Walmart, EPA, Reckitt Benckiser. What do retailers, regulators and consumer product companies have in common? An awful lot. That’s why all three—and many others—were on hand to make presentations during the mid-year meeting of the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), which was held last month in Chicago. CSPA is in the midst of its Centennial anniversary; the 2013 annual meeting reviewed the past, last month’s meeting focused on the present and the 2014 annual meeting looking at the future.
“The industry and CSPA has experienced 100 years of constant change,” observed chairman Paul Siracusa of Church & Dwight, who added that change has been driven by consumers with no chance of the pace of change slowing anytime soon.
“The Millennials are about instant gratification; they have instant information on their cellphones,” he noted.
And they’re not afraid to use that information. Siracusa reminded the audience, that Coca-Cola just joined Pepsico and pledged to eliminate brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from its drink lineups after Sarah Kavanagh, a Mississippi teenager, circulated online petitions to put pressure on the soft drink leaders to get rid of BVO.
“We live in a digital age,” said Siracusa. “Companies must care more about their brands’ reputation than a single ingredient.”
While it celebrates its past and looks forward to the future, the Association remains firmly rooted in the present and the challenges presented, by working with other associations; state, federal and international government bodies, and non-government organizations to ensure that its members are well-represented and well-understood by these stakeholders.
“We have a reputation for non-traditional partnerships; it’s true for everything we do,” noted CSPA president Chris Cathcart, in his opening comments. “We are an honest broker. We convey that to people on either side of the debate.”
There’s certainly a lot to debate these days, from a rise in retailer regulations; sustainability issues on the local, state, federal and international stages; and inhalation abuse and other social concerns. But the industry likes what it sees, apparently, as CSPA has added 14 new member companies so far in 2014.
According to Cathcart, CSPA must stay in front of the issues; including sustainability issues within the retail community, where the Association has created an unprecedented dialog regarding ingredient disclosure and is building the same sort of exchange on waste disposal.
“Now we are in the direct chain of commerce,” explained Cathcart. “We all want a well-informed consumer.”
The strength and length of that chain was evident right at the start of the mid-year meeting, when Jim Scalfani, senior product development manager, Walmart, opened the event by urging attendees to never stop asking questions—especially the difficult questions.
Questions and More Questions
“If you ask the same question, you’ll get the same answer; but when you ask a new question, you’ll get a new answer,” noted Scalfani. “When you change the variables, you change the outcome.”
Walmart, he explained, is all about offering a product lineup that makes customers come back for more. Creating that kind of innovative offering requires looking past spreadsheets and asking difficult questions—even when they seem basic.
“We ask ourselves, ‘How do we get better?’ and ‘What did I do yesterday that I can do differently today?’”
At Walmart, the questions start with suppliers—and they’re not always about getting better margins, Scalfani insisted. Often, it begins by reviewing what’s working and looking at the products and the issues from the consumer’s perspective.
“People are always looking for answers,” he concluded. “But they never start by asking the right question.”
Chairman Siracusa, executive vice president, global R&D at Church & Dwight, asked all the right questions during a special session on sustainability that featured executives from Reckitt Benckiser, Clorox and Sealed Air. All three speakers explained that going green must somehow be linked with making green. For Clorox, that means integrated reporting of financials and sustainability, according to Catharine de Lacy, VP-global stewardship, Clorox. It’s all part of Clorox’s strategy to measure performance, people, products, planet and purpose. The company has linked its results in this manner since 2000 and it enables Clorox to look at product development in a sustainable way, de Lacy told the audience. As a result, Clorox has reformulated its flagship bleach into a concentrated form, reduced the amount of resin in Glad trash bags and reformulated Kingsford charcoal with natural ingredients.
“We were one of the first companies to disclose the ingredients in our cleaning products,” added de Lacy.
Reckitt Benckiser has a similar sustainability success story, noted Jennifer Duran, global head of sustainable innovations. The company is committed to obtaining a third of revenue from more sustainable products by 2020 as part of its “BetteRBusiness” strategy, which is focused on the need for better health and hygiene behavior along with the growing scarcity of water. Other 2020 goals include reducing RB’s carbon footprint and water impact by a third and reaching more than 200 million people to improve their health and hygiene behavior. The company has developed a Sustainable Innovation Calculator, based on lifecycle assessment, to guide the development of low-impact products, explained Duran, who noted that the program led to the launch of Lysol Touch of Foam, which uses 60% less water than the standard product.
Daniel Daggett, director of product stewardship and sustainability, Sealed Air Corporation, said his company has a longstanding relationship with the World Wildlife Fund through its Diversey business. And, in recent years, the company has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 48%.
In fact, sustainability plays such a big role at Sealed Air that CEO Jerome Peribere recently noted, “If I could rename our company, I would call it ‘The Sustainability Company.’”
Sustainability Goes Mainstream
Companies are operating in a time of the socially-conscious consumer and, as a result, sustainability has gone mainstream, explained Trish Wheaton, chief marketing officer, Wuderman and managing partner, global new business, Young & Rubicam.
Much of this interest in sustainability is being driven by Millennials who, according to Wheaton, have high expectations of brands to solve social and environmental challenges. Therefore, when companies become more transparent, they will have a big audience following their every move.
“Eighty-three percent of them (Millennials) believe that they’ll make their mark on a global scale,” explained Wheaton. “They know that they will change the world. ”
As companies focus on sustainability, Wheaton encouraged them to let the world know about their efforts.
“If you do it, say it,” she advised. “People want to hear from your brands.”
One of those Millennials who is out to change the world is Nina Butkovich, the recipient of the 2014 Murray Glauberman Memorial Scholarship, who will attend Caltech to study chemistry. She is the daughter of Maria Butkovich, an engineer at Faultless Starch/Bon Ami.
For more CSPA mid-year meeting coverage, see Happi.com.