Genie in a Bottle: Andreas Bilstein & Julia Krüger
Preservatives have long been the other side of the coin when it comes to pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. German manufacturer URSATEC is restoring the balance with dosage systems for preservative-free products and it’s done with trust and transparency, according to Managing Director Andreas Bilstein and Head of Business Development and Sales Julia Krüger.
Sometimes, a slogan is more than just a marketing tool. Encapsulating your entire business in a snappy one-liner may look good on a website, but it can mean much more than that. Take German company URSATEC, for instance, which bears the motto ‘When preservative-free matters’.
Preservatives traditionally pick up the slack for packaging that does the bare minimum when it comes to sealing in the freshness or potency of a pharmaceutical or cosmetic consumable. The team at URSATEC believes it doesn’t have to be that way.
Since 1993, URSATEC has built its brand around dosage systems for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food supplements and cosmetics (think sprayable systems and nasal sprays), but with a very important caveat: its products have been specifically developed for preservative-free applications, and the company has shrewdly chosen to work only with partners and suppliers prepared to make the same dedication.
Initially, it may have seemed like a major misstep to exclude a big portion of the market but today, URSATEC is a market leader and Managing Director Andreas Bilstein says the company’s resolve regarding its philosophy has only grown stronger.
"It’s about providing the best pump-based product solutions to customers and patients, always without preservatives," he says.
"Preservatives have a profoundly negative impact on the human microbiome and epithelial cells," adds Julia Krüger, URSATEC’s Head of Business Development & Sales. "We develop products that allow the finished goods to come without any kind of preservatives, be it pharmaceuticals, medical devices, cosmetics and other healthcare products and supplements, to avoid any kind of allergic reactions that often accompany preservatives."
Aside from the implications for people’s health, URSATEC’s commitment to its beliefs means the team has to think outside the box on a daily basis when brainstorming product lines. "Innovation is a big part of the concept," Andreas confirms. "I really enjoy developing new products and coming up with new ideas, and that’s what drives me on a personal level."
The philosophy-driven nature of the business also means that work takes on a new meaning for every member of the team. Julia says she appreciates not just the work her company does; she also appreciates the opportunity to be a part of something life-changing.
"It’s more than just work," she shares. "And our team is like a big family. There are only 20 of us, so we’re a rather small team, but we look after each other on a personal level, and that’s very important."
Andreas believes that a team of that size also encourages transparency. "Trust and flexibility are non-negotiable," he says. "And I’m quite transparent with the team when it comes to where we are, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I believe a Managing Director has a duty to keep their team informed about those things. You can’t just tell your team you need a 20 per cent increase in growth this year, you have to tell them why and what’s in it for them."
Our team is like a big family. There are only 20 of us, so we’re a rather small team, but we look after each other on a personal level,- Julia Krüger
Trust within the URSATEC team was put to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Germany and the team was forced to work from home. "It’s been two years and apart from a short break where we came back to the office, we’ve integrated a mobile working scheme into our operations," Andreas explains. "Even if COVID-19 goes away, we won’t be back in the office five days a week. But you can only make a change like that with trust. I don’t need to micromanage everything my team does."
This empowering management style has its benefits on the bottom line, according to Julia. "I was working with Andreas for many years before we both joined the company and I know that he always does what he says he will do. The leadership style was more than satisfying and when it came to working remotely, it hardly changed our daily business. Sometimes, it made it even more efficient, actually."
That’s set the stage for the next phase of growth and innovation for URSATEC. "We’re working on two different technologies," Julia reveals. "We have an airless system and also non-airless technology, both designed to work entirely free of preservatives whether it’s a nasal spray, for the mouth and throat, on the skin or even in the ear."
Julia says the company has set the standard for preservative-free nasal sprays sold within the European Union, a market attuned to the particulars of its mission. "In Germany, there are all sorts of isotonic saline solutions on the market, but they don’t come in dosage systems with preservatives because of the allergic reactions," she points out. "So we’re selling roughly 150 million of our dosage pumps every year."
We try to do things as sustainably as possible. We plant trees, we use green electricity, we certainly don’t travel as much and we strive to reduce our daily use of energy and paper.- Andreas Bilstein
While URSATEC’s main area of application is the nose, there are many other products on the way, Andreas shares. "We’ve started developing applicators for semi-solids, as well as production techniques for these, so creams, ointments and lotions, which are currently not yet fully preservative-free," he says.
Although the company’s philosophy is cut from the same cloth as sustainability, its plastic-heavy output means its footprint can never be entirely green. That hasn’t stopped Andreas from implementing a variety of green-friendly choices to offset plastic production. "While the pharmaceutical industry has tight constraints around the use of materials that are ecologically sound, we try to do things as sustainably as possible," he confirms. "We plant trees, we use green electricity, we certainly don’t travel as much and we strive to reduce our daily use of energy and paper."
For a small German company to make such a splash in the pharmaceutical packaging sector says a lot about the viability of its mission statement. URSATEC has come a long way in its nearly three decades of operation, and Andreas believes that’s down to philosophy. "Our partners and customers know we aren’t the biggest, but they can trust and rely on us. Ever since URSATEC was founded, but especially during the crisis period over the past two years, consistency, honesty and flexibility have seen us through."
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