Frédéric Dreux, R&D Packaging Leader of Unilever’s Prestige Division

Premium Beauty News - What are the improvement drivers in cosmetics packaging in 2019?

Frédéric Dreux - The main driver that should keep enhancing innovation is related to the functionalities of packaging, i.e. delivering the product in a more luxurious, surprising, and safe way. The objective is also to improve the benefit provided by the formula by means of the delivery system. It is an important aspect, although it is not always salient in the current packs, but it is very well conveyed by the customization trend.

Of course, real innovation is about achieving this delivery performance following a sustainable approach. That is the main challenge today – the improvement that is most needed. The cosmetics industry is aware of it, and everyone understands it should be done without changing the main functions of packaging.

There has been a significant acceleration in this field in the cosmetics industry, as can be seen with the recent product launches and manufacturers’ offering, increasingly based on recycled or recyclable materials. It is interesting to see how this shared environmental responsibility reinforces relationships between brands and manufacturers. We share this common goal no one can achieve without the others.

Premium Beauty News - Can you think of any other challenges related to packaging innovation?

Frédéric Dreux - There is a challenge related to customization, not only in terms of delivery, but also in terms of more individualized packs. A step has been made, in particular thanks to digital printing. As for connected packaging, it will become a real trend when there is a real benefit for consumers. I do not think that this point has been reached yet.

Premium Beauty News - Let’s go back to sustainable packaging. Is it possible to combine ecodesign with economic performance?

Frédéric Dreux - It is a mistake to oppose them. In the short and medium term, a sustainable positioning actually results in stronger economic performance. Brands with an authentic purpose grow much faster. Economic performance is related to sustainability. I am even tempted to say that if a company cannot combine them, it really takes a risk in the short or medium term. At Unilever Prestige, we see this as an opportunity. If you manage to create a premium consumer experience integrating sustainability, you develop a long-lasting model which enhances trust in the brand and removes the guilt consumers may feel when they use a product that cannot be recycled.

Premium Beauty News - Precisely, how do you manage this aspect for all the different brands in the group?

Frédéric Dreux - There are many different ways to offer consumers sustainable experiences. Every brand in our Prestige segment remains independent and keeps their own identity: the same principles are applied differently, whether in packaging or communication. It is the same common goal, but execution is adapted to each brand. They share common points, like plastics recyclability or the use of recycled materials, but what changes is how we convey this. We also consider offering an alternative to plastic by introducing other materials, like glass, wood, metal, or other new materials emerging on the market. We need to play on all levels: these possibilities represent different sources of inspiration, so we have to use them as an innovation driver.

Premium Beauty News - Among the group’s brands, REN Clean Skincare is seen as a spearhead, given their strong zero waste positioning. How is that conveyed in terms of packaging?

Frédéric Dreux - In our portfolio, REN Clean Skincare is an activist brand, from formulas to packaging. This zero waste positioning is a real inspiration, a guidance that provides a framework to all the decisions made by the brand, in practice and on all levels. As regards packaging, it is conveyed by a recyclability and material reuse requirement. When a brand asserts this position, it strengthens its communication arguments and does not hesitate to show it uses an important percentage of recycled materials, in particular with Ocean Plastic, despite the aspect or colour. Rather than see it as a constraint, we integrate it in the packaging design. It is also important to stay connected to trends, in particular in chemical recycling, which is accelerating. In the future, we all hope to be able to use fully transparent recycled materials for example. What we are working on does not just involve what we have, but also what we will have tomorrow.

Premium Beauty News - Is the LOOP platform dedicated to zero waste, reasoned purchases one of these promising solutions? REN Clean Skincare has committed to using it.

Frédéric Dreux - It is an excellent opportunity to fulfil our objective. The main way to adopt a zero waste strategy is to no longer consider packaging as waste, but as something that can be reused, without getting out of the chain. That is what LOOP offers. It is the first time we have gone that far in packaging reuse. It is an innovative packaging model: the high-end packs are sustainable, delivered, resent and refilled for our consumers. This packaging collection or reconditioning approach is aimed to reoffer the product: it helps enhance the consumer refill experience and keep the premium quality of the packs through e-commerce and home delivery. Not only does it differ from the usual waste management models, but it provides packaging with a real functionality over time. It is no longer a linear, single-use model.

Premium Beauty News - Do you consider adopting this solution for the other brands in the group?

Frédéric Dreux - Starting from this summer, we are going to participate to the test in real life with REN Clean Skincare. Then, the model will be enhanced based on this first experience to become self-sustainable. The keys will be things such as consumers’ reactions, compliance and logistic fluidity aspects for example. If you want to give a chance to this type of model, you should not give up when the first obstacles arise, and instead push for continuous improvement. It is the sort of initiatives that can fundamentally change things.