Innovative packagers are seeking to saturate their corporate ledgers with profits by creating alternative dispensing systems to the standard aerosol can or pump-spray container.
Their products are called barrier packaging because, unlike standard cans, the propellent is not mixed with the product to be dispensed.
Proponents claim that barrier packages have these advantages:
* They can dispense just about anything that standard aerosol or pump-spray packages can dispense, plus thicker materials such as creams, gels and pastes.
* The product being dispensed is not mixed with the propellent, meaning that it is pure and that in most cases no propellent is dispensed into the air.
* The product is dispensed in a continuous spray even if the container is being held upside down or sideways.
* The spraying does not produce the hissing sound characteristic of aerosols, a sound that these innovators say makes standard cans unsuitable for dispensing pet-care products.
* Some of the new systems do not include pressurized outer containers, permitting different kinds of packaging.
Industry sources indicate that there are four main players in the barrier-packaging market: Selvac Corp. of Moonachie, N.J., Container Industries Inc. of Manchester, N.H., Envirospray Systems Inc. of Montgomeryville, Pa., and Continental Group Inc. of Stamford, Conn.
Selvac places the product to be dispensed in a rubber membrane surrounded by a material that continually exerts pressure on the membrane, forcing the material out when the spray button is pushed.
Selvac packages are being used for hair spray, conditioner, skin moisturizer and hair lightener. Permanent-wave liquids soon will be in Selvac containers. The company also is testing a topical product for use on pets and an oral-hygiene product.
A Selvac container would cost a manufacturer 15 or 25 cents apiece more than a non-aerosol pump package, but President Michael B. Freedman said the advantages of barrier packaging make it worthwhile.
Selvac posted $341,000 in sales and a loss of $956,924 in its first fiscal year, which was only seven months long. Freedman said sales were up for the second fiscal year, which ended May 31, but would give no details.
He said that Selvac is entering other markets. It recently acquired Mehl International, which sells hair-removal products, and it has acquired an option on a privately owned company that makes ethnic hair-care products.
Container Industries' Exxel system is similar to the Selvac system, but uses the same material that plastic soda bottles are made of for the inner container and has a different dispensing valve, according to its president, Myron Katz. Until he lost a proxy fight in 1980, Katz was president of Plant Industries Inc., the company from which Selvac had purchased the original Selvac technology. Katz started Container Industries Inc. in 1980.
Katz said that he has signed a contract with Wella Corp. and has two others that he cannot divulge, and that Container Industries will be profitable by next year.
Envirospray is a subsidiary of Grow Group Inc. of New York. The Envirospray system produces carbon dioxide by mixing a citric acid solution with sodium bicarbonate in a pouch that sits inside the container with the product to be dispensed. The carbon dioxide exerts force on the product, causing it to spray out when the dispensing button is pushed. This reduces the pressure, but also frees additional citric acid solution to create more carbon dioxide for more pressure.
Envirospray President David Magid said that barrier packages cost at least 10 to 15 percent more than standard aerosol packages, but he also cited the advantages of this kind of packaging. He noted that Sterling Drug Co. has just put out a line of pet-care products in Envirospray packages.
Grow Group Inc. is an NYSE-listed company. Envirospray is five years old. "Basically, we're moving from basic research out into commercializing," Magid said.
Packaging giant Continental Group, which used to be called Continental Can, markets a dispensing system called Sepro that puts the product to be dispensed in a bag surrounded by a propellent -- sort of the reverse of the Envirosporay system.
How big is the market for push-button dispensing? Some 2.398 billion aerosol and barrier-packaged units were produced last year in the United States, according to Magid, who said he was quoting figures from the Washington-based Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association. "I think we're looking for somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of that market for barrier packages by the end of the decade," he said.
To help meet the hoped-for increase in demand, Envirospray will begin packaging products produced by Grow Group's Cello Group subsidiary in a plant in Havre de Grace that is being expanded.