On Thursday 12th October the delegates attending the latest BAMA Forum were hurriedly enjoying the buffet lunch that closes off the event, before saying their goodbyes.
The previous day Adrian McCretton, Chief Scientist at kdc/one Swallowfield and Chair of BAMA, had opened the event welcoming the many industry representatives present, and providing an overview of what was to come.
Patrick Heskins took over to deliver an essential summary of the key initiatives and activities BAMA had been involved in during the past 12 months. From the online training videos on the basics of aerosol technology, to the UK non-methane VOC emissions targets and the Reduction Pathway designed by our industry to ensure sustainability of our sector. Patrick then related the association’s role in the review of the Aerosol Dispenser Regulation (ADR) and of the SACKI warning, widely present on personal care aerosol products. Work is underway to look at how we might update the SACKI warning for 21st century consumers to make sure they are aware of the potential risks from deliberately inhaling aerosol gas.
Next to the stage was Dai Sanders, from DCA Design International, who took us through the increasing role Artificial Intelligence (AI) is playing in shortening and facilitating the process of bringing new products to the market. At various stages, from product design to virtual consumer experience, AI is increasingly present to optimise the results and often save cost at production stage. With the caveat that human judgement and supervision will still be necessary to provide the initial data and to adjust contextual parameters.
A sharp turn to look at policymaking and at the enabling factors for the development of manufacturing in the UK. James Broughman, senior economist at MAKE UK, gave an excursus on the UK policy choices of the last decade and how they are impacting on capital investment in the manufacturing sector.
Compared to the clarity of long-term strategy set by other Western economies, the uncertainty of direction and of a structured plan for the development of manufacturing in Great Britain is stifling investment and industrial growth.
Labour shortage and a skills gap exacerbates the situation, as the demand for workforce has doubled in the past few years, generating higher wages in a landscape where cost savings are a priority to retain competitiveness on the market. Also, crucially, feedback from the UK industry shows that Germany is perceived as a much better environment for businesses, as the country has a strong framework of Industrial Strategy.
To complement James’ presentation, Martin Traynor, Crown representative for Small Business at the Cabinet Office, explained some of the initiatives the government is taking to ease the pressure on small and medium sized businesses. First and foremost, there has been work done to open the public sector procurement contracts to SMEs, mainly through the Procurement Bill.
The UK government spends £60 billion per year on goods and services, through its contracting authorities: an online tool called Contract Finder is now available on Gov.uk to help businesses identify open opportunities.
For procurement contracts under £5m in the public sector, there is now the requirement for bidding companies to show that they pay their suppliers in a timely manner, which means within either 30 or 60 days. This will indirectly help smaller companies, particularly vulnerable to the current high rates of interest for capital, to maintain a positive cashflow.
The requirement of selecting the most ‘economically advantageous’ bid has also been removed, allowing the contracting authority more flexibility to choose the best value for money rather than the lowest-priced offer.
After a short Q&A session and a coffee break that allowed people to catch up with their business contacts, the conference restarted.
Brian Moore, CEO of EMR NamNews and a veteran of BAMA events, dispensed his extensive knowledge of the current trends affecting FMCG retailers. He pointed out five of them.
First, Shrinkflation, or the practice of reducing the size of a product while maintaining its price. That goes hand-in-hand with Skimflation, where the quality of a product decreases because cheaper ingredients are used to keep its cost down. Both practices above have led to a Loss of Trust from consumers who have grown increasingly sceptical and have lost confidence in brands and claims.
From a macro-perspective, the major supermarkets Net Profit Before Tax has gone from a standard and enviable 5%, to a generally much lower figure ranging between 0.26% for Aldi to 1.5% of Sainsbury’s, with the exception of Asda, who has been able to retain profit at 4.3%.
Operating at such tight margins is challenging at best. It becomes nearly unsustainable with the Shoplifting rate gone from under 1.5% to nearly 3%, because of the squeeze on household budgets. To be able to generate the same profit for their shareholders, large retailers would need a huge increase in the amount sold, which is unlikely to happen.
Looking at aerosol products on the shelves, environmental sustainability pushes the manufacturers to reduce the packaging material and size of the cans. Unfortunately, concentrated content under the current circumstances might be seen as yet another ‘rip-off trick’ by consumers, who have increasingly taken to social media to vent their frustration about shrinkflation in grocery products.
A concentrate boost of energy is what the following presentation feels like, with Daniel Gibbons from Re-Solv taking the stage by storm with his dynamic delivery. The topic, abuse of aerosol products by young people, would otherwise have been all but uplifting.
Likely, Daniel is used to engage classes of teenagers, in his daily job of delivery training on the dangers of solvent inhalation; principally butane and propane when aerosols are involved. The mortality rate associate with the practice is low, but surveys carried out by trained staff among children aged 10-15 revealed that in 2021 2.4% have used. In numbers, that means about 76,000 young people nationally practiced, or tried, volatile substances abuse (VSA) to get high. And unfortunately, two young girls have died of it in the past 12 months. The phenomenon is not limited to the UK: BAMA monitors the accidents occurring around the world and is aware of similar deaths in Australia, France and Sweden so far.
After questions from the attendees, Adrian invites all voting BAMA members to gather in the adjacent room for the Annual General Meeting, and dismisses the audience, reminding everyone to return later for the drink reception and Awards dinner.
Thursday morning started, as has become customary, with a soft session to ease people in. This year BAMA had Mark Sproston, Head of Men’s Grooming at Quest Personal Care, capturing the audience with the story of his rise to fame as The Shavedoctor and his subsequent heart-breaking downfall. Both the successful business he had created through years of passion and work, and the credibility of his brand sunk when a joint venture in South Korea did not deliver.
After a couple of difficult years, Mark received an offer of employment at Quest and The Shavedoctor brand is now back on the shelves, with a range of male shaving gels and lotions. Mark’s passion is tangible and by the time his presentation was over, all those present were well awake and ready for the interactive session next door.
Arranged in teams and dressed in protective aprons, the conference delegates had to try their hand at shaving a balloon. Each person had about 1minute, before they had to hand over the cut-throat razor to the next member of their team. The result was pretty messy, luckily there were no casualties.
Back in the conference hall, a relaxed crowd welcomed Dr Bruce Adderley, Challenge Director at Innovate UK, who explained how the organisation helps companies bring their project to market by finding enabling elements (such as partners, data or technology access, for instance). Once the project is defined and ready to start, there are a several forms of funding available: four Smart Grants competition per year, each totalling up to £25M, Investors Partnerships, mainly aimed at SMEs and with £80m in their current ‘Future Economy’ programme, Loans at under market rates, and finally the Knowledge Transfer Partnership that connects specialised academic teams with industry.
On top on this, and to address the concerns of BAMA regarding competition-law restrictions, inter-company collaborations for the purpose of innovation are welcome and actually encouraged.
Next to the stage was Charlotte Martin, director of Qualitative Research at the eponymous company. Following a number of deaths amid teenagers who inhaled aerosol propellants to get high, Charlotte undertook primary research to assess the efficacy of the existing SACKI warning (Solvent Abuse Can Kill Instantly).
One-on-one interviews with selected members of the public revealed that the visual impact of the warning is extremely low, and that its wording doesn’t convey the desired message. Hardly anyone looks at the bottom half of the can, and when prompted to do so, they notice the flammable icon, mostly because of its red border, but never the SACKI warning.
The extensive and in-depth research resulted in the draft of an optimal format, position and wording, to enhance visibility for the consumers and ensure they understand what danger they are warned against. The recommended format encloses a clear sentence in a red rectangular box, placed within the top half of the can. The words are chosen based on clarity and effectiveness, and they avoid unnecessary alarmism.
The Ethical Trading Initiative, in the shape of Imran Serugo-Lugo, gave an insight on the organisation’s international standard for labour rights, and flagged the potential risks associated with international trade, for example with sourcing supplies from China. The issue is not just the working conditions of the local labour, but also the human rights abuse in the global supply chain i.e. for seafarers, whose living conditions and extreme isolation cause them to be more vulnerable.
When ingredients such as palm oil are concerned, manufacturers need to be aware of the unregulated work practice in the plantations, often involving women and child labour. It’s also important to keep in mind the deforestation linked to palm oil, and the need to comply with the EU Deforestation Regulation.
The above are only two examples of a number of pitfalls any company filing ESG reports has to be aware of, to meet a minimum standard of ethical trade.
BAMA's in-house Regulatory Affairs expert, Dr Paul Jackson, closed the conference with a detailed overview of the matters that can impact on the aerosol industry, both in the UK and in the EU. The list is extensive, but the opportunity is currently there to influence policy-making through Consultations, and the UK authorities seem to be looking at simplifying the existing regulatory framework going forward.