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Markets & trends

“Tube got its edge,” Eric Firmin, HCP

HCP Packaging has been partnering for three years with Shanghai Wan Hui Plastic Packaging, with the aim to provide its customers with a reliable source for flexible tubes. Eric Firmin, President of HCP France, describes the group as a small or medium size tubes producer, with total sales around USD 9.5 million and about 62.2 million units produced in 2008. As far as China’s domestic market is concerned, Wan Hui ranks among the 5 top tubes manufacturers - in terms of sales turnover, technical capabilities and quality levels.

Premium Beauty News - What have been the main technical evolutions in the tube business since the last five years?

Eric Firmin - To be honest, as far as I know, there has been hardly any important technical evolutions.

Alcan-Cebal tried doing embossing directly onto the tubes to make it look like more real.

Another interesting technical progress was the high-resolution picture printing on tubes. Actually, it mainly consisted in improving the printing quality on tube, whereas in the past similar results was only possible to achieve through labels or heat-transfer films.

Eventually, our “One piece Tube & Cap” in an oval shape, and with its focus on “environmental friendliness”, has been the main breakthrough innovation for a while. Its price is the same and it offers a 15% material reduction compared to a traditional round tube. As environmental friendliness is key for the retail, that’s a great competitive advantage.

Another innovation is the “Dispensing Tube” that we have created for liquid formulations. The conceptual background is the fact that liquid products are not packed in tubes since the product would drip out once the cap is removed. In order to improve dispensing properties, we added a silicon valve at the tube orifice to control the flow of the product evacuation. The silicon valve opens as the consumer starts exerting pressure on the tube and closes immediately once the force is released. The evacuation of the product from the tube is now regulated, which leaves it cleaner. Even very liquid product (like watery or oily products) can now be packed in a tube! Furthermore, the silicon valve system helps preventing too much air going back to the tube to deteriorate the product packed inside.

Premium Beauty News - Mass-market, “masstige” or prestige and luxury, which segment is the best for tubes?

Eric Firmin - Tube applications are traditionally predominant in the mass market and upper mass market segments. Indeed, as primarily tubes come in stock package, they cost less than other types of packaging, with less time spent in their development and limited tooling expenditure.

Another reason is that tubes have a simple design (compared to a bottle requiring a dispensing pump) and they are very practical.

However, the wide usage of tubes in the mass has been a limiting factor of their development in the luxury market, as brand owners were eager to prevent customers from depreciating products in packaging associated with the mass segment.

Nevertheless, for certain luxury products, where portable and dispensing properties need to be enhanced, tubes remain the preferred options though the outlook will not be the same. For example, tubes exist in oval shape, most of them in screw on cap instead of flip top cap, and with secondary process (e.g. vacuum plating, spray coating) on the screw on cap, to differentiate them from the mass-market designs.

Tube is also the most preferred packaging option for promotional size and free samples items in the luxury market.

Premium Beauty News - Are tubes influenced by fashion trends?

Eric Firmin - Not really, I think. And there is always a need for tube. In a context where everybody is talking about “speed to market,” tube got its edge in supporting this strategy.

Also, it remains a very economical option for package with dispensing properties. I anticipate small size tube packaging still got substantial demand potential, in particular with the 100 mL size restriction in the travel industry. Tubes are still the ideal package for this kind of requirement.

Premium Beauty News - What are the next steps forward? Is innovation still possible in the tube business?

Eric Firmin - In my opinion, there are two different innovation streams in the tubes business, namely: construction breakthrough (including material) and decoration breakthrough.

Regarding the construction side, I believe that the next development steps will be oriented towards:

- the development of environmental friendly materials (bio-renewable, bio-degradable…),
- the reduction of material used in the production - like our One-piece Tube & Cap,
- the increased use of high transparency materials - like our Surlyn material development,
- the development of high barrier properties materials,
- the development of “air-backless” tube construction, which is linked to the reduction in the use of chemical preservative systems, implying more sophisticated packaging and requiring a very good seal to prevent contamination from the outside environment.

Regarding the decoration side, the key factor of success is to achieve better quality at flat costs mainly through:

- high resolution printing, which is a basic requirement for normal paper printing but remains very difficult to achieve on a tube,
- combination of offset and silk-screening printing, though the technology is not new further development is required for lowering its cost.

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Interview by Jean-Yves Bourgeois

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