Packing it up

Published: 24-May-2012

Prospects are good for UK contract packers and manufacturers who can offer innovative solutions for beauty brands, says Rodney Steel

Prospects are good for UK contract packers and manufacturers who can offer innovative solutions for beauty brands, says Rodney Steel

One of the success stories of the packaging industry is the growth of the UK contract packing and contract manufacturing sector. The British Contract Manufacturers and Packers Association (BCMPA) is frequently the first port of call for brand owners looking for potential outsourcing partners and overall page views on its website, which is a useful barometer of activity in the industry, are up by 30% compared to a year ago. They are currently running at around 12,500 hits a month. Almost 10% of the page views are from absolute unique visitors. Similarly, sales enquiries received by the association and circulated on to members are up by 20%.

The growth of internet businesses offering toiletries, cosmetics and personal care products is another area that has provided a welcome boost to the industry. There has also been a noticeable increase in enquiries from overseas firms wanting to have their products manufactured and packed in the UK.

However, as the brands do battle in the marketplace, a closer scrutiny of in-house production is going on and the evidence is that companies are progressively tending towards a strategy of outsourcing. There seems to be a reticence for companies to commit to investment in machinery, additional staff and premises unless they are convinced of long term demand for their products.

While wishing to be innovative, they also recognise the cost and risk of introducing new product ranges or packaging formats. This is where the contract packer can play a vital part.

Range of services

Some contractors are invited to work with clients from the concept stage of a project providing input on market research, brand development and regulatory affairs. They can offer a full range of manufacturing services with operations such as new product development, formulation, QA testing, pack design, blending etc, with the capability of filling into a wide range of packaging formats. They can also take responsibility for complete supply chain and project management.

Other contractors focus on providing secondary packing facilities, which could include cello wrapping, shrink wrapping, flow wrapping, sleeving, labelling and assembling retail-ready displays. Contract packers also provide essential support for satisfying seasonal demands, in particular gift packs for Christmas and other special occasions such Valentine’s and Mother’s Day.

Many co-packers now have pick & pack, storage and distribution facilities, thus providing clients with a one stop shop.


The beauty business demands high standards, a goal shared by the contract manufacturing industry whose accreditations are likely to include ISO, BRC, MHRA and FDA. At the recent BCMPA Conference, one of the business sessions focused on organic certification presented by guest speaker Lee Holdstock, trade relations manager at the Soil Association. The process of organic compliance is often anticipated to be complex and expensive, with many packers, manufacturers and clients uncertain of their responsibilities in this area. Lee gave an overview of regulations and standards relevant to organic packing, while also considering who they apply to, what the requirements are in practice and what advantages there are for certified businesses.

Where can you meet a contract packer?

Short of climbing on an aircraft, opportunities to meet potential outsourcing partners face to face all under one roof were until recently fairly limited. However it is encouraging to see there have been two UK exhibitions in the last month or so, which is good news for the beauty industry.

Making Cosmetics was a small but focused show held at the National Motorcycle Museum. There was also the well established Contract Pack exhibition, supported by the BCMPA, which forms part of the easyFairs Packaging Innovations Event at the NEC in Birmingham. In addition to the Contract Pack zone, the show also includes Packaging Materials and Processing & Packaging Machinery. The exhibition attracted over 4,000 visitors including blue chip companies such as PZ Cussons, Boots, Simple, Glaxo Smith Kline, L’Oréal and Unilever.

Looking back, the UK contract manufacturing and packing sector had a very positive 2011. And there is every sign that the trend will be continued this year.

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