IOI Oleo GmbH (formerly Cremer Oleo GmbH), the German branch of IOI Oleochemicals Division, acquired about two years ago by the Malaysian giant IOI Group, has inaugurated its new CARE Studio Application Lab. Located on the penthouse of its Hamburg offices, deep in the business heart of the German metropolis, the fully equipped 70-square meter laboratory will add significant R&D capacity in the expanding personal care operations of the IOI Group. Complementing the R&D laboratory in the Witten manufacturing site by focusing exclusively on cosmetic applications, the new Hamburg CARE Studio will also host seminars and training events for customers to help them extracting the best performance from IOI formulations and ingredients. The inauguration event hosted almost a hundred guests, clients and cooperation/distribution partners from a dozen of European countries. Between a cocktail and a chemistry-themed artwork, we had the opportunity to exchange a few enlightening words with Dr. Fernando Ibarra, Business Director for the Personal Care branch of IOI Oleo GmbH, and Neha Sahu, Application Engineer of the CARE Studio.
What is so special about today?
Fernando Ibarra: Today we are inviting partners from all Europe for the inauguration of our new CARE Studio application lab. We planned it since over a year and it has been fully funded by IOI Group from Malaysia. They are keen in investing in our very successful business in personal care, they want to help us and support us. The application lab is important because it allows us to support our customers in a very technical way. With this lab, we address not only the need for more advanced formulation development and application development but we have a site to conduct customer seminars on how to use our ingredients and raw materials. IOI GmbH owns already a significant R&D capability in Germany: we have a R&D lab for new chemical development in our manufacturing site in Witten. Yet that is a purely chemical lab for all business unites, we had only a single lab devoted to personal care, in Witten. Now we have a fully dedicated laboratory, next to our Hamburg offices, to develop new cosmetic applications.
What are the technical capabilities of CARE Studio?
FI: We host expert formulators: people who worked 10 years or more for our clients, and can share their knowledge with them. Technically we have equipment in six independent working spaces in the lab, with a fully equipped cosmetic working space, therefore hosting up to twelve people potentially. We are now planning to start with four permanent people, plus students from universities that will work with us already from December. Our toolkit includes the usual stirrers, homogenizers, pH meters, centrifuges and all the state-of-the-art technical equipment to develop new formulations and stability testing.
Neha Sahu: I want to emphasize that the lab will work on all aspects of cosmetic formulations: skin care, hair care, color cosmetics and so on. Plus, here we are in Europe, but we will cater also to Asia, America, Latin America.
This brings variety and complexity to the formulation needs that you will tackle with CARE Studio?
NS: Of course, the skin types and hair types are different. For example Europe is more focused on natural care, natural cosmetics while you see a completely different trend in Asia. In Asia or Latin America you want a less greasy, lighter feel because of the tropical climate. You have to balance the formulation to make it light, cool, while in temperate countries you want it more rich, with a velvety feel.
Will you also develop custom formulations?
FI: We will use CARE Studio primarily to develop new ideas and formulations that we will offer freely to all customers. But we have already two clients interested in cooperations, for which we will develop customized exclusive formulations.
What are the future technical trends and challenges in personal care for IOI?
NS: The future is certainly into natural cosmetics. Not only on formulation but on molecule development, plus a lot of companies have a focus into sustainable molecules and green chemistry. There is a lot of discussion on microplastics right now.
How does the opening of CARE Studio insert into the IOI strategy?
FI: Our company has a growth strategy in personal care, that along with the pharma is the key business for IOI in Germany: Pharma represents roughly 40% of our business, but personal care is close second at 25%. CARE studio inserts naturally in our focus on these two business units. The strategy focuses mostly on pharma and personal care, investments are mostly made in these business units.
Did the merge with IOI Group change your strategy?
FI: Not so much. IOI was interested because they saw our potential, in the last years we developed very well, our supply chain has not really changed much. IOI is one of the key palm oil players in the world, with their own plantations and refining capabilities, but they have already established sales channels elsewhere, they are in a different business than ours with regard to specialty ingredients. We need more specialized distribution partners. For raw materials of course it is good to have our parent company in the background but we do not neglect other partnerships that we built in many years. We buy at least 200 raw materials from many different companies -some of them even competitors of our parent company! Of course we have to think about supply security, which means we have to distribute our supply into many different channels.
How will CARE Studio bring you a new edge on top of the competition?
NS: It is about giving customers a perspective, a customized approach to formulations. And, apart from the laboratory technical capabilities, the advanced training and seminars we offer will be a major part of it.
FI: The biggest challenge, apart from active ingredients, are of course new formulation structures and surprising textures, skin feels. The first touch by a consumer with the formulation must be a pleasant experience, only then they will buy the product again. This is what we want to supply to our customers with our CARE Studio: not only materials, but ideas to make products elegant and attractive, so that our clients are successful.