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Editor's pick product sustainability

Sustainable packaging: The refill market opportunity everyone is missing

UK supermarket Waitrose recently announced a trial in one of its stores for refillable products. 46 items in total, including detergent, washing-up liquid, cereal, pasta and more, are being tested – inviting consumers to bring in their own containers for replenishment rather than buying yet more plastic packaging. 

According to Greenpeace, the top 10 UK supermarkets produce 810,000 tons of throwaway or single-use packaging every year. The initiative at Waitrose therefore also sees all produce involved offered at up to 15% cheaper, incentivizing shoppers to do this and buy more sustainably as a result. 

The first thing it brought to mind for me, is why doesn’t this already exist? 

As a consumer, it’s increasingly frustrating to run out of shampoo, detergent, cleaning products, even moisturizer, and have no option but to throw the bottles or containers away (or in some instances put them out in the recycling in the vain hope their second life becomes a reality). I, for one, would love to be able to take all of such items with me next time I pop in store and top them up again instead. And don’t get me started on miniature travel items. 

I’ve talked to dozens of other people about this subject however, and the responses have always hung somewhere between a concerted yes on wanting to do it and a feeling that it takes a lot of effort to actually carry it out. 

Consumers are lazy, we know that. 

Yet many of us now take our ‘Bags-for-Life’ with us every time we shop – popping them in the back of the car or in our handbags when we’re out and about so we don’t get caught without one and need to purchase a new plastic disposable carrier instead. 

The barrier for these refill uptakes should not be that much bigger. It’s an achievable consumer behavior shift. 

The scheme to reduce plastic bag usage in the UK is evidence. It has seen over 15 billion being saved from going into landfill since it was introduced nearly four years ago. That stat is particularly significant when you think about the fact these items can take around 500 years to breakdown. It’s the same for plastic bottles. 

What’s more, since then, we as consumers have been increasingly exposed to numbers like the 28,000 tons of single-use plastic disposed into our oceans every day. Or that by 2050, there’s expected to be more plastic in the sea than fish. Whether verified in their entirety or otherwise, such insights have spurred us into action beyond just reducing plastic bags – resulting in adopting various other habits including reusable drinks bottles, keep cups, paper rather than plastic straws and more.

The fact supermarkets like Waitrose – and others – are exploring the opportunity (or necessity) here to look at such shifts within food and household goods packaging more broadly, seems a natural one as a result. 

The other way to look at it is through the emerging brands and startups stepping into the space. 

Loop is a new initiative from waste management company, TerraCycle, announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, for instance. It is being supported and trialled by major businesses including Unilever and Procter & Gamble. It enables shoppers to purchase regular goods in new durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused. This is not about the consumer refilling it themselves, but the company doing it on their behalf.  

Eco-friendly household product brand, Ecover, by comparison, which is owned by SC Johnson, has introduced bottles that can be used more than 50 times directly by consumers. It has refill stations across the UK for products including washing up liquid, hand soap, laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaners. The company calls the initiative a “Refillution” and says it’s been experiencing higher demand than ever before over the past year. It is one of the companies trialling with Waitrose. 

Other examples are being experimented within the beauty and cosmetics market, which accounts for around 120 billion units of packaging each year, according to retailer Lush. 

Lush itself is constantly innovating so as to introduce products that come without any packaging at all, but also has things like a zero-waste lipstick that it announced at the end of 2018. These are refills that can be placed into any other lipstick container the consumer already has at home, or bought with a recycled case from Lush to be used over and over again. 

British health and beauty retailer Boots meanwhile, recently opened a new wellness concept store in London that includes refillable skincare products from eco brand Beauty Kitchen.

And skincare brand Olay has just announced it will trial a sale of refill pods for its Regenerist Whip moisturizer from October 2019. Those pods fit into existing jars, saving consumers from needing to get a new one each time they run out of the product. The team estimates one million lbs of plastic saved if five million jars worth are refilled instead. The pods themselves are also recyclable. 

The Olay test will run for three months with the aim of then evaluating learnings to inform future packaging. “It’s really important for us to get it right because only then can we bring this concept to market at scale,” said Anitra Marsh, associate director of sustainability and brand communications for skin and personal care at Olay’s parent company, P&G.

And test and learn is clearly the stage we are at here. There are inevitably many barriers for adoption in a broader sense beyond assumed consumer apathy. The logistics of pulling many of these initiatives off are notable, but so too are concerns around things like hygiene, which is particularly pertinent when it comes to skincare or beauty – hence the pods from Olay rather than a mass refill station that is more possible with the cleaning products of Ecover. 

Much of this was noted in a report by WRAP over 10 years ago – highlighting other things like contamination of product, no easy mechanism of transferring the ‘use by’ date on the packs, the stackability of bulk refills in store or at home, and more. Arguably, all of that still stands, which is why there hasn’t been huge uptake in this space, and is what makes this such an interesting discussion. 

All roads point to huge opportunity and need for evolution, and yet so little has actually yet happened. Frankly, disruption here is needed, and as with successful movements linked to sustainability and the circular economy in other sectors (the resell market, the sharing economy and more), there is a growing business case to do so as a result. 

Right now, brands are largely jumping on a marketing opportunity and benefitting from the halo effect that surrounds reducing single-use plastic consumption. In doing so, there’s a dodge of responsibility occuring. 

Which brings us to a need for regulation in this space to force companies to adhere (something that is being looked at more broadly in the UK for single-use plastic, as this legislation dates back to 1997). It wasn’t until this came in for plastic bags that it actually made a difference to the landscape. The ability for change to really happen often needs a good shove in the right direction. 

That coupled with innovation is what will move this space forward. Our company, Current Global, is one built on solving challenges, and strictly speaking there’s very little here that doesn’t have a solution in front of it waiting to happen. 

The question then is who is going to be the first to truly do it, and at scale, in terms of grabbing the enormous market opportunity it presents. Now is the time.

How are you thinking about new packaging solutions? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

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data Editor's pick Events product technology

Olay launches series of personalized beauty tech innovations at CES 2019

P&G-owned Olay is at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week announcing a host of products and services that aim to create a more personalized skincare experience for consumers.

The brand is announcing three major updates to its existing Olay Skin Advisor service that launched in 2016, as well as Olay Labs, a personalized software and beauty regime service, and the Olay FaceNavi Smart Wand, a beauty tech device that provides diagnostic skin treatments.

Olay Skin Advisor
Olay’s Skin Advisor

The Olay Skin Advisor initially launched as a low-tech solution to beauty recommendations which simply asked users to answer a short questionnaire online and upload a selfie. The newly updated version, currently rolling out only in the US, introduces the Olay Future You Simulation, the Olay Whips Simulator, and the Skin Decoder features.

The first allows users to visualize what their skin and face will look like in the future through different scenarios (such as daily SPF use or no SPF) to help them make better decisions on how to personalize their regime in order to prevent long-term damage; the Whips Simulator invites users to virtually try on products from the brand’s Whips line and display what their skin would look like as a result of using them; lastly, the Skin Decoder is a camera attachment to the user’s phone which delivers high-resolution imagery that allows for a detailed diagnosis and tracking of the skin over time. The technology is currently already in use in China for sales associates, as the brand is sold at department stores in the country.

Olay’s investment in evolving its personalized advice platform is a result of its huge success since launching in 2016, with the web-based application having been visited over 5 million times by customers.

Olay Labs
Olay Labs Moments device

In 2018, Olay lunched its personalization software Olay Labs, which aims to blend machine learning with human expertise to create a bespoke four-week skincare regimen. In order to achieve this the brand is deploys a an algorithm that can learn and adapt to the user’s skin in real-time and give it advise.

For 2019, it has announced plans to take this to the next level with the Olay Labs Moments, a device that will create bespoke products to the user, daily in their homes, by tracking their skin’s circumstances and reacting in real-time.

Olay FaceNavi Smart Wand
Olay’s Smart Wand

Lastly, also launching at this year’s conference is the Olay Smart Wand, which connects to a mobile app to offer consumers personalized diagnosis and treatment. The device uses electromagnetic technology to read the user’s skin and relay it to the app, which in turn creates temporary, dynamic programmable fields that help the device better drive skincare ingredients into the user’s skin, bespoke to their issues.

How are you thinking about product innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so.TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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Campaigns social media Uncategorized

Olay celebrates unique personality traits with real women

Face Anything, Olay, Female Empowerment
Olay’s “Face Anything”

Skin care brand Olay has launched “Face Anything”, a campaign that encourages female empowerment by celebrating unique personality traits.

The campaign, launched across print and video, features nine inspiring women sharing personal stories of how they face criticism for being ‘too much’ of something, such as too emotional, or too confident, and how they embrace their uniqueness.

The cast includes Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, comedian and YouTube star Lilly Singh and fashion model Jillian Mercado, who suffers from spastic muscular dystrophy and has become a voice for diversity in the industry.

The campaign is powered by a dedicated microsite that further highlights their cast’s individualities, as well as an influencer campaign that will run on Instagram for 28 days. For the social media element, a cast of influencers have been tasked with documenting themselves using a curated collection of Olay products for the campaign period.

At the end of the programme, the influencers will be invited to join some of the cast on a New York Fashion Week runway. To underscore the authenticity principle of the brand, the influencers will not be wearing any make-up.

The campaign was developed after Olay commissioned a survey that revealed that 54% of women prefer a “natural look”, while 84% said that social media images pressure them into conforming to beauty standards.

Olay is not the first cosmetic company to embrace authenticity, with body care giant Dove, for instance, having championed this mindset throughout its communications for over ten years – such as most recently introducing a tool to identify any image that is digitally enhanced.

The fact that increasingly beauty and skin care brands are choosing to feature real women – flaws and all – to speak to their customer base is a huge indication that this is no longer a trend, but rather a shift in mentality that has been a long time coming.

Are you thinking innovatively enough in your brand messaging? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce mobile

Hearst introduces shoppable Amazon SmileCodes to print publications

Amazon's SmileCodes in Seventeen magazine
Amazon’s SmileCodes in Seventeen magazine

Hearst has unveiled a deal with Amazon to place scannable SmileCodes on Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines, allowing readers to purchase straight from its pages.

Amazon’s SmileCodes are branded QR codes that link to sales pages and other content when scanned using the Amazon app. With the Hearst partnership, codes will be placed alongside selected items that once scanned, lead readers to the item on dedicated Cosmo and Seventeen stores on Amazon.com.

Customers can also access the online stores directly, where the publications will launch a “See, Love, Shop!” storefront that is updated monthly to correspond to the print publishing schedule.

“Amazon offers a wide selection of products, fast and free shipping options and low prices, and by teaming up we will be providing Cosmopolitan and Seventeen readers the opportunity to ‘see, love, and shop’ the products our editors showcase and they covet,” said Donna Kalajian Lagani, senior vice president and publishing director of Cosmopolitan and Seventeen. “We are using the latest technology to create a new instant and interactive experience moving our readers down the purchase funnel.”

Items are selected either by the magazines’ editorial teams or exist within ads by selected brands. They will range from categories such as beauty, fashion, wellness and books. So far partners include beauty and personal care brands like Olay, Neutrogena and Cover Girl. To further spotlight “See, Love, Shop!”, the magazines will also be posting shoppable listicles on their websites and promoting certain selections via social media.

Amazon SmileCodes has so far been running as a pilot in Europe, but the Hearst deal marks its official US debut. The online giant has vouched to promote new storefronts, which in turn will likely help promote its SmileCodes feature.