A conversation with Harald Biederbick

CEO, Precision Valve Corporation “PRECISION”, Greenville, SC (USA)

AEROSOL EUROPE: Mr. Biederbick, recently you assumed the position of CEO at PRECISION. With what objectives did you take on your new position?

Harald Biederbick: PRECISION is one of the few companies that can claim to have invented its industry. Since 1949 and the patenting of a miniaturized valve, the history of PRECISION is associated with the aerosol industry. Of course, my choice to join the group as CEO was not motivated by this glorious past but, first of all, by exciting future perspectives.

Since the acquisition by ONCAP, Canada-based investor, the company has embarked on a long-term program that touches all areas of the group, including talent acquisition, innovation, product portfolio evolution, supply chain optimization, regional hubs and plant modernization. It is exactly to bring a new energy in the execution of this ambitious plan that I decided to join PRECISION.

AEROSOL EUROPE: How do you assess the situation of the aerosol industry at the moment?

Harald Biederbick: The aerosol industry is facing new challenges. The Covid crisis has - as for many other sectors - put a stop to the natural growth of our industry. Even if other products, such as hydroalcoholic solutions, have provided temporary opportunities, the impact on our traditional segments, primarily personal care, has been significant. Moreover, our industry has not been spared by price increases, at a level not seen for decades, and is now facing inflation, which is beginning to have a severe impact on household purchasing power. Also, let’s not forget the necessity to further develop our processes and especially our products towards more ecological solutions. If this evolution towards more sustainability is perfectly commendable - and I totally share it, as a company manager, but also as a citizen - it will most probably result in an increase in the prices of our products (tax on plastics, costs and availability of PCR, ...). Between rising prices and falling purchasing power, the equation will become difficult. As a result, our industry must innovate and this is precisely what PRECISION has started to do with its new STORM® technology, presented at ADF Paris last June.

AEROSOL EUROPE: Do you see consequences from the Corona crisis for our industry?

Harald Biederbick: Of course, the past two years have been difficult for everyone, and for the aerosol industry, especially in Europe where the Personal Care segment accounts for more than half of aerosol sales. Lockdowns and mandatory teleworking - now desired as a “hybrid” way of working by employees whose work allows it - have changed living and consumption habits, in my opinion in a lasting way. Of course, the consumption of cosmetic products by teleworkers or hybrid workers tends to decrease. The industry must therefore adapt, innovate and invent new products.

AEROSOL EUROPE: How has Precision developed in the last two years?

Harald Biederbick: Given the difficulties encountered by many sectors and companies, it would be inappropriate to say that PRECISION has prospered during these last two “Covid” years. Nevertheless, the structural changes implemented in the Group in the previous years have allowed us to successfully face this new challenge. In addition, the tremendous reactivity of our customers - some of whom immediately reoriented their production lines towards disinfection products - enabled us to be considered by local authorities as a key industry in the fight against the pandemic and therefore, we were able to run our factories. Thus, this unprecedent crisis has shown the dynamism of our industry and its ability to collaborate against the pandemic. For PRECISION particularly, this confirmed the relevance of our local/regional model, supported by inter-regional co-operation and by strong support functions at Group level.

AEROSOL EUROPE: What capacity do you plan to install in the near future?

Harald Biederbick: PRECISION has just registered a major patent for its STORM® technology, which allows to obtain a premium spray quality, without any insert. The whole aerosol industry has been trying for years to get rid of inserts, for cost and sustainability reasons. We have a solution and will therefore naturally develop new “STORM-powered” actuators and install new systems to produce them at our various production sites worldwide. As a matter of fact, we are in advanced discussions with our key partners on this subject, which I invite you to follow closely. Be ready, STORM is coming!

AEROSOL EUROPE: Innovation is an important element for product development. What suitable actions do you take to promote innovation in your company?

Harald Biederbick: This is an excellent question. All companies want to innovate but not all are culturally oriented to innovation. Innovating requires technical skills of course but also an open and agile corporate culture. Since the acquisition by ONCAP, PRECISION has privileged atypical profiles: managers from large packaging multinationals who were looking for fulfillment in an agile company, where they could dare and immediately see the results of their actions. In order to make this possible, I want to favor a culture of exchange and audacity, both internally and with our partners, and of course in the implementation phase, to rely on the great experience and technical expertise of our teams for a fast and controlled execution.

AEROSOL EUROPE: Customer service is one of the most important parts in the cooperation between supplier and customer. How do you manage this very important service?

Harald Biederbick: You are right, customer service and by extension the Supply Chain as a whole is a major element of competitiveness for a company, especially in this period with a chaotic and difficult to anticipate market. To further improve our performance in this area, we have created the role of Group Supply Chain Director, who is a key member of the global leadership team and whose mission is to coordinate the actions of local Supply Chain Managers and to develop processes and systems. It’s a long-term commitment, but clearly one of my priorities for the years to come. And I want to make PRECISION a model company in this field.

AEROSOL EUROPE: Which markets do you regard as markets with growth potential in the medium term?

Harald Biederbick: Central and Eastern Europe is a growth area for packaging in general and also for aerosols. In Asia, certainly India has a lot of potential because of its demographics and relatively low market penetration.

AEROSOL EUROPE: How do you regard the European aerosol market?

Harald Biederbick: Europe is barely emerging from the Covid crisis when the Ukrainian crisis is already looming. Without getting into geopolitical discussions we can see that the sanctions taken by our governments against Russia also have an impact on European economies. In a large number of countries, energy costs have exploded and consumers are seeing the cost of their shopping baskets increase month after month. Obviously, this does not bode well and of course this new crisis will impact our industry. For the Chinese and Japanese, the word crisis is made of two ideograms “danger” and “opportunity”. This is the paradox of a crisis: it is a difficult situation that allows us to seize new opportunities and bounce back. Our industry has proven its adaptability during the crisis, it will have to continue to evolve to face this new challenge. For PRECISION, I believe once again that our recent innovations perfectly match this new paradigm, and I am therefore very confident in our ability to react and bounce back.

AEROSOL EUROPE: How do you assess Asia, especially China?

Harald Biederbick: Asia presents a very significant growth opportunity for the aerosol industry. Some of the Asian countries have impressive GDP growth, high population growth compared to the West and, with the development of their middle classes, a growing per capita aerosol consumption. For PRECISION, this is a key region for our development and the recent extension of our factory in Thailand is the translation of this. As far as China is concerned, it is the second national market in the world after the United States and probably the first in terms of growth potential. However, the Chinese government’s zero-covid policy is making it difficult to read in the short term. Again, I don’t want to get into geopolitical considerations, but it is obvious that China is and will increasingly be a key country for our industry.

AEROSOL EUROPE: What about the Indian aerosol market?

Harald Biederbick: When it comes to Asia and China, the other Asian giant is never far away. You are right to mention India, it is another country-continent, with a middle class that is increasing by millions every year and that is in demand for convenience, the exact essence of our aerosol industry. For PRECISION, India is a natural key market we serve very efficiently from our state-of-the-art Thailand facility. PRECISION’s quality and service and the Thailand origin are highly regarded by our Indian partners and India offers a significant room for growth for our APAC operations.

AEROSOL EUROPE: Where do you see potential for growth in general?

Harald Biederbick: We just discussed about China, then India. Let’s extend the BRICS list, to Brazil, another country-continent, presenting a similar profile, even if at a lower scale: a growing population, a growing GPD with its correlation, an increasing middle-class and, as a result, a long-terms trend to increase aerosol consumption. Brazil is an obvious choice, but some other countries share those characteristics and may become very interesting aerosol markets in a near future, I’m thinking, among others, to Indonesia or Malaysia. And: let’s not forget that in Europe the CEE countries offer growth potential.

AEROSOL EUROPE: Where do you see the aerosol in general in the next future?

Harald Biederbick: At the time of this interview, in late August, the world is in a chaotic situation. For the first time since the end of World War II, Europe is experiencing a major war on its soil, directly involving a member of the UN Permanent Council. The impact on the continent’s economies could be enormous if the conflict does not find a peaceful resolution soon. As we have already mentioned, it has already had and will continue to have a major impact on energy costs, potentially on material availability and, in turn, on commodity prices and household purchasing power. This is clearly not a good prospect for our industry. Again, we need to be resilient and innovate to create solutions.

In other parts of the world, fortunately, conditions are more favorable. The US is pursuing a policy to limit inflation and employment remains high, so I am optimistic that North America, including Mexico, will offer good prospects in the near future. In Latin America, the market is present but needs new solutions to compensate for the increase in materials. I am convinced that PRECISION’s new innovative products will be key contributors to solving this new equation. As for Asia, we discussed this topic at length earlier, I am convinced that the world’s most populous continent will continue to drive the growth of our industry for the next decade, at least.

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