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Case Study: Timing Can Be Everything in Product Development Testing

Jay LeCoque
  • In developing beauty products, contract manufacturers want to be able to assist their brand clients by offering fast turnaround and product launches.
  • By working with a company that offers rapid microbial detection systems, CoValence Laboratories was able to minimize its product launch time while still maintaining the safety of the products.
  • This kind of fast turnaround from contract manufacturers helps beauty brands to take better advantage of market and retail opportunities.

Normal, dry, oily, sensitive, combination. There is a science behind understanding a person’s skin type, just as there is a science behind beauty product formulation and development. Consider the thousands of ingredients to choose from, the competitive nature of cosmetics, and the growing consumer demands—the market is more complex than ever.

Custom and private-label contract manufacturers such as CoValence Laboratories can help beauty brand owners and marketers navigate this complexity. With an ability to formulate, produce, fill and now test high-end, cutting-edge skin care products, CoValence continues to look for ways to help its brand partners—including how to be faster. In order to do so, it looks to collaborations with partners such as Celsis International, a company that develops rapid microbial detection systems.

Skin Care Product Development

With its OTC formulations built from scratch and based on specific requirements—i.e., natural colors, no animal testing, active botanicals, paraben-, phthalate-, sulfate- and gluten-free— CoValence’s process involves the selection and combination of an array of ingredients.

“We love science—the science behind skin care and the science behind how we measure what we do,” says Peter Vlcek, COO and vice president of operations at CoValence. “In terms of what’s going to be the next big thing in skin care, we don’t wait to hear what new ingredients our clients want us to use. We come up with our own ideas.”

Investment in equipment is also something contract manufacturers such as CoValence do to continue their leadership as nimble industry partners. “We have several pieces of equipment in R&D that help speed up launches,” says Melinda Wochner, CMO and vice president of marketing at CoValence. “And we tell all our new customers that we use the Celsis rapid method to give them faster turnaround.”

But it wasn’t always that way. Traditional microbiological product testing takes about five days to confirm the absence of contamination. Add at least another day if, like CoValence once did, you send your product samples to an outside testing lab. That is six days of wait time and overhead added to the manufacturing cycle. And that additional time requirement is something a brand owner must weigh in considering the development and launch of products.

Industry Challenges

Increases in disposable income and new consumers in emerging markets are two of the factors leading to the growth in global demand for beauty products over the next five years, according to IBISWorld’s 2013 Global Cosmetics Manufacturing Market Research report. Transparency Market Research also estimates projected growth to reach $19.2 billion by the year 2015 in the global cosmetic and toiletries market, largely due to new distribution channels such as online retail.

Meanwhile, increasing regulatory requirements, extended delivery times, higher ingredient costs and quality pressures continue to create a must for companies to adopt more efficient product release testing. Traditional microbial test methods requiring an average five-day wait time for results may not be the appropriate option in some cases.

With a growing international presence, CoValence wanted to reduce its product turnaround time to be competitive overseas. It recognized the value of faster product release to meet such increased global demand.

“We make products to order, so if a client needed a product quickly, we’d hurry and make it,” Vlcek explains. “Then we’d be on the phone to tell them that we could deliver it, but they couldn’t sell it yet. To lose an extra five to seven days in turnaround time while waiting for test results was a real pain.”

To combat this, CoValence considered bringing micro testing in house, but realized this would save only a day or two by not having to send samples to a contract testing lab.

“I looked at things in terms of the theory of constraints,” says Vlcek, referring to a management improvement method of finding simple solutions to complex problems. “It’s all about identifying the bottlenecks. In our case, we would make the product quickly, but then it would sit in our warehouse for six days,” he explains.

In the case of a contamination, it was even worse. “Everyone’s been there—when there’s an incident and you need to tell the customer that their product won’t be ready for another week. We could make it, but then we still had to hold it for testing again. I wanted to make it on a Wednesday and ship it on a Friday instead of having to hold it over the weekend and lose all that time,” he says.

Vlcek continues, “I did a lot of research and Celsis kept coming up. From my perspective, the rapid method had to be reliable, and I needed to understand how it works. Celsis made the most sense in terms of what it offered. We knew we had to implement it for our own business, because we analyzed what we were spending on outsourcing our testing.”

Process Solution

CoValence decided to adopt a Celsis Rapid Detection system to save time without sacrificing quality and safety. Compared to outsourcing its micro testing with a contract lab, Celsis was able to save CoValence five days of hold time, providing the confirmation needed to release product in about 24 hours.

For those customers who needed their products faster to take advantage of a market opportunity or a slotting space that opened up, CoValence’s adoption of the Celsis Rapid Detection system was a welcome change.

Nonetheless, the contract manufacturer had a number of obstacles it knew it would face in bringing the system in house. For example, to bring in the Celsis system, CoValence had to build a micro lab from the ground up. Fortunately, the small footprint of the Celsis instrument did not require much space.

Once that was done, two additional staffers were hired for the lab. Neither had any experience with rapid methods, but the system was designed to be easy to learn and operate. A Celsis representative was on site for installation, system qualification (IQ/OQ), and for staff training. The representative also worked with the lab staff to jump-start validation, a process that, for CoValence, took longer than expected due to the extreme number of customized formulations.

While products are often grouped for validation purposes, CoValence’s produce-on-demand manufacturing model meant it did not necessarily have “like” products available for validation testing at the same time.

“We have so much customized work that we constantly had to change formulations and each had to be validated,” says Vlcek. “I didn’t comprehend how much work would go into validation and the cost of running both side by side. Now that’s come way down, and we’re seeing the benefit.”


With its new operations in place, CoValence was able to reduce the quarantine wait time on finished goods from six days to one day without sacrificing quality or safety. This allowed the contract manufacturer to ship faster to its clients, enabling them to hit the market faster. This also enabled CoValence to invoice earlier. And, while before the Celsis implementation CoValence had a lot of product waiting in bays to pass micro testing, now it uses less labor to keep up with lead times while continuing to advance its skin care products.

“Once CoValence started releasing product with Celsis, they realized the immediate benefit of freeing up warehouse space that was previously dedicated to quarantined inventory. Equally important, and as a great selling tool for them, they were delivering faster turnaround to their clients,” says Christine Kreitzer, home and beauty industry director with Celsis International Ltd.

In a competitive marketplace such as global beauty and cosmetics, process manufacturers will have to implement more efficient means to ensure timely and accurate production to meet growing market demands. Rapid product release systems such as Celsis Rapid Detection will continue to gain adherents as they provide greater product velocity through faster time-to-market releases.

Jay LeCoque is CEO of Celsis International Ltd., a position he has held since 2000. LeCoque joined the company in 1995 as director of global business development. Before joining Celsis, LeCoque worked for Baxter International Corporation in global marketing and product management positions. He has also worked for Aptar Group in various sales and marketing positions in the U.S., England and France.

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