In the personal hygiene industry, consumers’ focus has been shifting more and more toward greater product safety. In a recent interview, our experts Camilla Ohlson, Head of Market Strategy Personal Hygiene Europe, and  Dr. André Weiß, Manager Instrumental Analytics, sat down with EDANA’s Director of Communications, Seán Kerrigan, to talk about this development.

They touched on the topics of communicating transparency to stakeholders, the challenges they face and the importance of partnership and cooperation to tackle complex topics such as product safety and sustainability. 

Providing consumers with safe products is at the core of our responsibility

Can you elaborate how the debate surrounding the topics of product safety and the impact of the “Chemicals of Concern” and “Volatile Organic Compounds” has evolved recently?

With no doubt the debate and interest related to product safety has been increasing over the last years, reaching an all high level during 2019. In the past the topic was, more occasionally, brought up in discussions but, recently, it has become a strong market dynamic across all players and functions of the industry.

At Henkel we have, for a long time, been paying high attention to the topic of product safety on a global scale. For us, providing our customers and the consumers with safe products is at the core of our responsibility. Furthermore, in the industry we all need to ensure we continue the ongoing work to develop common standards to provide a framework for this important topic that is both consistent and understandable.

We at Henkel are happy to be part of this movement, where we, as an industry, jointly take the lead in order to provide the society with transparency and facts related to personal hygiene products that are valid and reflect the reality.

And what do you see as the main drivers of this evoloution?  

The overall mega trends about Healthy Living and Sustainability are key drivers for the increasing interest of product safety. The consumers of today desire products that are not only fulfilling their basic needs but also require the confirmation that they are also safe in all aspects. This includes safety in use but also safe to produce and, not to forget, sustainable in both usage and production.

So the challenge is there and it is up to us in the industry to take on this challenge in a joint manner. Therefore, we need to provide the consumers and our wider society with transparency of our high standards in quality and safety in a way that is both understandable and comprehensible.

I wonder if you have experience of how this complexity regarding transparency in quality and safety can be conveyed to key actors (regulators, the media and consumer groups) that may not have this understanding?

We see this as one of the biggest challenges of today and this is not only limited to product safety in personal hygiene products. With a society running faster and faster, chasing the next “likes”, it is challenging to bring over messages that are complex and not simply black or white.

At Henkel we have experience with this kind of complexity from our work on food safety since we play a leading role in the food packaging industry. In food safety, key elements to progress and provide transparency are knowledge, standards, education, information sharing and leadership. We believe in also using the same set of tools when it comes to product safety for personal hygiene.

Having that said, crucial is how to simplify a message whilst not losing the key points to be made and, by that, make it accessible to a broader group of reader or listener. This can only come by having mixed competences working closely together and not reducing it to “experts under experts”.

Hence, we are working in a cross-functional set-up to ensure we understand the topic in all its’ complexity but also makes it understandable for the non-experts. Based on this format we remain convinced that we can work on a broader scale with key stakeholders including media and consumer groups

True progress can only be made if all stakeholders in the value chain cooperate

Part of your presentation refers to the importance of cooperation along the value chain to ensure continuous improvement in product safety. How challenging is the standardization of methodologies here? How is this overall cooperation process evolving?

Certainly, this is a complex task we are all facing. The methodology and guidelines being defined need to fulfil its purpose but also need to reflect the reality of the product in use. As we all know, personal hygiene products are made out of a complex structure of materials and components that all have a contribution to the end result. That’s why we so strongly believe in the partnership approach where true progress can only be made in an open, transparent and honest exchange.

We are fully convinced that to define new standards and guidelines is something we should see as a great opportunity in providing consumers and institutions the basis for an even stronger trust in our products. We find that the process as guided by EDANA is running extremely well and that it is a chance for all of us in the industry to work on a common agenda for the good of our society, being also the users of personal hygiene products.

What are the most impressive technical innovations or practical initiatives you’ve seen recently?

The dynamics in the direction of recycling and use of natural raw materials continues to grow in importance. There really is a great deal of prioritising and activity ongoing in this field.

Once again, due to the complexity of the topics, the breakthroughs will rely on common approaches in a partnership set-up. Certainly, our consumers are interested in those kind of solutions and we, within the industry, have a big responsibility in providing true sustainable solutions responding to this global trend and ever-increasing demand.

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