What's the future of aerosols?

Sensemaking / What's the future of aerosols?

Grant Coupland discusses how an aerosol and liquids manufacturer is getting to grips with the change affecting the health and personal care sectors

By Grant Coupland / 18 Jul 2016

This article was first published in The Long View 2016 chapter Microbial You, under the title 'Future of Aerosols'. Please share your thoughts here and join the conversation on social media with #longview2016.

Colep is a manufacturer of aerosol and liquid products, with applications in personal care, healthcare, households and industry. Its personal-care products range from hairspray and sun cream to antiperspirants and foot deodorants. Its homecare products include air fresheners. In healthcare, it makes the sprays and systems to apply or deliver a particular treatment – from wound care to angina sprays. Its factories stretch across Europe, Brazil, Mexico and the UAE with links to Japan, Australia, Thailand, China and India. In an interview with The Long View, Marketing and Innovation Director Grant Coupland discusses how the challenge of innovating to deliver health solutions could be affected by global shifts, from an ageing population and changing consumer expectations to better understanding of the microbiome.

What does innovation mean to Colep?

Our business is to innovate for sustainability. We see consumers more and more concerned with general health and well-being, driven by a variety of factors – from an ageing population to rising awareness of pollution and environmental aggressors. It is likely that we will see beauty and personal-care brands repositioned to fit within the well-being platform, encouraging an innovative product space that overlaps with the healthcare sector. We also see great potential to develop more sophisticated and convenient packaging solutions for the food and drink sector – for example through supplements. This concept of ‘wellness’ is likely to increasingly have an impact on all products we interact with on a daily basis, including personal care and beauty.

This affects us in a number of ways. For one, we anticipate people will focus more on the raw materials in formulations and if they are ‘good’ for you, which is intrinsically linked to sustainability. Well-being is highly subjective and personal, therefore we know that people will want products that are tailored to their needs, demographic and gender and specific to occasions, activities, health and beauty needs. Greater personalisation is already an established trend. By developing products that meet these needs, we have two opportunities to act for sustainability: both directly, by delivering solutions that improve health, and indirectly, by finding ways to do this by ‘sneaking in’ products that are less resource intensive across the whole life-cycle. The consumer may not be asking for these resource efficiencies, but we believe that this just makes good business sense on a number of fronts: fewer resources usually means less cost, and shareholders are becoming more concerned about the sustainability credentials of the companies where they invest. Also, with the advent of social media, it is becoming easier for concerned individuals to ‘out’ brands and companies that are not doing the right things as they see it.

What changes do you expect to affect consumer approaches to health in the coming decade?

In the Western world we see a significant demographic change with the ageing populations. For example, the number of 65–74-year-olds in the UK is predicted to grow by 13% by 2022, and the over 75s will grow by 30% (from KPMG). This will have implications for the kind of products we make and how we sell them. Product innovation will also need to take into account the capabilities of older consumers, making packaging easy to use and rethinking how products might be applied by consumers with less dexterity.

How might this affect the products you deliver?

There is also great potential for aerosols to bring health benefits across the world, for example in dispensing medicines and vaccines. They offer an extremely efficient, robust and sealed dispensing system, which makes them suitable. Aerosols are also a useful addition to professional medical treatment and personal medical kits. They are easy to use and provide a sterile application. They have the ability to deliver localised and targeted drug or substance delivery to a specific affected site, and with an array of applicators this can be further targeted. They are already being used to reduce pain (such as muscle freeze), clean wounds, protect against infection by creating a barrier, prevent bites, and help speed up the healing process. Looking at oral care for beauty, there is an increasing need to address health and cosmetic related dental concerns.

According to Datamonitor, dental cavities affect nearly 100% of adults and 60–90% of children globally. Discoloration, linked to consumption of cola, wine, tea, coffee and tobacco, is highly concerning to 45% of 15–24-year-olds. There is an increasing desire for good oral health and brighter teeth! And for our ageing demographic, receding gums and increased sensitivity cause different concerns. These issues are massive drivers for potential new innovations in oral care, and the landscape is ripe for not only the development of new formulations but also for new dispensing and functional cleaning systems.

How might we administer medicines differently in future?

We’re seeing more medical solutions designed to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. For example, nicotine and birth control skin patches deliver effective doses of chemicals. An aerosol could also be used to deliver medical substances to the skin: how about a contraceptive body spray?

One spray-on skin product, developed by Texas-based Healthpoint Biotherapeutics, contains living skin cells that work with the patient’s cells to promote healing. In a clinical trial, the proportion of patients who had completed healing after 12 weeks was 46% in the control groups, versus 70% in patients who received the cell spray (from MedPage Today). Administering drugs and medication requires a very exact dose. Exact dosage could also be very useful for other applications, such as in food and personal care. Consumers are conscious of value for money, healthy eating and reducing waste. We may start to see increasing demand for packaging solutions that dispense or dose a specific and accurate quantity.

You mentioned sterility. Could changes in our understanding of micro-organisms and how our bodies relate to them affect your work?

The US National Institutes of Health have been conducting a study, the Human Microbiome Project, with the aim to characterise the genome of all living micro-organisms in the human body and its role in human health and disease. Part of the study reached completion in 2012, with a focus on treatment and prevention of human diseases in dermatology, gastroenterology and urology.

Take dermatology: the findings may have an impact on skin care, with the administration of treatment for acne or psoriasis to cosmetic effects, such as the control of odour without the use of traditional deodorants or antiperspirants. As cosmetics, personal care and healthcare are fields of work in which Colep operates, we are very interested in the potential of these findings regarding the human microbiome, and see it as an opportunity to consider these new avenues.

What challenges might you face in pursuing these new possibilities?

They will be significant! For instance, the consumer’s perception of science, through no fault of their own, is very often confused. For example, consumers are expected to navigate claims of ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘green’, ‘bio’ … How can they, or anyone for that matter, make informed choices based on sustainability and doing the right thing for both themselves and our planet? Having clear and agreed international definitions specific to pertinent market segments is key to informing and thereby affecting consumer choice.

The problem goes further, in that the scientific communities themselves have distinct differences on what are acceptable chemicals (and allowable quantities) in consumer products. These scientific communities in turn give advice to governments. So, government regulation in one region may differ significantly from another. An example of this may be found in the list of acceptable sunscreen filters used in North America compared with Europe. As we expect regulation to increase across the world, having truly international standards and regulation can only help with this education, by aligning product marketers and retailers. This will increase their ability to give consistent messages and thereby affect our ability to influence consumer choice. Otherwise, unharmonised but increased regulation will only hinder the process of scaling new solutions and add to consumer confusion.

What can a business do to counter this confusion and support the development of sustainable innovation?

In terms of Colep, it is our stated aim to focus our product innovation on developing new products with sustainability benefits and to position them to our customers, the marketers, in order to support their programmes. We see this as a partnership approach working with joined-up elements of the value chain, bringing the specific competency sets of each element together. We work together with common goals in order to focus innovation efforts and thereby to effect change.

Grant Coupland is Marketing and Innovations Director at Colep, a member of Forum for the Future's Network and a sponsor of The Long View.

Image: Isaac Gutekunst / Flickr

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