Are We There Yet?

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | March 13, 2013

Like many of their customers, suppliers to the detergent industry continue to wait for the global economy to make a complete recovery. In the meantime, they’re counting on innovation to propel the market forward.

Cautiously optimistic—those two words that have been bandied about by industry experts in the laundry detergent category for three years now. Since The Great Recession officially ended in 2009, the economies of North America, Western Europe and Japan have lurched along, struggling to sustain growth for a full calendar year, as consumers struggle to regain their purchasing power.

During this time, orders within the household and personal products industry got off to strong starts before softening in the fourth quarter for many suppliers and their customers. But this year, for a variety of reasons—some external, many internal—things may be different, say industry experts who spoke to Happi during the American Cleaning Institute’s Annual Meeting and Industry Convention in Orlando.

“The mood is better than last year, but the uncertainty is still there,” noted Gabriel Tanbourgi, president, Care Chemicals, BASF.

Despite uncertainties, some suppliers are making big plays in the household space. The latest is Pilot Chemical Company, which acquired Mason Chemical Company earlier this year. The move gives Pilot a broader range of solutions to offer its customers,” explained Pam Butcher, president and COO, Pilot Chemical.

“Customers have always told us that they prefer to do business with Pilot, but they wanted us to offer a broader product range,” recalled Butcher. “Now we have that range without much customer overlap.”

The acquisition of Mason gives Pilot a three-legged stool based on cationics, quats and biocides. Butcher said the Mason name will remain, as will brand names such as Maquat.

Together, Pilot and Mason represent 100 years of family-owned business. Being privately held gives Pilot a lot of flexibility to meet their customers’ needs, according to Butcher.

“We are extremely customer-centric and we can now offer our customers a variety of chemistry-based solutions,” she said.

Sustainable Solutions from BASF

With the Cognis integration a success, BASF executives are confident they have a team in place that can answer customers’ questions and provide solutions on a wide range of issues as well. For example, in the area of sustainability, BASF’s Trigger Point Concept helps customers define what sustainability means to them and helps BASF craft a solution to the problem.

“Chemistry is an enabler of sustainability,” insisted Dirk Buengel, senior VP, Care Chemicals, BASF. “But we are an integrated partner who can help customers identify the hot spots in the value chain and find a solution, whether it involves ingredients, packaging or even transportation. The Trigger Point Concept makes sure we ask the right questions before we start giving answers.”

And some of those answers come from unlikely places. Buengel recalled that when one customer started talking sustainability, BASF’s answer was its 100% biodegradable plastic, Ecovio. The packaging material contains Ecoflex, the biodegradable aliphatic-aromatic copolyester supplied by BASF. Ecovio also contains polyactic acid, which is derived from corn.

Another BASF product line made from renewable feedstocks is the Glucopon APG surfactant line which, according to Mark Miller, VP-Care Chemicals, Home and Personal Care, I&I North America, BASF, can provide excellent replacements for products that are challenged by California’s Prop. 65.

Global Disinfection

Another relatively recent acquisition, Lonza’s purchase of Arch in 2011, created the world’s largest microbial control business and gave the company a bigger position in Asia-Pacific and Latin America as well. Lonza now has offices in 26 countries.

Furthermore, Arch’s vibrant personal care business complements Lonza’s strong market presence in HI&I, noted Beth Tormey, VP-sales and marketing, North America, Microbial Control, Lonza.

“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the new Lonza,” said Tormey. “Customers can see that we have a real core competency in regulations in addition to offering the broadest range of preservatives.”

With the integration a success, Lonza is working on new concepts such as solvent-free wipe formulas to satisfy California Prop. 65 regulations, as well as precise-dosing systems for I&I applications.

In today’s highly networked world, news about contamination travels nearly as fast as the contaminants themselves. Whether it’s influenza in the US, the rise of norovirus in Europe or the lingering threat of H1N1 in portions of Asia, consumers are savvier about their world and the microbes with which they share it. That’s why consumers throughout the globe are looking for antimicrobial benefits in their cleaning products, while at the same time demanding safer, more environmentally-friendly products, noted Peter Stuut, technical marketing specialist, Purac.

“It’s been an active year for Purac and a lot of our growth was driven by Sanilac,” explained Stuut.

Natural, Born Killer

This bio-based, readily-biodegradable antimicrobial agent, consisting of L(+) lactic acid, delivers antimicrobial benefits to a wide range of cleaning and disinfecting products in home care, industrial and institutional applications, according to Purac. In the US, Sanilac is EPA-registered as an active under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and it is also approved for the Design for the Environment pilot program. In Europe, Sanilac is notified under the Biocidal Product Directive 98/8/EC for household and public health area disinfectants and other biocidal products.

For descaling and soap scum removal, Purac offers 88-T, a highly concentrated, L(+) lactic acid solution that is colorless, has a neutral odor, is CO2 neutral and is readily biodegradable.

“Biobased is the key feature of our products,” explained Struut. “We are working on new products and I&I is a big focus for us.”

From Powders to Liquids

With Western Europe and the US posting low to no growth, HI&I suppliers are finding opportunities in Asia and Latin America. Dow Chemical, for instance, has application labs throughout the world that are staffed with local scientists who understand the intricacies of the local markets and can react quickly, explained Carlos Silva Lopes, director of marketing, Dow Consumer & Industrial Solutions.

“We are fully engaged, fully operational and we have become a partner with local brand owners in helping to solve local problems,” explained Lopes, who noted that by 2020, there will be 600 million middle class citizens in China, many of whom are in the process of switching from powder to liquid detergents as a matter of convenience. The powder to liquid trend is taking hold in Latin America and other emerging markets.

To facilitate the switch, Dow Chemical offers the Acusol polymer range, including Acusol 845, which is billed as a novel anti-redeposition polymer for liquid laundry detergents. The polymer delivers improved secondary cleaning (anti-redeposition) of clay and oily soils versus conventional polyacrylates and was designed to work particularly well in systems with rheology modifiers that may otherwise reduce the secondary cleaning performance. Acusol 845 also provides an excellent boost in whitening, even at low use levels (0.5%), according to the company.

Now in development, Dow Chemical is working on polymers with softening and sensorial benefits, as part of the next level in the cleaning experience, according to Lopes. Other areas of interest for company researchers are controlling malodors and enhancing sustainability profiles of finished products by reducing water consumption.

BASF executives told Happi new surfactants, chelates and polymers will debut this year.

“We will have a robust year in new product concepts,” said Miller. “North American consumers reward convenience. Cleaning is not a chore for them—it’s an experience and that is an interesting area for us.”

Evonik is spearheading the effort to use akyl nomenclature for oleochemicals. According Del Guercio, akyl descriptions streamline the process and eliminate as many as 15,000 CAS numbers. The company is working on the change with both the ACI and the American Chemistry Council.

“We’re trying to simplify things like documentation and paperwork,” explained Del Guercio. “An alkyl description lets you do that.”

New from Evonik is Rewocare BDS 15, an organo-modified silicone surfactant with super-wetting characteristics that are said to be ideal for rinse aids in automatic dishwash and other hard surface cleaning products. The product conforms to OECD 301 F requirements, which calls for more than 60% biodegradability within 28 days. The new surfactant, a siloxane, can out-wet traditional surfactants by 10 times or more.

“Everyone has an interest in this new technology, but especially our green customers. They want green chemistry that works,” noted Dana Nystrand, assistant marketing manager, household care, North America.

David Del Guercio, Evonik
Evonik is expanding outside North America as well. A new production facility for personal and household care ingredients is under construction in São Paulo with startup scheduled for 2014.Elsewhere, a superabsorbent production facility goes onstream later this year in Saudi Arabia and Evonik will dedicate an H2O2 plant in China.

With emerging markets showing so much promise and US and Western European economies showing resiliency, all suppliers are hopeful that the economic uncertainty is behind them so that they can help their customers get growing again.

“People are tired of talking about crises,” insisted Lopes. “Innovation and sustainability are the areas of focus and investment.”