INTERVIEW DR. TANG sheng Nan:
With a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Tonji, and specialized in environmental management and sustainable development, Tang is today the co-founder and R&D Manager of the Yan’anTang Research Institute, a popular science media in China. Thanks to her knowledge and former career as a Senior R&D Engineer at Unilever,Yan’an Tang has become one of the most famous official WeChat accounts in the beauty industry.
Tang has also published many high impact factor articles and patents in domestic and foreign magazines, developed dozens of beauty products, and has been invited to give lectures at the China Beauty Expo CBE, at the annual meeting of the China detergent industry, as well as in Jumeili, PCHi, Daily Chemicals Forefront and other industry conferences, to share her expertise in consumer trends, in R&D technologies, and in the beauty industry in general.
Up to now, our cosmetics industry has made great progress in almost all technical aspects: the raw materials we use have been carefully selected, product descriptions are more concise and accurate, the product safety index is more reliable, the production and manufacturing process control is more accurate, and the product quality is more controllable. With the increasing environmental problems, sustainable development has become a hot topic today. Cosmetics industry has taken action, many brands have launched natural, green, healthy products to respond to the international trend and cater to consumer psychology. In recent years, the cosmetics industry has shown a sustainable development trend, such as formulas (customized formulas), biological design (synthetic formulas to reduce the burden of resource-intensive plants on environmental planting), packaging materials, and water-free beauty. Under the influence of these trends what are the R&D innovation priorities in local Chinese companies?
In terms of market size, in 2018, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest skin care product market, with a scale of more than 400 billion yuan. In the domestic beauty market has also appeared the trend of natural source, environmental friendliness, Clean Beauty and so on.
In September, we jointly published the white paper on science and technology with CBE and Beauty Data, which investigated the innovation of local beauty enterprises in different dimensions. In terms of innovation development, local cosmetics enterprises have continuously increased their investment in R & D infrastructure and R & D employees., and have continuously invested in raw materials, patents, formulations, processes and packaging. Among them, the progress in the patent direction is particularly prominent.
In the patent dimension, domestic beauty companies have made significant progress. Compared with the types of patents applied in 2010 and 2018, in China’s cosmetics industry ，the proportion of invention patent applications has increased, while the percentage of packaging design patents has decreased. Compared with the proportion of cosmetic patent applications at domestic and abroad, China only represented 11% of global patents in 2010, but 47% of global patents in 2017.
There are some points of view: “It is not enough to ensure that cosmetics are natural only. The real goal should be to achieve the realm of organic cosmetics.” According to your experience, including the hot spots of local industry development, what do you think of such thing?
When it comes to plant extracts, many consumers will associate it with: mild, natural, environmental friendly, green, pollution-free, non-stimulating, etc. In fact, raw materials from natural sources do not mean safety, for example, some products from natural sources are even toxic, and some plant extracts are not less irritating. Organic does not mean completely safe and mild. It can only be said that the ingredients of organic origin do not use chemical agents during the growth process.
I don’t think we should deify “natural and organic”, nor demonize plant extracts as conceptual and ineffective.
Because there are many excellent natural sources or organic ingredients, the efficacy and safety are remarkable. We believe that such excellent ingredients will gradually become the trend of the market, they can positively guide the progress of the cosmetics industry, bring effective and safe products to consumers, and take the cosmetics industry towards a sustainable direction.
From the perspective of global ecological cycle, the whole society should reflect on the impact of what we can do on the environment. What measures should be taken to prevent the waste of water resources? How to reduce the waste in the production process of factories? In order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, what energy-saving measures should be taken? The whole society should do something about these. What are the actions of local enterprises in these aspects?
Now more and more consumers are concerned about over packaging, they will prefer products with minimalist packaging. One of the consumers who impressed me the most, after reading the article on sustainable materials, leaft a message suggesting that people use glass or stainless steel straws to reduce the use of paper and plastic straws.
Brands with environmental values are more popular. Now, many brands have launched the activities of recycling empty bottles. For example, the empty bottle recycling program of Kiehls and Innisfree. Head & Shoulders, a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, has launched a black bottled shampoo with packaging materials made of recycled plastic. Unilever issued a commitment to sustainable development to make its product packaging more environmentally friendly. This trend has also emerged in the domestic cosmetics industry, many brands reduce excessive packaging, provide supplementary packaging, use recyclable packaging materials and so on.
Especially when “ingredient-centric” people purchases products, the brand’s environmental protection concept has become more and more important in the brand value system, and has gradually become an influencing factor for consumers to choose cosmetic products. Nearly 50% of consumers care about the environmental pollution caused by cosmetic products.
As a cosmetic retail or wholesale service, Yan An Tang also provides consumers with business information and suggestions (consumer advice agency). What are the expectations of the active material suppliers for business management consulting companies? What kind of active products are local brands keen to use (clinical data? Patents? Which kind of plants? Scarce?)
According to consumer insight data of Yan An Tang Fans, the overall skin care demand is mainly focused on moisturizing, whitening, antioxidant and anti-aging.
The most popular ingredient is vitamin A (retinol and derivatives), followed by vitamin B3, ceramide, and hyaluronic acid. The second echelon includes Centella asiatica extracts and Bifida Ferment Lysate, vitamin C and its derivatives, and peptides all account for more than 40%. Secondly, Pro-Xylan, vitamin B5, salicylic acid, resveratrol, and amino acids and fruit acid are also popular among consumers.
Therefore, we are looking forward to providing more effective raw materials for anti-aging and whitening.
Under the massive trend of sustainable development, what stage does the R&D innovation process require the cooperation of raw material suppliers at? In the early stage of innovation, what technology buying points do brands expect to work with raw material suppliers to solve?
Now consumers, very much hope that the brand side can give more information. Such as raw material safety certification, product efficacy data, quality control, production and environment information.
Therefore, the brand expects raw material suppliers to provide data on raw material sources, safety, and efficacy. Can provide patents, literature or experimental data support, such as clinical experimental data and consumer sensory evaluation tests.
What is the current R&D innovation cycle? What are the necessary nodes? What kind of cooperation or pre-reserve does the brand expect to have with the raw material supplier?
A new technology comes out of the lab. From raw materials to safety verification, and then to the application and efficacy verification of product formulations. It takes a long time. For example, skin micro-ecological technology, from the first literature in 2007, to now many cosmetic products have applied this technology.
Insight into changes in consumer demand, layout in advance, and provide safety and efficacy verification. At the same time, it actively cooperates with the brand and provides support in technology and endorsement.
What kind of cooperation model will be pursued with raw material suppliers on the road of cosmetics innovation and research in the future?
Discover precise new needs through consumer messages, large sample data research to find pain points, and optimized formulas that consumers, formulators, and technology suppliers cooperate. In the end, products that consumers like and repurchase are obtained.
Regarding cream products, we found that consumers’ demand for facial cream products ranked first in terms of moisturizing and hydrating, followed by maintenance of skin barrier, and then anti-aging and whitening needs. Among the ingredients that repair the skin barrier, Centella Asiatica, Ceramide and B5 are among the top three most favorite repair ingredients for consumers.
Are there any changes in the skin care demands of Chinese consumers?
The demand for skin care has little change, but the demand for segmentation is growing. At the same time, with the growth of age, the impact of consumer purchase decisions is very different.
Consumers are gradually changing to rationalization and paying more attention to the product itself. Most consumers first use cosmetics at the age of 19 ~ 22 years old, followed by 16 ~ 18 years old, is the majority of high school to university period in the age, at this time the psychological gradually mature, in the first time to buy cosmetics, most consumers focus on the price, followed by brand awareness, efficacy, sense of use and friends recommend. Now when shopping for cosmetics, efficacy ranks first and becomes the most concerned factor, followed by sense of use and price. It is worth noting that the purchase channel trust and evaluation of bloggers than the initial purchase increased more.
Have Chinese consumers changed their demands after the COVID-19 outbreak? How do brand companies respond to these changes?
First, consumers will pay more attention to quality than ever before.
More consumers choose to shop online during the epidemic, so beauty brands should coordinate the balance between offline and online. Compared with the pre epidemic situation, the online purchase tendency is lower, which may be affected by the longer isolation time of the epidemic. Consumers want to experience offline, but the general trend is that the online purchase tendency is far more than offline. After the epidemic is over, brand companies have enriched their categories to meet consumers’ experience needs, to a certain extent, achieve common online activities, while driving online and offline sales.
Can you talk about what the next ingredient outlet, and how to use data to help it?
With the rise of “ingredient-centric”, more and more consumers are shopping rationally, they pay more attention to the effects and efficacy of products, and more and more brands are beginning to use ingredients to tell product stories, which could evolve in the following way:
“Ingredient-centric”1.0, it can be seen that beauty consumers are increasingly searching for functional ingredients to purchase cosmetics. There are many notes in Xiaohongshu that are classified by composition.
“Ingredient-centric”1.5, Raw material barrel brands are beginning to appear, and more and more brands use ingredient content as part of their product introductions. The ingredient content competition began to appear. However, high content does not mean good effect. R&D should consider the safety of formula, process technology and ingredients.
Next: will enter the era of “Ingredient-centric” 2.0. The next ingredient will not be an ingredient, but may be a combination of ingredients and a matrix, or a technology such as neurocosmetics and autophagy. But its ultimate performance is the effect brought by the product, and more attention is paid to efficacy.