“I would advocate that even on component purchases, it is not the base cost that is a primary consideration when deciding which fine mist pump to buy and which vendor to use,” says Tom Egan, vice president of industry services at PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

A fine mist spray device is an integral part of the end-user experience. Think of it as a brand equity investment.

Egan said a product manager has to be clear on objectives when choosing a pump and manufacturer. “Do you want to do something new or do you want to go with a tried and true or [do] you have some new requirements based upon a potential new market that you are looking at? So, that clarity of objectives is something that I believe we all sometimes think has been looked at but isn’t always looked at,” he said.

“A beautiful package, excellent fluid formulation and a premium image needs to be partnered with a well-engineered, fuss-free applicator device. It reinforces a positive response each time the product is used and brings the end-user back to the brand for repeat purchases,” says Stephan Ballot, vice president at Flocon, Inc., a manufacturer of fluid dispensing devices, including the FLOMIST fine mist sprayer.

So, what goes into choosing the competitive advantage that is a fine mist pump and its manufacturer?

Fluid Check

According to the "Insect Repellent Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2018 – 2026" report by Transparency Market Research, the global insect repellent market is expected to reach $7 billion by 2026.

One of the report’s findings shows that “there has been a change in consumer demographics shifting toward use of natural insect repellent products such as essential oils that have low toxicity and do not harm the environment.”

On its face, that finding is sort of shrug worthy. When it comes to getting those new ingredients out of the bottle and onto a consumer’s skin, things get complicated. The pump has to work with the new fluid formulation it is going to dispense.

“You want to make sure that the materials used in the pump don’t react badly with the product itself where it creates swelling and makes the pump fail after a while,” says Fred Ekstrom, senior engineering director at Flocon, Inc.

Ekstrom says that brands often send their fluids to him so they can be tested for swelling in the company’s laboratories.

Brands should also request samples from potential suppliers so they can do their own testing to ensure that all parts of the fine mist sprayer are compatible with their fluids.

Pump failure due to component swelling is not an option when brands are working to capture or maintain share of this growing market.

MBUs and Consistency

Heavy.com, a news and information portal reaching 35 million unique visitors per month, conducted a review of 10 makeup setting sprays, rating them on factors including how well the spray pump worked. Seven out of 10 products were knocked because of the performance of the fine mist sprayer. Negative comments included “Nozzle doesn’t reliably produce a fine mist” and “Sprayer nozzle needs frequent cleaning to keep it misting properly.” And the praise for those with better sprayer performance? “Delivers an ultra-fine mist that dries quickly” and “Pump delivers a nice fine mist.”

To avoid negative consumer experiences, Ekstrom says product managers should be asking fine mist pump manufacturers about their MBU—mechanical break up—system “so you get the spray you are looking for.” The mechanical break up system is made up of an actuator/insert assembly. The product is dispensed through the insert orifice when the pump is actuated. Changing the insert orifice diameter and land length (the distance from the back of an insert’s orifice to the front of it) will create different spray patterns, Ekstrom says. “If you have a .010” orifice diameter and a .020” land, you’re going to have a narrower spray pattern than if you had a 10 thousandths diameter and 10 thousandths land,” he said.

Product managers should also be asking about a pump’s "strokes-to-prime” and “prime retention.” Strokes-to-prime measures how many times a pump has to be actuated (pressed) before product comes out of a sprayer. Prime retention determines how long a product stays within a pump engine so that if a consumer doesn’t use the product for a length of time she doesn’t have to re-prime the pump to get product to come out the next time she wants to use it.

“You can get some [sprayers] that will pump several times and spray nothing, and then you get spurts on stroke four or five. Then you have times where something sits and the fluid runs out of the pump and back into the bottle, and you have to re-prime it,” Ekstrom says.

Ekstrom recommends asking about how a supplier checks the quality of its products. Some of the questions he suggests asking are: Do their manufacturing lines have automatic quality inspection built into them? Do they have manual quality control checks? Do they employ both?

“You don’t want [customers] to be spraying 15 times because they may give up and say ‘this thing’s not going to work’ and throw it away or take it back or not use it,” he said.

Ballot likens the properties of a fine mist sprayer to those of personal computer microprocessors from Intel. “The engine for strong performance in PCs was identified and reinforced as ‘Intel Inside,’” he says. “While there is no campaign for fine mist sprayers, it is important to recognize they are an engine by design. Sprayers may look similar, but some are more advanced in their engineering and manufactured to a higher standard.”

Can You Deliver?

There’s a famous saying that goes, “One day you’re in. And the next day you’re out.” Even though it was said about fashion by Heidi Klum on the television show Project Runway, there is more than a kernel of truth to it as it relates to working with suppliers.

Egan says that product managers need to ask themselves about their suppliers, “Are they able to handle the task because there is a possibility in today’s business that I need someone to be more flexible?”

He gives a hypothetical example: A product manager may have selected a pump manufacturer to work with a current 6"-tall bottle, but the marketing team is creating something larger for consumers or a bulk size for commercial users.

“You need to understand some of the additional capabilities of the pump supplier to say that if something changes, [you are] not going to be left with a supplier who can’t deliver,” Egan says. Ekstrom agrees, saying. “Make sure [the pump supplier] can deliver the product when [you] ask for it. When you’re dealing with big stores, they want their product when they want it, otherwise you lose shelf space and you lose sales.”

With supply chains stretched so tightly, Egan says that a supplier’s ability to spool up production in times of sudden surges is another consideration to keep in mind.

He gave as an example the hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico and the southern U.S. in 2017.

“Products are no longer on the shelves [at stores],” he says. “I need to suddenly refill that stock. How do I do that?” One of the remedies he suggests is to ask about the preferred supplier’s subcontractors and the approximate additional capacity they can provide in a time of stress. “Understand what [the preferred supplier’s] supply chain can provide, so that if you are trying to draw on it, you know what their capabilities are,” Egan says. He also suggested putting suppliers through what he calls a supplier verification program. It ensures a supplier can do what they promised when you agreed to work with them.

This is as easy as calling the supplier and asking them to reroute a trailer load of product to a new location. “I have heard that companies are proactive about doing that not as a way to find fault with the supplier, rather as way to say, ‘We said that we chose you in part because of your capabilities here. We need to know that both our internal system and your internal system are able to do this,’” he says.

When the reputation of a product is on the line, the fine mist pump decision needs to be a nuanced one. Often times, though, it is boiled down to one factor—price. And “price isn’t always your best friend,” says Ekstrom.

The testers—and readers—of heavy.com can attest to that.