This article is the second in a series on “Co-creating innovation for an ambitious sustainable future”.
Kao Corporation of Japan has been working to improve society for over 130 years, based on a thorough “genba approach” to product quality.
Kao listens to the needs of consumers. It uses the term genba-shugi or a first-hand approach to describe its commitment to first-hand understanding of the life issues customers face and how they use products. This includes visiting clients’ homes, viewing their daily lives and observing their subconscious behaviors.
In the second part of our series on Kao’s research capabilities and the inspiring ideas behind it, the focus is on hair care product and packaging development resulting from this genba approach, and Kao’s vision for a sustainable society.
People’s way of life is constantly changing with the times and social environment. Listening to consumer needs is an obvious but difficult aspect of Kao’s genba approach to research and product development that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Kao’s corporate culture is based on its commitment to thoroughly understand consumers’ needs and gather research results to uncover problems.
The genba approach involves going beyond theory and investigation to understand how products are used in real life and assessing customer needs. Kao, for example, identified important issues by looking at how agreeing customers wash their hair and how they refill products at home.
Part of the shampo method can be seen from the transition process of 100-year-old hair care products and the development of packaging technologies such as refill packs.
Kao began researching hair care products in the 1920s and introduced solid shampoo in 1932. Since then, it has developed powder shampoos, liquid shampoos and conditioners. In 1970, anti-dandruff shampoos were introduced in response to consumer concerns about dandruff.
In addition, Kao has been conducting hair research since the 1960s and has surveyed a total of 220,000 people in 18 countries around the world. This research not only helps develop in-house products, but raises the bar for research across the hair care field. In fact, it became the basis for major advances in hair care culture, says Shinobu Nagase, senior principal research scientist at Kao’s hair care product research lab.
“When we study actual hair conditions, we examine not only hair and scalp data, but every corner of our customers’ lifestyles and concerns,” says Nagase. “By researching hair and lifestyle, we have developed not only anti-dandruff shampoos, but also shampoos, anti-aging products and hair color products for damaged hair.”
Kao serves consumers in Japan as well as in Europe, the United States and Asia. For example, GOLDWELL, a German company that entered into capital cooperation with Kao in 1989 (Kao acquired 100% of the company’s shares in 1994), has conducted tests in local laboratories and beauty salons many times. Thanks to this genba method, Kao has accumulated various discoveries. For example, even the simple act of washing your hair can vary from person to person. The result of this research is the development of washing techniques that help maintain beautiful hair as well as ingredients that provide optimal scalp care.
“Age-related issues like gray hair make us feel old, but we’ve found that older adults who have a daily habit of dyeing gray hair and washing their hair tend to enjoy better mental health,” Nagase said. “One of my future goals is to contribute to solving the societal problem of healthy life expectancy in an aging society through hair care research.”
The genba method built according to the actual situation
While developing hair care products, Kao has always listened to consumers and improved refill packs. For example, many consumers report that conditioners are highly viscous, causing residue in refill bags.
In addition to reducing plastic, Kao is also focusing on improving packaging quality, such as processing and molding techniques for easy opening and pouring.
In Japan, filling bags are now selling four times more than bottled detergent and hair care products.
Shuhei Matsumoto, head of the Kao Packaging Technology Research Institute, said: “If the practice of using refills spreads around the world, it will have a huge impact on environmental issues.”
“Japan is one of the few countries in the world where the ‘mottainai spirit’ and refill culture of eliminating trash is deeply ingrained. We believe that easy-to-use refill bags made in Japan will be widely accepted in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.”
Recycling is another challenge.
“We have established a pilot plant for recycling bags and other products at the Wakayama Research Laboratory and are conducting research,” said Keiji Seto, project leader at RecyCreation. “We are already working on commercialization.”
In order to recycle packaging that is usually outsourced to specialized companies, Kao established an experimental in-house factory and conducted in-depth research. This attitude highlights Kao’s firm determination to contribute to social progress. According to Kao, this genba approach is directly related to sustainability.
For example, according to Nagase, the hot water used to rinse hair is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions from the manufacturing process to the use of shampoos and conditioners. Over the years, Kao has been improving product ingredients and raising awareness on how to wash hair so it can be rinsed with less water.
“Maintaining the quality of the contents is the most important issue for refill bags, but I hope to encourage recycling efforts to become commonplace and more effective in reducing environmental impact,” Seto said. “If we can package our know-how and export it with our products, that could be the key to promoting refill bags and related culture overseas.”
“The SDGs include projects such as ensuring that no one is left behind and maintaining living standards,” Matsumoto said. “I hope we continue to make refill containers that are accessible to all.”
“For us, seeing the daily life of our customers is the starting point for innovation,” Nagase said. “The seeds of ideas are there. People’s lifestyles are always changing, and even with the same data, new ones can be gleaned. Discoveries and lessons.” I want to cherish these discoveries made through the genba method. “
Kao is committed to creating a sustainable society by gaining a deep understanding of consumers’ daily lives.
Change the common practice of throwing things away after use
Kao advocates the concept of “RecyCreation” that combines recycling and creation. To build a participatory and co-creative recycling system, the company researched refill packaging, developed recycling technologies and promoted pilot projects to raise public awareness.
In a project with residents of Kitami, Onagawa, Ishinomaki, Kamakura and Kamikatsu, used refills are cut, washed and pelletized, which are pellets of synthetic resin. The material is recycled into blocks that are easy to assemble and reuse. Kao aims to communicate its policy in a way that communicates this recycling.
Kao has also strengthened partnerships with outside companies with the same vision, such as Lion Corporation in the same industry, as well as Ito-Yokado, Welcia Yakkyoku and Hamakyorex. In 2021, more than 200 kilograms of booster packs were collected from Ito-Yokado’s towing shop. Additionally, about 30 Welcia Yakkyoku stores in Tokyo and Saitama are also collecting booster packs. Collection methods vary by store size, but Kao and Welcia Yakkyoku staff exchange information on how to promote the event.
“RecyCreation cannot be achieved by one company,” Seto said. “To build the entire system, including legislation and recycling networks, as social infrastructure, we have to work not only with local residents, but also with local governments and other companies. We want to change the common practice of throwing things away after use. We Will do my part to make recycling fun, not a hassle.”
Recycling refill packs is tricky due to differences in materials and residues. That’s why Kao collects the containers it makes after use and experiments with it for the best recycling results. Kao collects not only its own products, but also various containers including other companies.
Kao R&D Message
Kao was established in 1887, and in 1890 began producing and selling consumer soap Kao Soap. Based on the concept of supporting a clean lifestyle, Kao first solved the social problem of improving cleanliness and hygiene in Japan. With the development of Japan, Kao has established its own R&D strength and applied technological innovation to solve social problems through various daily necessities.
This philosophy has laid the DNA of Kao that has been passed down and maintained from the very beginning. Kao’s mission is to support the development of daily necessities while solving social problems. In addition, Kao now conducts extensive R&D on environmental issues, global food issues and virus control. At the same time, Kao’s desire to partner with people to solve social problems through Kao’s products and services is reflected in its efforts to harness the latest technology to enrich the lives of approximately 8 billion people on Earth.
In this series of articles, Kao introduces some original technologies that enrich everyday life around the world. Kao also wants to connect with like-minded people to make the world a better place.
This article, the second in a series “Ambition, Create the Future, Create Innovation,” describes how Kao uses precise interface control technology to solve environmental, food and other problems. Through this approach, Kao brings innovations that can change the world.