Lube Packaging Trends to Watch


THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Cost savings and customer benefits are the drivers behind todays lubricant packaging trends, but they often conflict. Packaging weights have decreased by 15 to 40 percent in the last decade and there is still room for savings, but one packaging expert predicts more focus on customer benefits like ergonomics, attractiveness and individualization in the future.

Christian Musiol, market development director with Bericap GmbH in Hamburg, Germany, gave an update on international lubricant packaging trends at the Petroleum Packaging Council meeting here on March 15. The four key trends in lubricant packaging today, he said, are functionality, ergonomics, sustainability and anti-counterfeiting – but their significance varies by region.

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For the past decade, said Musiol, globalization, standardization and rationalization, and concentration were the trends to watch in both the lubricants and the lube packaging industries, but those trends have now become reality. The top 10 lubricant marketers command nearly 60 percent of the global lubricant market, and packaging sizes for lubricants and greases are standardized in most of the world.

Musiol highlighted the top 10 automotive lubricant consuming countries, and their share of lube packaging demand in 2009:

Country Share of global auto lube consumption Share of global lube packaging consumption
1 U.S.A.



2 China



3 Japan



4 Russia



5 India



6 Indonesia



7 Brazil



8 Germany



9 France



10 Pakistan






*May not add to total because of rounding. Source: Bericap Group

Lube consumption is trending down in the United States and Western Europe, Musiol noted, and rising fast in China, Russia, India and Indonesia.

Lubricant packaging costs vary significantly by region, said Musiol. The average cost of a motor oil package, in euros per liter, is 0.15 in North America, 0.344 in Europe, and 0.135 in Asia-Pacific. The average market price for top-tier engine oil, in euros per liter, follows the same pattern: 6.13 in North America, 10.99 in Europe, and only 2.90 in Asia-Pacific.

Costs and prices are highest in Europe, due to the high requirements for individualization, Musiol said. Cost pressure is highest and margins are lowest in Asia, due to missing economies of scale and low buying power.

Functionality is a dominant trend in lube packaging in Africa, the Middle East, Russia and Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, Musiol said – less economically developed areas where lubricant markets are often dominated by state-owned enterprises, and with a significant share of imported lubes.

Functionality, he explained, refers to developing and using a technical design that fulfills the basic container requirements: it opens, pours, protects the contents and the environment, and has some tamper evidence.

Manufacturers and packers lack of experience and lack of technology have been major reasons for lack of functionality, along with high consumer acceptance of malfunction. Manual processing and missing quality control are additional factors.

The trend, he continued, is toward creation of binding specifications for packages, technical support and technical evaluation. A functioning package is not perceived by the customer, Musiol said. Missing functionality or malfunction, however, is perceived and reflected to the product quality and brand image. That is, its a bad lube.

In Europe and Japan in particular, and increasingly in North America, consumer friendliness is required in lubricant packaging. Customers expect user-friendly packaging during transport, use and disposal, with easy opening, glug-free and spillage-free easy pouring, complete drainability and recycling or disposal systems.

Lubricant markets in areas where ergonomics is a significant trend are generally dominated by private enterprise, but with numerous regulations and laws on packaging.

Examples of missing ergonomics, Musiol said, include needing a tool or other auxiliary aid to open the package, sharp edges, no way to reclose a package, and needing a funnel or other tool to decant the product.

A third trend that is a major issue for lubricant packagers in North America, Western Europe and Australia is sustainability. This means preserving the environment, said Musiol, but in Europe sustainability can impose stricter requirements on packagers than in North America.

In North America, sustainability generally refers to meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. By contrast, in Europe it generally refers to preserving the environment for present and future generations, even if this means stepping back from present needs.

Sustainability is achieved, Musiol continued, by using environmentally friendly materials. For example, Europe removed heavy metals from colors in 1998. It includes material harmonization to allow more effective recycling; light-weighting the package; reuse of materials in closed-loop systems; packaging standardization; and complete drainability.

A positive side effect is that sustainability usually goes hand in hand with reduction of packaging costs. During the past five to 10 years, packaging weights have been reduced by 15 to 40 percent, depending on region, said Musiol, with a significant impact on the volume of packing waste. Closure weights have been reduced by 25 to 30 percent. And we have not reached the end of light-weighting, he added.

But light-weighting in a global market creates challenges. Higher quality materials and processes are needed, and transportation and storage become critical. The target of light weighting very often is in conflict with other targets, Musiol said, such as use of post-consumer waste, or stress or aging resistance.

Finally, said Musiol, in much of the world, including South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, creating effective tamper evident and hard-to-copy packages is a major trend and a major challenge.

The lubricant package has a heavy burden in these areas to protect products against manipulation and copying. Customers in many areas are very accepting of counterfeits, Musiol said. This includes look-alikes. It is very difficult to combat look-alikes.

The overwhelming reason for counterfeiting, he said, is the very strong economical motivation to do it. Added to this, many countries such as Russia and China offer little support of property rights, and many customers dont understand the risks of using substandard and potentially damaging fluids.

In some regions, counterfeits account for 20 to 30 percent of the lubricant market, said Musiol. There is no 100 percent protection against counterfeiting. Steps that manufacturers and packagers can take include the use of the latest tamper-evident technology, control of the logistical chain, customer education, individualization of the packaging, and use of hidden markers or other features.

Anti-counterfeiting efforts generally result in higher costs, said Musiol. It is important to find the right balance between costs and benefits.

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