For months, household and personal product company executives have insisted that the lengthy recession hadn’t slowed the rate of innovation. Sun Products’ executives have done much more than talk; they've been building both a company and a new North American Technology Center in Trumbull, CT.
Company executives gave guests, politicians and members of the press a tour of the facility in late January. The center, which opened for business in November, features laboratories, packaging design facilities, a laundry center and ideation rooms that enable Sun employees to interact with consumers and suppliers. The center underscores some of the dynamic changes that are taking place at Sun, which was founded less than two years ago when an investment group acquired the Huish Detergent business and later added the U.S. laundry business of Unilever. Today, Sun Products markets such well-known brands as Wisk, All, Snuggle, Sunlight, Surf and Sun. The firm has annual sales in excess of $2 billion and is the No. 2 laundry detergent manufacturer in the U.S. behind Procter & Gamble.
More specifically, Sun Products is the largest private label liquid laundry detergent manufacturer in the U.S. and company officials insist that they have the resources and the staff to create more effective store brands.
"We can create products of value that work better," explained Neil DeFeo, president of the company. "At the same time, we've added 350 jobs to the U.S. economy since our founding."
Craig Slavtcheff, senior VP-R&D, quality and regulatory, Sun Products
President Neil DeFeo (left) and Craig Slavtcheff, senior VP-R&D at the dedication ceremony of Sun Product's new North American Technology Center.
More jobs are opening up every day as Sun ramps up activities in Trumbull. The 46,000-square-foot facility includes six sections—formulation, microbiology, package development, technical knowledge and observations, pilot plant and prototype laboratory, and analytical services. Within the formulation sciences section, Sun Products provides formulation expertise in surfactants, enzymes, polymers, fragrances, builders and other chemistries.
"The cleaning process isn’t easy," explained Craig Slavtcheff, senior VP-R&D, quality and regulatory. "There’s a lot of technology that goes into cleaning. We're investing in performance and want to drive the growth of our brands through delighting consumers with performance.”
Within the liquid formulation lab, bench chemists work on personal care as well as fabric care and cleaning products. Earlier this year, Sun acquired the U.S. and Canadian Sunlight hand and autodish care business from Phoenix Brands LLC. (Sun initially acquired the Sunlight trademark in 2008 during its acquisition of Unilever Plc.'s North American laundry business. However, the retail dish care distribution rights had been previously licensed to Phoenix Brands.)
A look inside the Sun Products' lab.
"(The center) meets our needs as we grow as a company," explained Slavtcheff.
The center includes a stain lab where trained experts study stains and swatches in order to find effective cleaning solutions. Meanwhile, another lab features high- and low-end washing machines that run 10 hours a day.
Besides creating novel household and personal product formulas, the center also has a robust package development operation that relies on state-of-the-art Computer Aided Design (CAD) technology to create real plastic parts in just six hours. Sun Products researchers can work with their retail customers to create custom bottles and dispensers.
Once a formula has been finalized and the bottle has been selected, Sun Products' pilot plant and prototype laboratory can fill up to 2000 bottles for consumer testing purposes, as well as sales samples. Finally, the analytical services team uses a variety of techniques and equipment to deconstruct formulas in order to identify chemicals and materials that provide specific performance attributes.
In its stain lab, technicians work on ways to eliminate even the toughest stains.
Key retail partners have been coming to the North American Technology Center for months, each looking to collaborate on new ideas and interact with consumers in ways that were never before possible, according to company executives.
“Customers view the center as a development tool to drive business," explained Slavtcheff. “It’s a different innovation philosophy that will drive growth in private label."