Online growth and packaging reconsidered

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

2019 looks like another big step forward for e-commerce, across categories. The final statistics might not quite in yet and the growth rates might not be as huge as a few years ago but the share of all retail is definitely growing, with consequences for the entire value chain.

One estimation is that, globally, the total growth of e-commerce in 2019 was 21% taking the online share of total retail sales up to a staggering 14%. The numbers vary strongly between categories and we are looking forward for the dust to settle and to get the final numbers for 2019.

As brand owner you respond to this shift in purchase patterns and adjust the offer, products and packaging to online shopping. One main consequence from a packaging/logistics point of view is that products are no longer shipped neatly stacked on pallets protected by secondary packaging.

Online shopping means the opposite for a shipped product. It could be sent alone to be delivered at a doorstep or be dispatched together with random products to a pick-up point, probably both. In any case the product will need more protection than the standard primary packaging can provide.

The situation is improved either by adding more and protective packaging, changing material from glass to plastic or why not design the packaging and product for e-commerce, or omnichannel, from the beginning.

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

Unilever has decided to make all their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. To get there they are, among other things, offering shoppers refillable containers. This also works well for online shopping where the smaller sized refill units are saving weight and cost.
Cif household cleaning products are offered as concentrated refill capsules for the original spray bottle. Just add water and hey presto the product is ready for use. Unilever is also part of the Loop initiative where a whole range of products are offered online in refillable containers.


Another similar product concept from a leading brand owner is Pepsico’s Drinkfinity, also an example of a concentrated product sold in shipping friendly containers. The concept consists of juice-based pods and a reusable water bottle. Just add some H2O. This is probably also a move to meet a shift in consumer demand for more healthy products. Nevertheless Drinkfinity was launched online where the product has an e-commerce site of its own, just like any other direct-to-consumer brand.


Perso is a L’Oreal concept that takes this a step further. Perso is a device that actually makes personalised skincare products for you, in your home, and is powered by Artificial Intelligence. From the three cartridges contained in the machine it makes unique skincare, lipstick and foundation products, just for you. All personalised as you have fed the thing with pictures of yourself, location and your preferences. This is what you can call reusable and smart packaging.

The concept of concentrated, space saving, light weight products has many positive sides. It saves cost, it is a great way to streamline online sales logistics and maybe it even gives the consumer the satisfaction of a “homemade” product.

We'll meet again – return to reusable packaging?

The mantra in the packaging industry has for some time been Recycle, Reduce, Reuse. Recycling material is great when there is a demand for the recovered material and reduced use of material is good for both the environment and the budget. Reusable packaging is more complicated in many ways, in particular for food products.

The reuse concept has developed since the olden days of refillable glass bottles and today has an appeal also as an alternative to Single Use Plastics items for the foodservice industry and has a potential to improve environmental footprints for the e-commerce industry. It can also be a great marketing tool for food and beverage brand owners and a way to reach specific consumer groups.
Below a few examples of reusable packaging spotted along the way.

Food service

Hot drink cups with a deposit are now available in several cafés and restaurant, although in a small scale, where you pay up an extra dollar, pound or euro for your coffee, which then is returned when the container is returned at the bar.

Australian Returnr is taking the concept one step further when offering a series of foodservice containers. Not only cups but a whole range of reusable cups, bowls and lids that are designed for multiple use and also for takeaway. The aim is to support cafes and restaurants to eliminate single-use takeaway packaging. Returnr cups and bowls are, in Australia, free to borrow from cafes and restaurants with a $6 deposit. The deposit can then be claimed back from any restaurant who are working with Returnr. Something that attracts not only local cafés and restaurants but also Deliveroo who are offering Returnrs containers to their customers.

E-commerce

E-commerce as such is developing very fast but is from a packaging point of view there is plenty of room for new ideas.

RePack is an example of this. RePack is a packaging solution made specifically for e-commerce. It is a resealable and durable plastic bag in varying sizes that close with a zipper. It is unique though as it is made for reuse and linked to a deposit system. The reusable packaging itself is made from recycled materials and is space efficient in that it is flexible and adjustable to minimise air, saving money and resources. When the consumer receives the delivery, they return the now empty bag that is designed to fold back into letter size which simply is dropped in the nearest mailbox. The consumer incentive lies in the refund that comes as a discount on the next purchase. Back at RePack’s logistics hub the bag is cleaned and sent out to be used again.

Food and bev brand owners

Online grocery shopping is also growing very fast albeit from a small base and has some catching up to do compared to other segments. One significant example of new thinking is from Loop who promote reusable packaging for grocery and personal care products.

Loop is an interesting grocery e-commerce concept including a deposit-based refillable packaging scheme. It starts when a consumer order a home delivery where the Loop products arrive in a bespoke crate. With the following doorstep delivery of Loop products the empties are then picked up and returned for reuse. The packaging used is bespoke and made to be returned, cleaned and refilled. Materials used are metal, glass and plastic. Leading FMCG producers like Unilever, P&G and Nestlé have joint forces with TerraCycle an American recycling company to organise the Loop model. It’s in use in North America and in Europe the system is, at present, used by Tesco in the UK and by Carrefour in France.

Reusing containers is intuitively a good thing to do but the entire operation has to be considered, from start to landing. More transportation is usually needed, washing and rinsing using detergents and more material is normally used. When it comes to packaging it is never going to be simple but packaging reuse is definitely a path to explore. Looking forward to following the developments.

It’s the season for Packaging Trends!

Towards the end of any year we have an avalanche of Packaging Trends and annual summaries coming in through the mailbox. Then at the end of a decade the number of summaries is doubled as we get both the Greatest Hits from 2019 and Top of the Pops from the last 10 years.

Please misunderstand me correctly, I like lists like everybody else, it’s just that the structure doesn’t necessary bring more clarity. The industry is wide and diverse and it’s hard to find the distinct trends, without obvious and significant contradictions.

First of all it’s not easy to define trends that are so general that they cover the industry, but yet specific enough to be interesting. The packaging industry is a complex one with many examples of conflicting developments and where few lines point in one and the same direction. Some are for example moving from plastics for sustainability reasons, at the same time others are moving into plastics to minimise greenhouse gasses. All depending on perspective.

The below are examples of real trends that are happening right now and are both general and specific enough but even so containing contradictions.


Plastics We can conclude that the main trend is towards using less plastics. There is clearly an increased demand for no-plastic, less-plastic, some-plastic and bio-plastic solutions. The reasons vary and are unfortunately not always fact based. The trend has got quite some media coverage and the SUP directive was recently voted through in the European Parliament to be implemented already in 2021. This is leading to intense activity to find viable alternatives to single use plastic items.

At the same time Amazon makes a shift from fibre-based shippers to plastic bags. A decision that could inspire and set a trend for the rest of the industry. Amazon refers to environmental benefits to back the decision, reduced consumption of energy and natural resources during production, reduced CO2 emissions, and fewer vehicles required during transportation.


Less Packaging The general trend is in one way towards using thinner material and less material, to save both the environment and cost. Some consumers are loudly demanding less packaging, but consumers are also increasingly shopping online.

E-commerce is fast growing on a global scale and is bringing on change for all involved in FMCG trading. One of these changes is that products are often distributed as single units or in combination with random other products. As opposed to traditional retailing when products are safely sent around in a tray or case sitting on a pallet. The result is that products in general needs more and protective packaging to arrive safely to destination.


Recyclable Or reusable or refillable or returnable, or even compostable…? We are certain that we want more recyclable packaging to be used. But first of all, we need the infrastructure to collect, handle and recycle the used packaging. Then it is really up to the individual consumer to use the system.

An alternative to throw away packaging waste is to return and refill the emptied packaging. Just like in the old days and Loop is a new concept on this path. Here a few of the leading global food and beverage manufacturers are joining forces with global recycling organization TerraCycle to create a circular shopping platform. 

Consumers order products that get delivered in a shipping tote instead of a box. Goods arrive in durable, reusable or fully recyclable packaging made from materials such as alloys, glass, and engineered plastics. Once the products are used, customers place empties back into the tote, schedule a free pick-up, and the system makes sure the products get automatically replenished. Brilliant.

Packaging is a traditional industry, that needs fresh ideas. In contradicting times, in particular, you need a steady stream of fresh ideas. Standing still is probably the worst option.

So, I wish you all a very happy and fast moving 2020.

I need to go down to the store for some bread and milk. But I can’t find my Google glasses…

Or, are we finally technology mature enough?

Interpreting the results from a new IGD study the answer to the question is probably to be understood as “we are getting there”. We are not quite there but I am really impressed to hear the 43% of the respondents could see themselves using wearable technology when shopping for food and groceries. The respondents are in this case representing the UK but I would like to think of this as an indication.

This is good news for the digital technology industry. But it’s great news for all interested in smart and intelligent packaging. There are many interesting solutions available to get food packaging to communicate with the consumer. But the obstacle and main requirement for this to actually start happen is to have a receiver. That is somebody who is willing to listen to the communicating milk bottle on the shelf.

We can imagine that the shopper today has a smart phone which can be used for communication with smart packaging. The downside is that it involves an active and engaged operator. You cannot expect the average consumer to scrutinize every item using their phone in the supermarket aisles. This is a completely different thing when you have devices like smart glasses, smart watches or similar.

The interviewed consumers say that they are interested in finding better deals using the Google glasses. But printed electronics on packaging will also inform them about best before dates, product content, suggested usage and much more.

Consumers better informed at point of sale will also be good for the food waste problem.

smart glasses

Sip a drip

EdiblePack2

The latest in edible packaging I think is the “water blob” from Ooho. A compound made from brown algae and calcium chloride creates a portion package or a gel sphere around a mouthful of water. A drip sip. It is cool, innovative and thought provoking right out of the bottle. Just swig a blob when dry.

A similar solution comes from Wikipearl who promise to enfold both food and beverages in bite-sized and portable spheres or blobs. All ready for on-the-go eating or drinking. It is just as cool and pioneering as Ooho. Wikipearl is one step ahead and will soon go commercial at selected Whole Foods. I am interested to see how they solve the obvious secondary packaging challenge. You will always need some kind of protective packaging around the fragile balls of liquid to avoid flooded glove compartments and handbags.

The Ooho team are even encouraging consumers to make their own edible packaging blobs. Instructions are provided and we can all make our own packaging-free portable picnic.

If you combine this with the idea of 3D printing of food we can all be independent producing consumers.

Print me a Pretzel, Pronto

3D printing has changed the world as we knew it and is said to spark the third industrial revolution. When a 3D printer for home use is available for less than $1000 it won’t take long before it becomes mainstream. Which is both fun and inspiring.

But what is more interesting than fun, at least for the moment, is 3D printing of food. Yes you can seriously print food, layer on layer. Not for home use yet though. The need originates from the question, “How to feed an astronaut on his way to Pluto?” Apparently there is now printable food stuff available with a best before date somewhere around 2044 or just after you are safely back again from outer space.

3DfoodAt present the main reason for printing food is the Star Trekiness and the coolness factor. But there are a few things speaking for this technology of printing food products. I am not saying home-printing is around the corner but the technology does enable us to use ingredients such as proteins from algae, beet leaves, or even insects. With a growing global population to feed this could be one of the answers we are looking for.

It is also a way to truly personalise food. If you are sensitive to certain ingredients you can design and make your own food with your own formula. Great for people with allergies and similar.

The convenience factor, that offers food made at exactly the right moment in time. You set the machine for dinner and activate the thing with an app as you leave work and upon arrival you have a freshly printed steak. All you have to do now is to ask your local grocer to fax you a bottle of wine.

Printing your own food will give you and your favourite restaurant an enormous freedom to design both shape and content. Apart from the technical challenges there are a few cultural as well. Are we ready for printed provisions? You could probably survive on a daily pill of concentrated nutrition but we don’t want to do that. This is different but still far away from the main stream.

So, what has this got to do with packaging? Well, nothing much but it is still intriguing.

Close the door!

This annoying little thing has been developed to save energy but could double as saving food. http://bit.ly/nYNrQa

We have a huge and global food waste problem with many dimensions. Developed markets, undeveloped markets, production, distribution, consumption, etc. One of the problem areas is consumers throwing out food they once brought home. Some of these decisions to reject are simply based on the best before mark while others based on using their senses.

My point is that with this great little device you will manage your fridge better and keep the door shut and therefore in the end save food from degrading and being unnecessary wasted. Well this won’t save the world but every little helps. Food waste is a big and disturbing problem in a world where famine is an ever present and also growing problem.