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Unilever's 360º of success

Cost savings are commonly associated with a compromise to consumers. But Suave’s package redesign shows that a brand can have it all through integrated planning.
FILED IN:  Applications  > Healthcare  > Pharmaceutical
Product marketers often ask this question: How can we validate the value of package design for senior management? For Unilever’s Suave brand, the answer comes by letting the new design pull itself into the market through quantifiable cost savings and consumer benefits instead of the marketing department pushing a design that fails to link anticipated benefits to the overall business strategy.

Unilever succeeds by meeting two internal objectives in restaging its Suave Naturals shampoo and body wash lines and its Suave Professionals shampoo line. The company communicates each line’s price-value relationship more effectively to consumers while also reducing production costs. Input from a cross-functional team guided the process, and Unilever has achieved the following results:

• The company increased dollar sales volume for the Suave Professionals line by 51% and unit volume growth by 12%, even with a retail price increase for the line.

• Dollar sales volume for the everyday Suave Naturals line increased 3% and unit volume grew 2% during the new packaging’s first 12 weeks on the shelf.

• Consumer perception of product quality for both lines has improved significantly in the new packaging.

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• Unilever has sustained Suave’s leadership in the value hair care segment while also improving the brand’s profitability.

Unilever achieved these results in part by integrating visual cues of shape, color, and texture, yet avoiding frivolous decoration, to communicate Suave’s niche as a quality product at the right price. Unilever switched to a wider cap and lighter-weight materials to deliver visual impact while also reducing costs.

"Not only is the major redesign of our relatively generic bottle a major win for our consumers, but the added production efficiencies and cost savings for Unilever made it a true win-win situation," says Eric Yoch, senior brand development manager at Unilever. "The growth in sales volume has exceeded our expectations and solidified our leadership of the value segment."

Yoch explains that the success of this project springs largely from early internal discussions among multiple departments at Unilever that also included an outside design firm and packaging vendors. It was essential, he says, for everyone involved to understand not only Unilever’s business and consumer needs, but also its manufacturing capabilities prior to launching the creative stage.

Design considerations

Unilever’s needs were two-fold. From a business perspective, the company wanted to maintain Suave’s leadership in the value hair care segment and also gain a greater market share for the Suave Professionals and Suave Naturals product lines. On the consumer side, the company wanted to better serve the Suave consumer’s perception of value.

In addition, the work had to be done in the context of recent changes in the hair care aisle. Suave is a 70-year-old brand sold at mass merchandisers, supermarkets, drugstores, and value retailers. It is one of the most recognizable hair-care brands, but it takes its place on the shelf alongside more competitors than ever. The hair-care aisle has seen significant changes in the past year that intensified competition among brands. According to Mintel (www.mintel.com), these changes include a proliferation in the number of products containing organic ingredients, new launches with botanical and herbal claims, and brands segmented to consumer niches. Unilever responded to these changes with the launch of Sunsilk.

"The size of that launch, and the resultant competitive activity, raises the total water level of the category, and Suave couldn’t be left behind," Yoch says.

A critical initial step in beginning the redesign of Suave packaging was writing a design brief. The creative team worked with the manufacturing, operations, and R&D departments inside Unilever, as well as with suppliers. Together, they shaped the basis for packaging that would reflect the Suave consumer’s definition of value while also reducing packaging costs.

Structural packaging innovation firm 4sight (www.4sightinc.com) collaborated with Unilever’s internal market research team to study the mind-set of Suave consumers and then create the design. Stuart Leslie, president of 4sight, explains. "Unilever had an unusually good idea of who Suave consumers are. They’re smart shoppers who want beauty but don’t want to compromise. They want value—it’s not elegance but more like straightforward blue jeans. It’s a delicate balance, and they don’t want to overpay for it," he says.

Value, in the Suave consumer’s mind, is multi-dimensional. It considers quality, variety, and performance at an appropriate price. The consumer research preceding the design stage validated this understanding and provided a baseline for package designs that would enable Suave to deliver on this value equation. The final designs spurred consumers’ willingness to pay more for Suave products.

Unilever opted for a subtle and sophisticated look for both Suave Professionals and Suave Naturals. 4sight designed a slimmer bottle with curved, sculpted proportions resembling the female hourglass shape. The contoured shape provides a waist area that is easier for consumers to grasp with wet hands.

"By designing the package with simple, contoured sides, we could incorporate a wider label and mold the brand logo into the bottle," Leslie says. "This subtle detailing expresses the Suave story and contributes to its special look."

Bottles in both the Suave Professionals and Suave Naturals lines are both PET and high-definition polyethylene, provided by Matrix Packaging (www.matrixpackaging.com) and Alpha Packaging (www.alphap.com). The HDPE closures are from Seaquist Closures (www.seaquistclosures.com).

Production savings

The shape of each bottle also considered production needs. "Our designers visited the plants and studied the production process, so we gained the knowledge we needed to develop a compelling package that also maximizes Unilever’s resources," Leslie says.

Meanwhile, Unilever’s operations and R&D departments developed strategies internally for achieving some of the cost savings. Unilever’s vendors also offered ideas for cost savings in the bottles and closures.

The packaging uses a wider cap and lighter-weight materials to not only enhance the look of the packages, but also reduce production costs. Unilever says both the bottles and caps use less resin—the reduction is 1 gram in the cap. The caps’ shorter finish, combined with the overall design’s enhanced top-load carrying capabilities, required significantly less material in both the closure and the bottle, according to Unilever.

Besides signaling subtle sophistication and value visually, the curved Suave Naturals bottles reduce production costs. The curves of the bottles require that the bottles touch the filling machine only at the rounded portion. As a result, the bottles are filled at higher speeds.

The results of the package redesign for Suave Professionals and Suave Naturals show what can be achieved when all interests are considered upfront in package redesign and development. When the right design with the right materials can also produce a cost savings, it’s logical for everyone to support the redesign.

"The interesting thing that we learned in doing this project is that most people associate a cost savings with a compromise at the shelf to consumers. We found that you can have both at the same time," Leslie says.

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