and safety, sustainable chemistry, innovation, energy efficiency, according to Mr. Lopes. “Customers, brand owners and industry partners are supportive and happy to know that we are committed to sustainability.”
For cleaning applications, Dow Chemical has developed surfactants, solvents, foam control agents, emulsifiers, polymers, formulation technology and services that offer low VOC, low odor, are biodegradable, have low foam for easy rinsing, use less water and energy, and meet eco-label requirements. 
“Our biodegradable surfactants and chelants not only offer excellent performance in soil and grease removal but also enable concentrated formulations for reduced packaging,” said Mr. Lopes.

Product Launches at Croda

Kevin Gallagher, president, Croda Inc, noted 2008 was another good year for home care innovation at Croda with the launch of Cirrasol ST, a patented softening additive for liquid laundry detergents. Cirrasol ST offers softening through the wash without affecting detergency and does not result in graying of the fabric. Croda also launched NatSurf 265, a naturally-based nonionic surfactant for hard surface cleaning products. NatSurf 265 offers some unique cleaning benefits such as low smearing. The NatSurf 265 was recently approved by DfE and is now listed on the cleangredients website.
With core competencies in formulations, surface treatment, active delivery and rheology, Rhodia researchers can develop high-efficiency mild surfactants, soil release polymers and other products, enabling customers to create more concentrated end-products. Rho- dia’s portfolio also incorporates renewable raw materials, such as guar, and includes products that are sustainable and eco-friendly based on biodegradability, natural-bases and APE-free polymers and surfactants.
Rhodia has also launched the Rhodiasolv range of non-toxic and eco-friendly solvents that are used for many applications including industrial cleaning and textile cleaning.
“Thanks to their very good profile and properties—low VOC, readily biode-gradable and non-flammable—they offer high performance and environmentally-friendly solutions,” explained Mr. Méric. “We are working to adapt this eco-friendly solvent range to home care and fabric applications.”
Beyond product formulations, Rhodia is committed to sustainable development through the company’s Rhodia Way framework, instilling and integrating a sustainable approach in processes and throughout product life cycles. It includes R&D/innovation, manufacturing and delivery steps to customer process and consumer use.
Croda recently launched a home care green guide which highlights more than 150 green chemistries that Croda currently offers into numerous home care applications. According to the company, 70% of its products globally are based on natural raw materials and a few are also produced from third party certified sustainable sources such as the Crodamazon oils sourced from the Brazilian rainforest. 
“That figure will rise as we continue to act responsibly toward the environment and continue to deliver green, and equally as important, performance-focused products,” observed Mr. Gallagher.

A Surge in Demand for Enzymes

For an industry that considers good growth to be 5-6%, Novozymes’ success stands out. For the past two years, the enzyme producer has been posting double-digit gains, as formulators search for effective sustainable ingredients.
“Enzymes were always known for their stain removing capabilities, but now they’re considered a base ingredient to deliver detergency,” explained Anders Lund, senior marketing director, Novozymes. “Customers like the fact that enzymes are sustainable, readily degradable and are produced from renewable sources.”
Reliable prices, too, have been a boon for enzymes.
“When oil prices reached to $150 a barrel, the cost of many other raw materials skyrocketed,” recalled Mr. Lund. “Enzyme prices, on the other hand, are stable. Our customers were not so exposed to the volatile raw material prices.”
At the same time, Novozymes offers a wide range of enzymes including proteases, amylases, lipases, mannases and cellulases.
“Our competitors may offer protease and amylase, but they don’t have the same breadth as we do,” insisted Mr. Lund.
Novozymes’ product line will expand later this year, when the company introduces new lipases with better performance profiles that enable formulators to reduce surfactant levels in their formulas, according to Mr. Lund.
“Technically, on average, about 15-25% of surfactants can be replaced with enzymes,” said Mr. Lund.

What McIntyre Means to Rhodia

With its acquisition of McIntyre expected to close this month, Mr. Méric said the move complements and strengthens Rhodia’s positions in specialty surfactants, formulated blends and polymers for home and personal care.
“For example, our current portfolio of polymers and surfactants will be enhanced by McIntyre’s extensive range of amine oxides, amphoterics and blends, which will further improve high-performance benefits in easy-to-use, long-lasting cleaning formulations,” explained Mr. Méric. “The McIntyre acquisition will also complete our vegetable-derived formulations, combining performance and environmental protection.”

What’s Ahead?

With 2009 nearly 25% over, most marketers are going ahead with new product launches planned for the year. But if the recession lingers, what will happen in 2010? No one, it seems, is willing to hazard a guess—other than to say their R&D labs will be buzzing with activity.
“We’re not cutting our R&D budgets,” insisted Mr. Del Guercio. “There’s been no change in the customer’s request for innovation and that means that here is no shortage of opportunities.”