This approach to selling involves containers that can be refilled several times for the same use, and it has already implemented in all distribution channels: stores specialized in bulk and/or organic products, of course, but also brands’ own networks (L’Occitane en Provence), professional networks, like hair salons (L’Oréal Professionnel’s Source Essentielle concept), convenience stores, pharmacies (Mustela), supermarkets (Léa Nature...), and mixed channels chosen by startups (Panier des Sens, CoZie, Respire,…). However, safe reuse of the same container requires “a traceability and industrial cleaning system,” explains Citeo, the company specialized in packaging recycling. The objective is to guarantee the container/content couple hygiene.

Cleaning standards

To avoid multiplying cleaning protocols, in 2019, the French professional association Réseau Vrac, which federates 1,500 members, including 560 distributors, set up a working group in partnership with the Cosmebio association, the Edencos cosmetology company, and the Ecocert body as regards material expertise. They aim to define standard cleaning protocols (cleaning, disinfection…) adapted to the different product types.

Indeed, the protocols vary according to the types of cosmetics – rinse-off products, like shower gel and shampoo, or leave-on products, like creams, oils, and micellar water – and to the materials used for the containers,” explains Lucia Pereira, Director of Legal Affairs of Réseau Vrac. “Other than bottles and jars, tests are also performed on packs fitted with a pump or cardboard lids. As regards the materials we assess with an Ecocert expert, we selected PET, PEHD, glass and aluminium. We test the stability and safety of products packed in cleaned, disinfected reusable containers in accordance with the protocols defined.

The test results of the first phase were expected for late 2020.

The crucial role of the packaging material

Ten companies joined the working group, including Jean Bouteille. As they are present in all distribution channels with their fountain, they want a standardized cleaning protocol for the whole chain. Since the company was founded in 2014, they equipped 400 points of sale with their bathroom solutions (liquid soap, shower gel, shampoo). Right now, they outsource packaging cleaning, but in 2021, they aim to acquire their own cleaning station in the French northern city of Lille. Then, they will develop this solution across the country. If they had initially selected reusable PET bottles (50 ml or 1 L), they eventually chose glass – the container range should be available in early 2021. “This way, they can be reused even more often and a deposit system will be adopted,” says Marketing & Communication Director Manon Carpentier.

In the 53 points of sale where their dosing pump is installed, CoZie, finalist of the Citeo 2018 Circular Challenge, retrieve bottles and ship them to their own cleaning station in the Paris region, which is fitted with their own equipment. They are now considering creating new cleaning stations.

CoZie chose glass for their products (face care, liquid toothpaste and sun milk). “It is the best material as regards cleaning and drying. It is an inert material, so it guarantees the safety of our leave-on products,” justifies Arnaud Lancelot, co-founder of the young company. And he is quite confident about the risk of breakage: “so far, none of our customers has reported any problem”. But the company is now considering broadening their offering to soap and shampoo, so they are thinking about the use of these products and polling their customers to “study other materials”.

According to Vincent Joffre, Sales Director of PRP Création, a company specialized in plastic packaging, “bottles intended for bulk products should satisfy three criteria: have a large opening to make cleaning and drying easier and faster, be made with strong materials to resist industrial cleaning and multiple rotations, and be transparent to validate the products’ condition.

The company has just developed a range of three standard bottles (250, 400, 500 ml) that meet these criteria. Other than a large neck (38.400 for a 31 opening), they selected a co-polyester base for resistance to cleaning, Tritan by Eastman, and Total’s PP Lumicene, which boasts good organoleptic properties, for the transparency criterion. PRP Création offers bottles with standard caps, dispensing caps, or pumps, and markets them starting from a minimum quantity of one packaging unit for standard bottles, and 5,000 units for customized pieces.

The refill solution

As bulk products are gaining ground, it will be crucial to communicate with consumers to achieve zero risk with sensitive products. In this respect, the increasingly successful refill solution appears as an interesting alternative.

PRP Création has developed a dual solution: a doypack-bottle fitted with a head and cap. The bottles are made of PET, R-PET, PP or PE and the packs are composed of a PET/Aluminium or PET/PE complex, or only of PE. “This way, the brand can be sure consumers will fill in their bottles with the refills, which can be customized,” says Vincent Joffre.

Since the need for reassurance about hygiene emerged with the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers and distributors have definitely not lost interest in bulk products, especially in supermarkets. But no doubt their boom will compel everyone to pay particular attention to these issues.