Five minutes at Sepawa with …
H&PC: How is the year closing?
James Hodgkinson: Things are going very well. Surfachem is a UK company but we are growing internationally, with offices in Poland, in the Nordic area and Brasil. We also have a large export division: with exports now accounting for roughly 30% of our sales.
Our distribution model is working very well; our customers like our experience in both technical and logistics as we offer flexibility with a very customer-focused approach.
H&PC: Where do you see the most growth?
JH:There is a great deal of change and uncertainty in Europe at the moment, however that does not mean there is no opportunity for growth. Our UK business is performing well in a period where a continually changing environment is the only thing anyone can be sure of. We continue to invest in people, skills and knowledge throughout the business with particular focus on expanding geographically. Further to the creation of our businesses in Brasil, Nordics and Poland, We continue to explore and benefit from opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Asia. In particular though, we are seeking added value growth opportunities in developed Western European markets.
H&PC: As a UK company, is Brexit impacting you?
JH: It is impacting us, and we expect it will continue at least the next few years. The main problem is uncertainty: we have no idea what is going to happen and so can prepare only up to a certain point. Thank fully Surfachem is an agile company who can react quickly to change but we also have contingency plans.
The immediate impact we noticed is that exchange rates dropped, which as a company who both import and export had both a positive and negative impact. For exporting it is a help whilst importing in hindered, so it balances out.
With Brexit there is the potential to create opportunities, even if we do not wholly know what these opportunities will be.
H&PC: Apart from distribution you also offer consulting on formulations for your clients.
JH: We don’t work as consultants in the traditional sense. We have opened two development laboratories at the 3M Buckley Innovation centre in conjunction with Hudderfield University, one for Personal Care & Cosmetics, the other for HI&I applications. Primarily these facilities are used to showcase our principal suppliers, the breadth of our product portfolio as well as better understand how our customers are likely to work with new innovative ingredients. Further to this we are also able to offer troubleshooting and assistance services to our customers.
Surfachem distributes a wide range of ingredients and we have found that the most effective way to promote these is to demonstrate them in fully formulated products by creating product concepts which highlight the features and benefits of our ingredients. Through this approach of Product Concept Marketing we have also developed further expertise in how our ingredients work, which can be used to help advise our customers as they look to develop their own formulations or scale up into manufacturing.
H&PC: One of your products, called Love Down Below is shortlisted for a Laura Marshall Innovation Award.
JH: ‘Love Down Below’ is one of 4 product concepts we will be launching at the SCS Formulate Exhibition in Coventry on the 14th November, as a part of our Inspire Presentation. Our Product Concept Marketing approach showcases our portfolio of principals as well as the knowledge, expertise and capabilities within our business, all of which are there for our customers and supplier to tap into.
We created the formulation for ‘love down below’ concept using nine ingredients from a combination of our principal suppliers. It is an idea that we developed following some market research, where we created a concept solution that contains novel ingredients, supported by scientific features and benefits. We will present samples and full formulation details during the SCS Exhibition. It will also be featured in the Surfachem Inspire Presentation at the event, along with 3 other complete product concepts. It is an example of our Product Concept Marketing vehicle which we are looking to expand upon over the coming years: we find a customer need or emerging trend from market research, design a range of formulations and packaging for the marketing profile identified. This is primarily there to try and inspire and help our customer base, who can tap into the ideas or even utilised a fully fledged solution thus cutting down on their development time.
H&PC: What is your take on biosurfactants?
JH: Surfactants are one of our main product offerings. In general, we see a demand for natural, environmentally-friendly products, but somewhat less in surfactants, possibly because the naturally derived surfactants can be more expensive than petrochemical-derived ones. We often see customers switching back and forth between synthetic and naturally derived surfactants depending on cost at any given time.
Within personal care the natural market is developing faster, with the number of requests for natural ingredients increasing year after year. However, even in this sector naturals are still seen as being niche and premium.
H&PC: What is unique about Surfachem and what can we expect from it next year?
JH: As well as the Product Concept Marketing approach, we believe ours is a unique offering, where we put customers first and offer a full service. We focus on knowledge. We look for the best solutions for both customers and end consumers. We have logistical expertise allowing Surfachem to ship product , however, wherever the customer wants it. For the future, we will grow from a UK-based company to a much more international one. This will be our focus for the next few years.