Ashland Innovation Day reveals renewed emphasis on technology & sustainability

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

© Olha_Afanasieva / Getty Images
© Olha_Afanasieva / Getty Images

Related tags Sustainability sustainable beauty Sustainable packaging circular beauty biodegradable Ashland

Ashland CEO Guillermo Novo spoke of a renewed focus for the business during the company’s Innovation day last week, where he and his team explained how a revamped technology platform and a greater emphasis on sustainability will shape the future.

Ashland revenues hit $2.3 billion in 2022 derived from four business units. Currently 91% of that business is evenly split between the pharma, coatings and personal care operations, with the company forecasting that its extensive technology pipeline should help to maintain annual revenue growth at 5 to 6%.

Nova pointed to four key strategies that will determine the path of the company’s future as a whole, which include building on its technology capabilities, globalizing high-value product segments with a particular emphasis on Asia, an emphasis on investing in both new and existing technology, as well as being acquisitive in key growth opportunity areas, specifically biotech and natural.

Within the personal care business there will be three main areas of focus, the first being to continue to grow its leadership in the supply of oral, hair and skincare ingredients, the second to continue to strengthen its offering in the nature and nature-derived space, while the third will focus on the transition towards its Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) initiative.

All-new technology platform

With the emphasis on technology, the company used its Innovation Day to focus on a reimagined technology platform, which includes five new areas for the business as a whole, which includes a specific emphasis on the personal care area.

The five new platforms are transformed vegetable oils, novel cellulosics, super wetting agents, liquid cellulose and biorestorable polymer; alongside two future platforms that are still under development - multifunctional starch, which is specific to the personal care area, and Ph neutralizers.

Osama Musa, SVP and Chief Technology Officer discussed the new technology platform, highlighting how it is expected to provide the main impetus for the future growth and development of the business. In particular, he stressed how the transformative vegetable oils technology was likely to make a big impact across all the business units, but particularly in the personal care category.

A new approach to mixing oil and water

“Vegetable oils have very unique properties and are attractive because they have a wide range of characteristics. They are all natural, renewable, microplastic-free, biodegradable, non-GMO and vegan,”​ said Musa. 

But the hydrophobic characteristics have traditionally made vegetable oils challenging for formulators to work with, an issue that the transformative vegetable oil technology has addressed.

“What we have done with this raw material is change the mythology and physical properties of vegetable oil to take it to the next level. Oil and water do not traditionally mix well because they are not usually hydrophobic. This tool now means that we can offer our customers the choice to adapt the solubility of vegetable oils in water to suit our customer’s requirements, opening up significant doors in personal care.”

“We have already launched three products from the transformative vegetable oil platform – two in skincare and one in oral care, which underlines how this technology is real and not just pie in the sky,” ​Musa said. “We have already launched three new products on the back of this platform, two in skincare and one in oral care. The common ground that these products have is that they are all totally natural and biodegradable.”

The importance of integrating sustainability

Nova also stressed how important sustainability will be for the company’s positioning in the future, how it has become a crucial part of innovation, and how this will help the business to meet its customers’ objectives.

“Sustainability is going to be a big theme for our business and will determine where we go on innovation,”​ Nova said.

“Today the starting point for our portfolio is very healthy because over 60% of our portfolio is highly sustainable, which means we can help our customers achieve their sustainability goals. For us the sustainability drive is not a burden, it is an opportunity. It’s a way we can innovate and add value.  We believe we can drive performance through innovation.”

Speaking during a fireside chat at the end of the Innovation Day, Min Chong, senior vice president. Personal care & Specialty Additives, explained about how sustainability is particularly crucial in the beauty and personal care space, and how it has a determining factor in the direction of this part of Ashland’s business. However, he also stressed how sustainability has to be amenable, while also being concept that is integrated into the business strategy.

“We recently had one of our largest personal care customers come to visit us at the Bridgewater facility, but it was not the purchasing group that was visiting, it was the technology group,”​ Chong said.

“They spent the whole day with us and of course they talked about performance and sustainability, but they also discussed how to find the right balance with the goal of making sustainability amenable to the end consumer.”

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