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.

Small is great

Small scale production seems to always face the same challenge. What to do for packaging? The alternatives are expensive with inflexible conditions and hard to find. That is for starters.

anitas balm

Is 3D printing technology one of the answers? Yes, says Anita Redd who chose to 3D print a unique packaging solution for her product Anita’s Balm. She was having trouble finding a suitable jar and came up with the idea of making one herself. Using 3D technology and a biodegradable material she came up with a unique jar for her product. This gives her product an edge at POS and solves her problem to find a supplier of suitable packaging. As a small scale producer you simply don’t need as many units as the full scale producer.

It might not be for everyone but it will sure be helpful for some.There are no shortcuts for the small scale producer that only needs limited quantities of packaging material. 3D printing is a solution and digital printing is another useful technology for the scale challenged producer. It opens up for personalized packaging or at least unique labels at a reasonable cost.

Innovation shortcut

I see that 60% of the people in the UK only drink one glass of water a day and only 20% drink more than two. Source: Kantar Worldpanel. As a rule of thumb we need to get 2 litres of fluid a day to stay happy and in balance. It has then rather to be two proper jugs to meet the required amount. I don’t think the British, in this aspect, are very much different than the rest of at least north Europe.

Life is luckily not all water but water drinking could be made more interesting. For Green Sheepinstance by using more exciting packaging that gets your attention and also makes sense. I think that Chicago based Green Sheep Water are making an interesting move by launching an aluminium water bottle. Half a litre is the size and it quite stands out in the shelf, or wherever you find it.

Their point is that this is a more sustainable packaging solution as aluminium is indefinitely recyclable compared to PET and other materials. That is as long as people return the empties…  Besides that it catches the attention at POS and could maybe even prove practical to refill.

I very much like the idea of an innovation shortcut by using an existing idea from another category and apply it on your product. Voila! You have a new and innovative product. Just by being inspired from another field.

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.

Cool cool coal water

A great idea and speaking of active packaging. Can it be more active than with added active charcoal? It’s UK-based Black+Blum’s Eau Good water bottle that embraces the centuries-old use of active charcoal to make every day tap water taste better.

Great design and that piece of charcoal actually reduces the chlorine content while mineralizing the water and balancing its pH. What more can you ask for?

Just add water…

See through Carton

Elopak is together with Sainsbury’s launching a see through Pure Pak carton for juice. Four transparent windows placed on one side of the 1 litre package gives the consumer control over dosing the desired portion. The consumer can also easily visually see when it’s
time for replenishment of the home stock. Plus the more subconscious satisfaction
you get when actually seeing what’s in the package you are buying. http://bit.ly/qnrpUS

Now there is only the beverage can left to have a hole drilled for us to steal a look at the brew.

What came first….?

The traditional packaging solutions that have been around forever should be the lowest hanging fruits for the packaging designers. But I haven’t lately seen a lot of creative solutions for the old egg carton in my supermarket, or for the ancient tooth paste tube for that sake.

That is until now when I spotted brilliant and innovative design for just those at the eminent www.FastCompany.com.

Just look at the elegance of the egg carton at http://bit.ly/pFIYRt and the cleverly designed tooth paste tube at http://bit.ly/n7IElS.