This provided European pump makers with an opportunity to create a more exciting proposition. At that time, pumps were a larger component than a valve, and costs were substantially higher, so it took a while to engage pumps into the general market. Originally viewed as luxury items, designed to add prestige to a product, the pump is now regarded as an almost essential part of our cosmetics and toiletries packaging regime.
Today in South Africa we have access to international and European pump makers such as Aptar, incorporating Emsar and Valois, which owns a large portion of the global market. Other companies include Calmar and Coster, which also produce good pump solutions.
Ten years ago, the pump industry went through a major upheaval when the Chinese entered the market with designs that, in some cases, were priced 60% lower than European-made pumps. This caused serious changes in most companies’ purchasing structures. The question on European producer’s lips was: ‘Do I take the chance of jeopardising quality for the sake of this massive consumer saving?’ The answer was a resounding ‘yes!’
Several enterprises across Europe, the US and Asia moved in the direction of the Chinese onslaught. Interestingly enough, it didn’t cause the demise of any of the major pump producers; rather most continued along the path of innovation faster than the Chinese.
Not to be outdone, however, Chinese companies started improving their quality and joined the Europeans in adopting some new concepts.
The greatest that comes to mind is the evolution of the airless system, which is in fact a pump system. The Chinese have taken this to the extreme and are now producing a variety of airless brands that are both innovative and exciting. Europeans, in my opinion, have taken a back seat in this process and are concentrating more on volume-driven styles.
The most important aspect to bear in mind is that most pumps on the market today are very high quality and offer positive functional aspects. Gone are the days when pumps were manually produced. Today they’re manufactured on automatic lines with in-line testing procedures, to guarantee 100% product delivery.
Recently, finger pumps have also been applied to industrial-based products, namely the trigger pump, which started life as gardening and FMCG cleaning product triggers. Both applications have caused an immense evolution in the market and have been instrumental in moving the trigger pack back into the cosmetics sector, especially for hair care and sun care products. All of these derive from the original state of the finger pump.
In response to a smaller market demand than Europe, local pump makers have had to provide flexible packaging solutions. By using the main engines from European counterparts they now personalise pumps for locally-adopted applications. As well as local engines, many also supply European and Chinese-built pumps, although the latter generally appear to be arriving in South Africa as direct imports.
European heavyweights have created their own centres of excellence, dedicated solely to the future development of the pump, where innovations are part of everyday life. Unfortunately, local suppliers don’t have the same R&D capacity, so for the time being we continue to rely on our foreign partners to provide ground-breaking technologies that we can simply adapt for our own market needs.