Proving Ground

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Proving Ground

October 2010

Happi magazine

Testing facilities can help firms hit their targets in today’s hyper competitive environment.

When the economy hits the skids, CPG companies look to cut costs wherever possible; no department or budget item is safe, testing including. But today’s testing lab executives say their services can be among the most-sound investments a firm can make, especially when the market faces difficulties. According to providers Happi spoke with, the right lab can be a secret weapon—verifying the performance and safety of that market-changing SKU, assessing a competitor’s product or improving speed to market.

The Inside Story
Safety is critical, whether a company is selling a basic hair gel, a green household cleaner or a hot new skin care serum. When a product causes adverse reactions or a formulation issue arises, it can put a particular brand, or an even entire category, in a bad light.

“There were scares that got a lot of media attention,” said Eric J. Hill, business marketing and sales manager at Impact Analytical, Midland, MI, citing well known examples from a few years back when melamine was found in dog food and antifreeze showed up in counterfeit versions of a popular toothpaste brand.

Savvy firms looking for extra levels of assurance that they had “crossed their Ts and dotted their Is,” sought the services of third-party testing services providers.

“Ours is an increasingly litigious society,” said Lynne B. Harrison, president and principal investigator at Harrison Research Laboratories, Inc. in Union, NJ. “Companies want a great deal of safety testing so that they can discover any problems in the lab, before a product is launched, and later to show they have done their due diligence.”

Proper testing can help companies verify what’s in a formulation—and what’s in there that shouldn’t be. For example, one of Chemir’s customers brought in a keratin hair straightening treatment that it planned on importing.

“They wanted to figure out why it worked so well,” said Rachel C. Linck, senior director-technology at Chemir Analytical Services, which is based in Maryland Heights, MO. As Chemir went through the deformulation, materials that weren’t on the ingredient list were present, including a large amount of formaldehyde—although the product claimed to be formaldehyde-free. “It was important for them to find this out; they didn’t want to continue to import this product,” Linck said.

Along the same line, with the expansion of the naturals marketplace, companies are also turning to testing labs for extra assistance with their own formulations, as well as to garner insight into those of their competitors.

“People are contacting us about natural, organic and green formulations, such as seeking help with formulating or taking the formulation of an existing product to make it greener. They are also looking at their competitor’s product to verify that the components in there are green or natural too,” said Linck.

Pointing to the uptick in the number of green claims being made with little backing, Hill said, “There are a lot of companies that do it and no testing is done,” he said. “We are seeing this on a lot of products, and it is watering the [naturals movement] down.”

To address those concerns, Impact Analytical has created Earth Impact, a series of testing protocols for various classes of materials that center on key green issues, such as biodegradability and recycled content. According to Hill, Earth Impact, which was rolled out in late 2009, is gaining traction.

“We are developing it in concert with customers,” he said, adding that there are accompanying Earth Impact logos which a company can incorporate into its marketing materials and use on packaging.

Driving Down Costs
While safety assessment is a given, alternate approaches to quality testing can also be a catalyst for improved production processes, and ultimately reduced costs.

“A critical issue in the current economy is the desire to drive improvement in operational efficiencies, especially as it relates to reducing investment in inventory,” said Judy Madden, Vice President of Corporate Development at Celsis, Chicago, IL. “We screen products for microbiological contamination in 24 hours rather than 5-7 days that it traditionally takes. This reduces manufacturing cycle time, which directly correlates to production efficiency and responsiveness.”

For example, one of Celsis’ customers—a fast-growing CPG company in the household and personal care space—was having a hard time keeping product on the shelves, and officials wanted to shorten cycle time and use their warehouse more effectively. During routine screening for microbiological contamination, the firm was holding product for 5 days prior to distribution and had an in-process hold on bulk products for five days.

“It was conservative, but a cost-justified in-process hold that made sense for them at the time,” said Madden. “But in effect, that meant there were 10 days in the manufacturing cycle that was hold time related to micro testing. It was expensive in terms of inventory and warehousing, and it made it difficult for them to meet their growing demand. “

With Celsis’ rapid micro methods in place, the client was able to reduce that time to just a two-day hold; one at the bulk and a second at the finished goods level, reducing inventory investment by eight days, and its warehousing requirement by eight days, according to Madden.

Among recent developments at Celsis is a new molecular based assay that works in tandem with the company’s core screen technology. According to Madden, the new assay, which is currently in beta testing with a large personal care/beauty company, allows firms to more quickly assess contamination if it does occur, which allows them to be more responsive.

“I think there is broader awareness that the quality group isn’t an independent department. They have a big impact on operational efficiencies and in achieving those objectives,” Madden concluded.

Hitting Targets
When it comes to a company’s primary objectives, paramount is selling products. And in the household and personal care market, consumers buy into promises—the more bells and whistles the better. Often what puts a product over the top (and into a shopping bag) in today’s hypercompetitive market is third party data that backs up a claim.

“If you can find a way to make products stand out more, such as testing to prove that yours is better, that might be worth the investment,” Linck said.

And that might prove more critical in 2010 and beyond as shoppers have become more comfortable with private label products (see Editor’s Page, p. 10 in this issue). There’s greater pressure on brand marketers to document why their wrinkle cream, window cleaner or laundry detergent has added value or improved performance over a store brand.

“If [marketers] are going to get those customers back, they have to make sure that their claims are true. An external lab is important in this respect…If you go to a third-party lab, they lend credence to the claim and lend confidence to the consumer,” said Hill.

At AMA Laboratories, Photo-Grammetrix can help firms verify why their product, such as a high-end skin treatment, is worthy of a consumer’s hard-earned money. A system of scientifically matched, high-resolution digital photography in which all photographic variables remain constant through the entire study, Photo-Grammetrix insures that the differences seen in the photographs taken during the study are the sole result of and entirely produced by the product being studied, according to Howard Kaminsky, director of operations. Each stage in the progression of the treatment regimen is permanently recorded and in order to further verify the accuracy and precision of the photographic methodology, AMA scores the panelists before and after treatment based on industry standards. The technology can be used in studies centered on wrinkle reduction, skin lightening/brightening, pore size, hair density and skin moisture, according to AMA, which is based in New City, NY.

“The old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words, seems to hold true here,” said Kaminsky, noting that while images are often kept for internal use, they can also be used in “before and after” type external marketing.

Testing is “very critical in light of being able to convince consumers of the legitimacy of the claims—especially when coming out with a unique product or application,” said David Heuer, director, business development at BioScreen Testing Services, Inc., Torrance, CA. According to Heuer, the benefit of using an outside independent lab is the “unbiased nature” of the testing to “legitimize” the product results.

“With the numerous products being touted and sold on the internet, it is especially important to have independent clinically supported claim substantiation for your product. It is alarming how many claims are being made online without any documented testing to support it,” he said.

Executives at Clinical Research Laboratories, Inc., Piscataway, NJ, also pointed to the increased importance of claim substantiation in the cosmetic marketplace. According to Michael Muscatiello, chief operating officer, as cosmetic products today make claims such as“reduces fine lines and wrinkles” and “increases skin elasticity,” companies see the importance of making sure the product actually does what it is intended to do.

Testing providers can also help companies better formulate their products for the “real world” by developing company/product-specific protocols.

According to Harrison, when it comes to sunscreens, companies are studying what consumers really do. Testing protocols involve reapplication, applying product on wet skin and rubbing up against things (like that beach towel or lounge chair)—allthe bettertoassess how a formulation will truly perform. “They are putting it into different conditions similar to what consumers are likely to do,” she said.

That’s just what Outside Labs did for its Scape Athlete sunscreens. Company founder Nicolas Martens worked with a third party facility to develop his own methodology for Scape high-performance sunblocks. Outside Labs’ protocol featured much higher temperatures and more turbulent waters than those typically used in traditional sunscreen evaluations. Marten’s goal was to more accurately replicate the extreme conditions sunscreens are subjected to when applied to an athlete’s body.

BioScreen has also been enlisted to develop customer-specific protocols. In one recent study, a leading cosmetic/personal care company wanted to use unique ingredients to prove anti-aging effects of decreasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and skin elasticity.

“The uniqueness was that the subjects had to be exposed to sunlight for a required length of time for the product to react to the UV light. This became a compliance issue to insure that the subjects were, in fact, exposing themselves to the sufficient amount of sunlight,” said Heuer.

To address those concerns, BioScreen developed a specific protocol and monitoring methods to insure that sufficient exposure to sunlight was maintained, according to the company.

Regulatory Issues
An ongoing issue in testing is the use of animals, an area that is affected by both regulatory bodies and even NGOs that help shape consumer sentiment. Recent European Union bans on testing finished cosmetic products and ingredients have changed the landscape for cosmetic and household product manufacturers—and buoyed the business of providers offering alternative methods.

“The future of testing is non-animal,” said Rich Ulmer, president and chief executive officer of InVitro International. The Irvine, CA-based company offers “tried and time-tested” non-animal testing, including the Irritection Assay System, a standardized, quantitative invitro test method that can be employed to detect, rank and predict the ocular and dermal irritation potential of cosmetics as well as consumer products, pharmaceuticals and chemical raw materials. Another weapon in InVitro’s arsenal is Corrositex, an invitro test that assigns UN Packing Groups and identifies non-corrosives.

These methods take the animal out of the process, but they are also quicker, which can lead to faster product development. Unlike animal testing that can take several months, Corrositex testing can provide a Packing Group determination in as little as three minutes and no longer than four hours, while Irritection Assay results can be expedited to 24 hours if necessary with regular service for completed reports in five to seven working days, according to Ulmer.

The Economy’s Impact
The economy has been in the doldrums since late 2008 and that has had a profound affect on most companies in the household and personal care space, including aspects that relate to product testing. Many marketers are doing less with more at a time when the risks seem greater when it comes to new product launches.

Industry executives noted the impact this strategy has had on their customers’ businesses.

“Given the current economy, cost cutting is one of the major issues that every client has been experiencing. It isn’t just trying to run lean and mean and more efficient. There are fewer people doing the same amount of work,” said Harrison. “It is our place to be proactive and try and do as much as we can.”

“Last year was a tough year for every one,” said Hill. “But when the calendar flipped to Jan. 1, it was like someone turned the light on. Companies started to ramp up across all segments, but they didn’t have the support staff. They are coming to us saying we need to get this testing done, but we don’t have staff, and there is a freeze on hiring. They need that support for product development.”

According to industry experts at leading testing providers, the right facility or provider is more than a proving ground for new products or just another line item in an already tight budget.

“There is no question that the current economy is causing companies to look at capital equipment expenditures—and that is a concern for us,” said Madden of Celsis. “But, on the other hand, companies are digging deeper and are more receptive to unique approaches to better managing their capital investments. Our message resonates well in this economy; we aren’t just talking about the quality lab, it impacts the entire organization.”

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