One of the first events at the American Cleaning Institute’s weeklong annual conference is a ceremony at which the consumer-product maker Henkel hands out awards to its raw material suppliers for innovations and other contributions. One of the last events of the conference, which took place late last month in Orlando, Florida, is an innovation showcase at which raw material suppliers reveal new products.
In between those bookends are countless meetings where cleaning product makers and their suppliers bang out agreements about prices, logistics, and other nitty-gritty of industrial commerce. Still, innovation is a theme that runs through the conference, and in interviews with C&EN, company executives made clear that they are changing how they innovate and who they innovate with.
Henkel’s first prize for laundry and home care innovation went to a new enzyme, licheninase, that the Danish enzyme maker Novozymes developed for Henkel’s Somat automatic dish-washing detergent line. One of two second prizes went to BASF for a keratin polymer technology, first used in personal care products, that can be added to light-duty laundry detergents to strengthen garment fibers.
Henkel started the innovation awards in 2008 to acknowledge the contributions of its ingredient suppliers, said Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum, head of laundry and home care R&D at the firm. The business launches more than 100 new products a year, he said, and more than half of them contain some kind of technological innovation.
The new enzyme, for example, breaks down hemicellulose-containing fibrous materials, such as those found in oats or cereal, that can be hard to remove from dishes and silverware. Novozymes came up with the enzyme, never before used in detergents, exclusively for Henkel and will supply it to the German firm alone for a certain period of time, according to Müller-Kirschbaum.
The enzyme is a solution an entry on Henkel’s laundry and home care technology wish list, which is close to 40 entries long, Müller-Kirschbaum said. Novozymes and other strategic partners, he noted, “have full transparency to our technology needs for the next three to five years.” Henkel also periodically sends out briefs to companies it thinks might have answers to specific problems.
These days, exclusive supply deals like the one with Novozymes are common, Müller-Kirschbaum said, and they represent roughly half of new-product agreements that Henkel has with raw material suppliers. But such arrangements can be tricky to hammer out and are best for long-term projects like the development of a completely new product. “If you are in need of a quick solution, it’s less likely to be an exclusive agreement,” he said.
Indeed, Tammo Boinowitz, general manager of Evonik Industries’ care-solutions business, pointed out that the importance of getting to market quickly often trumps the advantages of exclusivity. Speed was key in the development of a new Evonik opacifying agent that won first prize in Henkel’s beauty innovation category this year. Based on ethylene glycol distearate, which is biodegradable, the ingredient replaces polymeric materials used to give body-care products a pearl-like appearance.
Evonik doesn’t have an exclusive agreement to sell the ingredient to Henkel, and that’s fine with both firms, according to Boinowitz. “Speed means first-mover advantage,” he says. “It’s also a certain kind of exclusivity.”
Executives at BASF, an Evonik competitor, also marveled at the accelerating speed of change—and how much they like it. “It’s a positive thing that there’s fast change,” said Daniele Piergentili, vice president of BASF’s home and personal care ingredient business in North America. “This creates an opportunity for innovation for our partners, and for us to support it.”
Increasingly, Piergentili noted, innovation in home care isn’t just a two-party affair. “Sometimes lately the solution doesn’t come from just one supplier,” he said. “There might need to be an ecosystem of two to three suppliers to find the solution.”
He pointed, for example, to the delivery of fragrance in home care products. Developing a new product might involve a fragrance company, a delivery-technology specialist, and a consumer-product maker. Another product could require a chemical company, a washing-machine manufacturer, and a detergent maker to work together, Piergentili said.
At the innovation showcase, the Brazilian chemical company Oxiteno presented a new line of products called Oxizymes that it developed with Novozymes, the enzyme maker. Combining Oxiteno surfactants with up to five enzymes from Novozymes, the products are targeted at formulators of inexpensive detergents for budget-conscious Latin American consumers. Using one of the blends, customers can create a detergent with 8% active ingredients that works as well as or better than a premium detergent with 12% actives, according to Oxiteno literature.
Cristiane Canto, global head of Oxiteno’s home and personal care business, told C&EN that the partners spent three years developing the new line. One big challenge, she said, was keeping the enzymes stable in detergents with low levels of active ingredient and high concentrations of water.
Similarly, Ashland and Robertet are a year into an agreement combining their respective skills in encapsulation and fragrance to create long-lasting microencapsulated fragrances for home care. Linda Foltis, vice president of Ashland’s care specialty-ingredient business, said a consumer product containing an encapsulated fragrance is already on the market in the US. Ashland also has alliances with firms in the aerosol industry that marry Ashland’s polymer skills with partners’ know-how in cans, propellants, and valves, Foltis said.
For Ashland, working with partners can take many forms, Foltis said. A customer’s newly hired chemist might visit an Ashland lab for a few days of “polymer 101” education. Ashland arranges new-product brainstorming sessions with customer scientists and marketers. And once a year the firm runs the Avant Institute Symposium, an event where roughly 100 guests hear from Ashland scientists and invited academic experts. The most recent meeting, in December, focused on elevating the consumer experience through texture and rheology.
When talking about innovation, Foltis and other executives at the conference distinguished between a new product or formulation they develop with a single customer and a major innovation that gets launched to all takers worldwide.
“In some cases we collaborate with a specific customer on a specific technology for a specific purpose,” BASF’s Piergentili explained. “In other situations we try to develop more of a platform technology that can be used by different customers.”
An example of the latter would be an ingredient that brings fabric-softening properties to laundry detergents. Such products have failed in the past because when fabric-softening molecules attach to fibers in the wash, they can bring suspended dirt with them, creating a graying effect.
Dow Chemical used the ACI meeting to showcase SupraCare 133, a cationic cellulose that it claims can impart softness and fragrance to liquid laundry detergents. And thanks to improved polymer structure, it does this while avoiding graying, according to Eric Peeters, general manager of Dow’s home and personal care business.
Peeters was bullish on SupraCare 133, saying it recognizes a market trend for more “care” in fabric care. At the same time, he acknowledged that bold ingredient launches are not the norm these days. “It still happens that we invent a molecule, take it to market, and push, but that has become the minority of products that are going to market,” he said. “The evolution is one of more and more collaboration.”