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Today's dispensers are much more than simple packaging components; they are sophisticated mechanisms that play a role in the application of the formula, as well as in the loyalty of the consumer.

By Christine Esposito, Contributing Editor

Research confirms that brand loyalty is affected by packaging performance, and that includes the dispenser. But there's a lot more to dispensing than a simple push or squeeze. Neutrality, ease of use, solid design and ergonomics are all intertwined in the process that brings product to a user's fingertips. There's a lot at stake when a consumer picks up that bottle or tube and begins the activation process.

"Consumers view the full primary package—bottle, formulation and dispenser—as the full responsibility of the brand. They don't see the dispenser as a separate entity, so how it performs is just as integral to the consumer experience as the product itself," says Earl Trout, director of marketing, personal care products, MeadWestvaco Calmar. "If a product cannot be dispensed properly, it can impact overall the performance of the formula and ultimately, brand loyalty."

"There is nothing worse for the consumer than having to unscrew the pump and pour out the product manually day in and day out," adds David Hou, director of marketing with Han Hean USA. "An experience such as that means the consumer will look to other products as replacements."

Luckily for the beauty business, that doesn't happen too often these days. Advances in dispensing technology have meant fewer problems online and in service, and have allowed personal care, fragrance and beauty companies to bring more efficacious lotions and creams to market and eliminate unsightly mechanical parts in their overall packaging presentation. Today, dispensing is more about getting it right than simply getting the product out.

Going for Pure

Skin care products now deliver a powerful shot of ingredients that promise to even out texture, stop wrinkles in their tracks and revitalize tired eyes almost overnight. And while R&D teams have been able to craft more efficacious formulations that make skin care truly high-tech, keeping those products intact and untainted as they head to the consumer is out of their hands. It all depends on the packaging, with the dispenser playing a critical role in the process.

"The functional benefits [of a dispenser] go hand-in-hand with sophisticated formulations—the neutrality allows for more sophisticated formulations," says Nobert de Jong, global marketing and communications director for Rexam Personal Care Division. "For facial care, anti-wrinkle, etc., companies can make their claims if they have the right packaging. Dispensing is often the vehicle for bringing innovation to consumers."

To answer the market's demand for purity, vehicles of choice include airless systems and metal-free dispensers.

Rexam's new offering to the market is Nea, a neutral lotion pump. Free of elastomers and featuring a glass ball, Nea protects against formula discoloration and incompatibility, and allows for metal-free formula flow, making it suitable for even the most challenging formulation, according to the company. Nea's actuators are available in a wide range of colors and transparencies, giving manufacturers (and their packaging designers) freedom when it comes to selecting color palettes and cap designs.

Calling packaging "primordial" for presenting the brand and for improving the effectiveness of the ingredients, Yannick Brunat, vice-president marketing and sales at Pfeiffer Beauty, notes that collaboration between its pharmaceutical and beauty operations has led to its new metal-free dispenser technology, Irresistible. By integrating Pfieffer's alpha-Technology Cartridge 15, Irresistible dispenses formulations with sensitive natural or biotechnological ingredients, as well as preservative-free and low preservative substances, via a metal-free route.

"There is a need to have a pump that is as capable—functionally and aesthetically—of dispensing an organic product…[and a] product that has really strong ingredients in it. We don't believe our clients' products should be compromised by the dispenser," notes Hou of Han Hean USA, which touts the OS Dispenser, which eliminates any contact of metal components with the product through an outer-spring design.

Also addressing marketers' desire to keep their formulations pure was Trout, who pointed to the benefits of Calmar's PurePath technology. Engineered so the metal spring is outside of the fluid path, eliminating the risk of corrosion and discoloration, PurePath technology—via Calmar's Aria and Sonnet systems—is ensuring the efficacy of P&G's Olay Definity correcting protective lotion, Estée Lauder Cyber White, Mary Kay TimeWise, Victoria's Secret All That Shimmers Pink and Dove Smooth & Soft anti-frizz cream products.

In addition to metal-free dispensers, airless designs continue to deliver the performance required for modern skin care products.

Megaplast/Megapumps has added a new dual cylinder airless dispenser ideal for products with sensitive ingredients that must remain separate until dispensed. Megaplast's Mega Duo system, which allows mixing to occur immediately before use, features a piston pump system that ensures constant, precise dosing of thick creams, lotions, gels, and pastes. Located below the product, the piston continually moves up as the product is dispensed, helping to push the cream or gel toward the pump while picking up any residual product clinging to the walls of the container. Manufactured in Germany, Mega Duo offers dosing of 0.25ml per cylinder in 30ml and 50ml sizes, and has an eye towards environmentalism, featuring fewer parts and less packaging material than other dispensers of its kind on the market, according to the company.

Fine Mists to Foams

In addition to more neutrality, there have also been calls for more product-specific dispenser solutions that can deliver reliable performance for a variety of forms ranging from highly viscous to fine mists to foams.

"In terms of functional advancement, one of the driving trends we've seen is that product formulations are becoming more viscous," says Trout. Along those lines, Calmar developed a new approach to support thicker formulas, including the Mark VII-HV, which can spray higher viscosity products such as lotions and gels, offering a more consistent performance and an improved consumer experience.

Fine mists are also garnering more attention. According to Trout, Calmar is "engineering new ways of spraying to deliver at a higher predictable velocity and therefore deliver a consistent spray pattern with finer particle size. The end result is a formulation that can dry faster with the intended product efficacy," he says.

Another product form with great potential is foam, which is showing up everywhere from mass market bath and body washes to high-end skin care lines. For example, Rexam's F2 Finger Pump Foamer is being used on a foaming cleanser in the new Care by Stella McCartney line of luxury organic skin care products. F2 is part of Rexam's range of instant, one-touch mechanical foamers that transforms liquid into natural foam at the touch of a button, without chemicals or propellants.

Rexam has recently added the EZ-I foam dispenser for body washes and other personal care applications, which surprisingly, has filled a void for Rexam, despite its prolific foam dispenser business. "This product," says de Jong, "opens the door to the body wash market" for Rexam, which at press time, was closing in on purchase of its one-billionth foamer pump.

While foam has had success in body washes, dish detergents and the children's market (think P&G's Kandoo), the lightweight silky feeling of foam appeals to adults on a personal level, and may prove a boon for skin care, sun care and other leave-on treatments.

"Foam is widely accepted by consumers," says De Jong who sees endless growth opportunities for instant-foam dispensing technology, driven by the growing interest in hygiene products, such as hand sanitizers and cleansers.

Along those lines, UK-based NeutraLabs is harnessing Rexam's M3 finger pump technology for its first own-brand product, Quash, a foaming hand sanitizer sold at Harrods, Selfridges & Co., Tesco and WH Smith Travel stores.

How much stock is Rexam placing in leave-on foam products? The company has teamed with raw material supplier Degussa GmbH to develop a new foaming lotion formulation that uses Degussa's cationic surfactants to deliver new levels of spreading ease, superior absorption, emulsification and leave-on properties. The result, according to Rexam, is a smooth, non-sticky application on skin, applied perfectly with its one-touch mechanical foamers.

MeadWestvaco is also banking on the growing popularity of foams, and has recently acquired Keltec Dispensing Systems, a European company with extensive foam dispenser manufacturing expertise. Keltec's technology will be integrated into MeadWestvaco's production facilities in North America and Asia, and MeadWestvaco also plans to expand activity at Keltec's Drunen, The Netherlands facility.

Invisible Beauty

With the continued popularity of clear and light-colored packaging in the beauty and fine fragrance market, there has been a great push to have dispensers disappear or, at the very least, not detract from the primary packaging. Low profile products often answer the aesthetic needs of many packaging designs.

Unveiled at Luxe Pack Monaco in October, Rexam's new XD-11 fragrance pump is a high-performance ultra-low profile neutral pump. Featuring a miniaturized mechanism concealed inside the neck of the bottle, the innovative design of the actuator and reduced diameter of the nozzle underscores the pump's aesthetic qualities, according to the company. Pre-compression design allows for unlimited adjustment of atomization, and in addition, the spray angle can be selected to complement the characteristics of the fragrance. XD-11's neutrality is guaranteed by a design featuring an external spring, a glass bead and no elastomer joints. Available in three sizes (70ml, 100ml and 120ml), XD-11's actuator comes in ergonomic designer and classic versions in metal or plastic. It is available in crimp, snap-on or screw cap versions.

More transparent mechanical parts can be used to give a product a more sophisticated appearance. When a leading clothing and accessory store sought a dispensing solution for its new perfume launch, it tapped into MeadWestvaco Calmar's expertise—and its NoC dip tube technology—to keep the primary packaging the focus of attention on the shelf.

"The objective was to position the perfume as a luxury item with a differentiated look and feel," says Trout. "This customer went against popular industry trends of pre-priming the sprayers because the invisible tube was viewed as a stronger value enhancement to the product. By not pre-priming the sprayer, the company was able to demonstrate the disappearing dip tube to the consumer at the point of purchase, creating a new and unique way to sell fragrances."

The Future of Dispenser Design

Interestingly, while there is a strong push to hide the machinations of the dispenser in categories such as fine fragrance, equal focus is being paid to the overall aesthetic appeal and the ergonomics of the actual dispenser. Companies are taking a more holistic approach to design, factoring in form, function, tactile qualities and even generational issues when selecting dispensers for their products.

For instance, designing packages that are "senior friendly" is a key theme, but seniors are often "the most underestimated consumer group in the market," according to de Jong of Rexam.

Learning more about seniors' needs is smart to do now, especially as the Baby Boomer generation grows older. Boomers have proven to be a generation focused on keeping healthy and looking young, and therefore are more likely to continue skin care regimens as they age. As boomers become seniors, they may require dispensers that are easier to operate but still protect a product's integrity.

"Seniors have a strong desire for dispensers to be smooth, simple working…They care less about the design, but functional elements are critical," notes de Jong.

Could issues like this be the future of dispensing design? Maybe. Savvy beauty companies have already recognized the role dispensing plays in a product's success, and they are doing something about it today.

"In years past, companies mainly sought innovation in their formulations, not so much in packaging," says de Jong. "But more recently, companies have come to see that firms like Rexam can create value through packaging and dispensing, improving functionality and the performance of a package."

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