Hygiene's Curb Appeal

By Leah Genuario, Contributor | August 9, 2011

While "fashion-ability" is the most obvious hygiene packaging trend, some of the largest trends are less visible.

Women dress up their ears, their waistlines and their feet with fashionable accessories. Now they can also dress up their maxi pads. U by Kotex, a bold feminine care line from Kimberly-Clark Corporation recently announced a partnership with fashion visionary Patricia Field to introduce color and design variety on pads and liners. The partnership includes a contest where young women are invited to design and submit a maxi pad, accessory or inspiration board for consideration.

Known for its packaging, the brand continues to push the envelope in decorative innovation with its announcement to extend design variety to the product itself. “This breakthrough in design is part of our larger mission to change the thinking around feminine care and empower young women to take control of their health and bodies,” says Melissa Sexton, integrated marketing director, adult and feminine care, Kimberly-Clark. The U by Kotex brand further pushes design by offering a limited edition carrying tin from Patricia Field, available in July.

At first glance, an alignment between an Emmy-winning stylist and a feminine hygiene brand seems unusual. But for Field, the partnership is relevant and timely. “I am thrilled to have the chance to speak with young women and bring design to the bland feminine care category through this partnership with U by Kotex,” she adds.

Optima Group Nonwovens’ Optima RTP25 offers multiple benefits to nonwoven products.

As this example clearly demonstrates, one of the more visible trends in the personal hygiene category is the number of brands taking a cue from fashion. This trend extends to packaging in several ways. Foregoing a basic, utilitarian package, some brands are offering customers bolder graphics, utilizing materials such as tins for outer packaging, and providing an overall appealing look that goes beyond the design basics. These packages, aside from providing a more aesthetically-pleasing experience, also play a key role in brand communication.

Communication is key
Packaging is an important part of the overall communication strategy, agreed Ibrahim Ulas, section head R&D packaging at P&G’s German Innovation Center. “Packaging is part of the holistic proposition we offer to consumers and it can be a great enabler to convey the message about the product and/or innovation,” he adds.

The company has successfully leveraged packaging to aid consumers’ shopping and brand experiences. Offering different product lineups in its feminine care business, for example, it serves a variety of consumer segments ranging in age from 13 through 60. P&G has found that consumer packaging preferences and needs slightly differ based upon demographic, says Ulas, who adds that “one fit for all does not work.”

P&G has introduced a number of packages “supporting product benefits, concepts and/or uniqueness,” explains Mr. Ulas. Among them, the company has introduced soft touch textured packaging finishes to communicate the softness of the product inside, high definition printing to highlight product detail and holographic elements when communicating new and premium products.

When it comes to packaging, P&G’s concerns are multi-faceted. Ulas says P&G has launched different aesthetics and decorations on packaging to “drive relevant differentiation on shelf,” but that it also uses packaging to “make purchase decisions easy for our consumers by providing a representation of the product through clear graphics.” Finally, Ulas sees the functional role of packaging. As he explains, “We also believe that packaging is an important part of the product use. Whether it be opening, dispensing or closing the package – or even storing it until needed the next time – our packaging is designed to satisfy the needs of the women who use our product.”

In addition to tapping primary packaging, P&G has also looked toward secondary packaging as a way to effectively enhance the purchase experience. Recently, for example, the company switched to attractive Shelf Ready Packaging (SRP) in Western Europe to help the consumer quickly target what she is looking for on shelf.

Hygiene brands have made huge strides in upgrading the visual aspects of their packaging. Yet when it comes to packaging, some of the largest trends are also less visible.

Trends in packaging processes
“The key trends in packaging for hygiene material have been associated with sustainability, cost efficiency and reduced material usage,” says George Kellie, director of Kellie Solutions, Ltd, a UK-based consulting firm offering technical and product expertise. These top three drivers all interact with each other and have resulted in some specific manufacturing practices.

P&G utilizes high definition printing to communicate details and add other attractive design elements.
For example, Kellie sees compression wrapping, where controlled compression is used to tightly fit a bag around diapers, as a key process in packaging diapers. “These smaller pack formats work in cost terms, reduced shelf space and easier handling for the consumer,” says Kellie, as well as offering “environmental benefits through less packaging material per pack and reduced energy in transport.”

Kellie also sees the emergence of 20-30% reduction in bag film material usage, enabled by a switch from monolayer to multi-layer polyethylene films, he adds.

Packaging weight reduction is a priority for nonwovens association EDANA, who began reporting on European sustainability performance as an industry in 2005. Among its statistics, the association found that the packaging of absorbable hygiene products has been reduced by 41% since 1987. It notes on its web site that “similar, positive trends have been shown for incontinence and feminine care products” as well.

No matter what form the innovation takes, sustainability in general is a focus for many companies, whether or not they are allied specifically to the hygiene industry.

As P&G’s Ulas explains: Sustainability is “not specific to the hygiene industry. This is one of the recent mega trends and part of the social responsibility we all
have while leaving a more sustainable world to the next generation. In the hygiene industry, reduction, compaction has been the main driver until now. [In the] past couple of years, focus is shifting to more renewable materials and expect this trend to grow further.”

“In our view, the environment will become a dominant factor in packaging decisions in the next five to 10 years,” agrees Kellie. “We can see other trends that we expect to impact over the next 18 months to two years. The first is the incorporation of post consumer waste plastics…a second area is the use of bioplastics. There are a growing number of bioplastic films that can work in hygiene packaging applications.”

Serving as an example of renewable material’s used in hygiene product packaging, the

The “Baydiaperbag,” offered by Mediane, is produced out of 100 percent compostable, potato-starch-based film.
Netherlands-based Mediane offers polybags and thin films made out of potato starch and printed with compostable printing inks. The company, which mainly serves the European market, sees a “general trend in packaging and films toward bio-compostability and renewable raw materials,” says Robert van der Laan, sales and marketing manager, with drivers including the fluctuating prices and reduced availability of raw materials used in more traditional films such as polyethylene and polypropylene.

“The ability to guarantee availability with some form of price mechanism has become more important than price,” says van der Laan. “In view of the growing world population, packaging films based on renewable resources—and compostable—should be the next step for the hygiene disposable industry.”

Packaging machinery manufacturers also weigh in on evolutions in hygiene product packaging. Fameccanica, a global equipment supplier for the hygienic disposable absorbent converting industry, has recently upgraded its capabilities by developing high speed machinery covering the complete finished products range.

Although its core business is the converting industry, it does offer packaging equipment for customers interested in the automatic packaging of the converters’ output. With its customer in mind, Fameccanica, in cooperation with Optima Group Nonwovens within the Paksis Alliance, is offering packaging machine model Paksis N-12.

The model is an integrated counting-stacking-packaging system engineered for flat or trifolded sanitary napkins, pantyliners and light incontinence pads. It offers an output going from 90 to 120 bags per minute, dependent upon product thickness and folded position.

Optima Group Nonwovens, a global packaging machinery manufacturer, strives hard to tailor equipment to customer needs.

“The Optima Group is constantly changing to meet our customer demands. Some of these changes have included, but are not limited to, the demands for high speed packaging, lower count packages, more flexibility as well as faster changeover times,” says Oliver Rebstock, managing director, Optima Group Nonwovens. Within the Asian market, the company has pioneered a new product line focused on side-folded films.

“Optima Group Nonwovens has also focused and expanded into the end of line automation which would include both case packaging as well as palletizing equipment,” adds Rebstock. It recently unveiled Optima RTP25, a palletizer specifically designed for nonwovens that receives packaged products from an infeed conveyor, automatically aligns and positions incoming packages, and precisely stacks and wraps product for desirable results. Among several advantages, the Optima RTP 25 leverages a storage frame design for centering products in tandem with a high-speed, fast robot.

The company noted several hygiene product packaging trends and emerging trends. Among them, input speeds have increased while packaging counts have decreased, a trend affecting equipment manufacturers. It also sees a change in material preference, most noticeably in Asia.

“We are seeing that a higher quality of packaging materials and films are being used, which enhance the aesthetic of the product from a marketing perspective and shelf appearance,” Rebstock adds.

Despite the market’s longevity, there are also growth opportunities. As Rebstock explains, “The adult incontinence market in North America is definitely on the rise, in addition to the femcare products for China and the Asian countries. From a futuristic view, we see definite growth potential in the above areas of evolution in the packaging industry.”

Optima is ready for the growth. Two years ago, it launched Rainbow packaging machinery, a multi-faceted, multi-use machine, which the company states “ushered in a new era” for packaging feminine paper hygiene products.

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