Monodosing: Fresh, minimal, less waste. Beauty’s future?

Monodosing: Fresh, minimal, less waste. Beauty’s future?

Posted on June 16, 2022.

The skincare range from Wo, a UK-based specialist brand launched in 2020, looks more like a prescription from a pharmacy or doctor. There is no pump or glossy varnish. Sold only in blister packs and vials in muted colours, the kits are a world away from the beauty products in Instagrammable jars or bottles that have fuelled social media’s #shelfie trend since 2018. Is small and plain the new beautiful?

While larger, fancy packaging was once viewed as giving customers more bang for their buck, experts suggest this approach may be losing traction. Skincare routines are becoming more streamlined, skin types are no longer viewed as rigid, and both shoppers and brands are seeking ways to reduce product waste — an ongoing challenge for the beauty industry, experts say.

Beauty brands have tackled unsold inventory through discounting, donating or disposing of the stock in landfill. However, even products that are sold can end up as waste: 77 per cent of women in the UK, for example, use fewer than 10 items regularly, despite buying up to 100 a year. That equates to an average of over 5kg of beauty and packaging waste in a lifetime, costing over £180,000, according to community beauty platform Skoosh Skin.

Haircare brands Prose and Function of Beauty use custom production as a means of minimising waste from unsold products, but many others operate a wholesale model reliant on retailers’ orders and produce with factories that require minimum quantities. Some beauty brands, including Neighbourhood Botanicals and Gallinée, have encouraged customers to rethink use-by dates by experimenting with sales of near-expired products.

A fresher, smaller future?

The future of beauty is shopping in fresher, smaller quantities, believes Karen Lee-Thompson, who worked at Walgreens Boots for over a decade, most recently as global innovation sourcing manager, before launching Wo in August 2020, operating a direct-to-consumer model. Wo’s single-dose skincare products arrive via letterbox delivery in modest paper packaging every two, four or eight weeks, according to a customer’s preference. Through monodosing, customers shop more frequently. Wo has a repeat purchase rate of over 50 per cent, according to Lee-Thompson.

Noble Panacea’s customers shop every month rather than every three to four months, the typical pace of a beauty shopper, says the brand’s chief executive Céline Talabaza, explaining this is important to ensure product is at its freshest. Launched in October 2019 and based in California, Noble Panacea uses patented science that protects and preserves active ingredients, which are released in steady, hygienically sealed doses. “It’s a very sophisticated and fragile formula. In a jar it’s completely compromised,” says Talabaza.

Beyond ensuring freshness, monodosing also offers a safer, more responsible way to apply beauty, Talabaza believes. Since the pandemic has increased concerns around sanitation, monodoses offer a hygienic way for makeup artists to apply products on models, actors and talent, while also being a more efficient way to travel with skincare for consumers “It’s very well organised and travel-friendly,” she says.

The appeal of this is likely to vary across global markets, says Kayla Villena, Euromonitor’s industry manager for beauty and personal care. “The evolution and product innovation will vary by market. Flexible plastic packaging in a sachet format has been popular among most large beauty players in markets like India and Philippines, where the driving factor is price affordability. In other markets, precision dispensing is taking on the form of tiny capsules or at-home dispensers that create personalised serums or lipsticks, where the driving factors are ingredient freshness, daily changes in the state of the skin or personal preferences.”

Evolving beauty trends

The skincare category has been a pandemic bright spot for the beauty industry, even as other categories faltered. Consumer preferences have shifted towards an emphasis on specific ingredients: ingredients-based brands such as Deciem and The Inkey List took products such as retinol and BHAs out of dermatologists’ clinics and onto retailers’ shelves.

People’s bathrooms evolved into makeshift labs, with consumers dabbling with actives, acids and strong exfoliants, although sometimes misusing the potent ingredients due to misinformation on social media. “People have been overusing products and we’ve had more customers coming to us, saying that they have sensitive skin, even though they weren’t born with it,” says Wo’s Lee-Thompson.

Now consumers are starting to streamline their skincare routines, choosing brands focused on efficacy, says Clare Varga, director of beauty at online trends and analytics company WGSN. “Skincare is increasingly focused on less but better, with multi-step routines replaced by concentrated products and personalised formulas that address multiple concerns in one,” she explains. “The bottle-laden ‘shelfie’ is no longer desirable nor affordable. Brands will need to help consumers avoid ‘mistake purchases’ that result in cupboards of half-used products and waste.”

Monodosing can help by offering precisely measured doses that allow customers to tailor their routines to how their skin is feeling in that particular week or month, says Lee-Thompson of Wo. That’s preferable to committing to a product for half a year, she adds — more flexibility, less waste. The brand encourages customers to take regular skin diagnostics tests via its website to ensure the right products are ordered. “Everyone is short of time, trying to fit everything into their lives. A simple skincare routine is what people are asking for,” she says.

This approach also appeals to newly educated, curious consumers, says Talabaza of Noble Panacea, who notes an uptick in male customers who tend to hate fussy skincare routines. “The feedback that I’ve had from a growing number of men is that they love the fact that it’s pre-packed for them and they don’t have to think too much about their skincare regime.”

Unlike Wo, Noble Panacea operates a wholesale business through over 20 retailers globally, including Harrods, Neiman Marcus, Luisaviaroma, Le Bon Marche and KaDeWe. Annual sales have grown in triple digits since 2021, with strongest growth in the US, its home market.

Managing cost and sustainability

Monodosing is hard to get right. "I believe that beauty brands are always finding ways to innovate, but depending on the format of monodosing, it could be counter-productive to companies' sustainability goals, for example, such as reducing packaging waste by a certain time period,” warns Euromonitor’s Villena.

Eve Lom launched a cleansing oil in a capsule format in September 2019 but has not rolled it out across other product categories. “[We] still see an opportunity to use monodosing for products; however it is essential that the format adds value to the customer experience and is sustainable,” says Regine Barr, Eve Lom vice president of product development and innovation. Developing products in a monodose format also has an impact on costs, he adds. “Often, different suppliers are required to fill monodose packaging systems as it requires different filling technologies, which can lead to added supply chain complexity and cost.”


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Robert Lockyer, founder and chief executive of Delta Global, a global packaging company with clients including Tom Ford, Estée Lauder and La Mer, is sceptical about monodosing. Travel-sized products have been called out by critics for their wasteful packaging. Monodosing is no different, says Lockyer. “It’s counterintuitive to our innovation and sustainability progress, because you’re effectively making more disposable packaging.”

Packaging that is recyclable is a new priority. Wo’s products are 100 per cent recyclable through everyday kerbside recycling and are made out of 80 per cent recycled PET, one of the most widely recycled plastics in the world. The idea is to keep things simple for the customer, says Lee-Thompson.

Another issue looms: Monodose product costs are also “massively more expensive”, says Delta Global’s Lockyer. “It costs the same amount of setup for a larger box as it does to make a smaller box. The key fixed costs are the same. So, as a brand, all you are doing is adding unnecessary packaging – about 80 per cent more – and increased costs of four to five times more.”

The high costs are not only connected to packaging. The formulation for monodosing requires a different production and quality control process, adds Talabaza of Noble Panacea. “We have to control every single dose, seal them and make sure that no air enters. The process is extremely extensive. For a regular lab, this would be a nightmare.”

Talabaza says customers are willing to pay for Noble Panacea biodegradable packaging and innovative formulas once they understand the effort that has gone into it. “It’s always a challenge when you’re doing something new for the first time,” she says. “It requires some education.”

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