E-comm Brands Adopt Durable Bottles with Subscription-Based Refill Format

In effort to improve sustainability profiles and avoid the no-no of ‘shipping water,’ many new D2C brands are adopting a durable pack starter kit format that is then replenished by light or concentrated replenishment. Learn more in this Take Five video.


Quick hits:

      • Consumers are increasingly avoiding the traditional single-use plastic bottles that they’ve traditionally purchased off of retail shelves.
      • E-comm or D2C brands are popping up with a different value proposition, often in the form of a durable packaging starter kit that might be large and heavy, but it’s a one-time purchase.
      • At defined intervals, consumers then receive refill or replenishment packs that are much smaller and lighter than the initial pack, and often use concentrated liquids and pods to avoid ‘shipping water.’
      • Each cycle of re-use improves the overall sustainability profile of the package system in comparison to single-use formats.

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      Listen to the story here:


         Read the transcript below:

      Hello. I'm Matt Reynolds, editor of Packaging World Magazine back with another edition of Take Five. Just last week, we were covering an interesting prototype story from Unilever and Degree about a refillable deodorant package. As I was working on that story, I was also working on our annual e-commerce supplement for Packaging World. So it was interesting to have those two in juxtaposition because it kind of brought into relief a trend we're seeing specifically in the e-commerce channel. And that's that of a initial starter kit paired with a durable package, and then thereafter a subscription or replenishment sequence where at a given interval, a customer will then receive a refill for that pack.

      We first started seeing this roughly two years ago. One of the early adopter brands I know is Truman's. Truman's is a cleaning product brand that basically sends an initial starter kit, a fun kind of fun to open corrugated starter kit filled with spray bottles. Now they have other formats as well, but the kind of splash item are spray bottles for cleaners, for kitchen, sink, bath, that sort of thing. So you get these four in a pack spray bottles that have a unique cylindrical neck. And in this cylindrical neck, cartridges can fit in. Now the cartridges are meant to contain a highly concentrated cleaner liquid. So initially, so what that's avoiding is avoiding shipping a lot of water. So you fill these spray bottles with water yourself, you insert the cartridge into the neck, and then there's a mechanism so that when you screw on the spray nozzle on the top, that releases the cartridge and the material, the concentrated liquid inside, it releases into the water, and then you have a complete ready to go cleaner.

      Another brand that was doing something very similar is Grove Collaborative. They're doing a lot with hand soaps, shampoos, these sorts of things, even hand towels. And again, they're using this model of an initial starter kit with a durable, maybe glass spray cleaner that's then replenished over time. One unique thing about Grove is that they do a lot of backend logistics to make sure that a consumer can decide the exact frequency or interval by which they're getting that cleaning product. So if they have a small household, maybe they need it once a month. If they have 10 people in their family, maybe they need it once a week. So that was interesting, but Grove actually made another splash recently just this week. And they were, they're diving into that deodorant space that we already mentioned with Unilever, with a product that it looks like they're using an aluminum refillable pack, and that aluminum refillable pack is then filled again and again, with 100% plastic free deodorant refill system.

      Speaking of deodorant, Dove, another Unilever brand, came out with something similar only in stainless steel.

      So there's really a lot going on with these brands, both small and large, early adopters and major brand owners that are really jumping into this system by which you have an initial starter kit, some durable packages, and then a subscription-based refill system thereafter ostensibly to avoid single-use plastics and to improve sustainability.

      This model of a initial starter kit containing durable packages that are then based on a subscription refilled over time, isn't limited to just the personal care or home care space. I recently spoke to the folks at Saraphina Therapeutics. They're coming out with a nutraceutical product called Fatty15, which is a proprietary fatty acid that they've discovered in dolphins of all things. And they believe that it's going to improve longevity in humans, which is they feel a major step forward. Sign me up for longevity, but to coincide with kind of that big splash that they think they're making with this product, they wanted a starter kit that would grab attention as well.

      And they did so with again, that starter kit format with a durable package within, and then refill packs, which in this case, because it's a nutraceutical, are going to be coming in metalized, foil pouches, but light metalized, foil pouches that can be mailed in a 30 day interval. So every month thereafter you'll get a refill. The durable portion of the Fatty15 format is actually in the form of a glass jar. The glass jar is tinted light blue or green, kind of a seafoam color includes a sustainable bamboo closure that's actually quite pleasing to the eye. And it's also screen-printed as opposed to using pressure sensitive labels or any kind of a shrink wrap or anything like that, shrink sleeve, I mean. And the reason is it's intended to be displayed on a shelf in the bathroom as opposed to hidden away, behind your mirror.

      And it's supposed to last for cycle upon cycle upon cycle. Extending outside of the durable element is the starter kit itself, which is entirely recyclable, save for the metalized pouch. One interesting thing is they chose to use a slip screen, a slip sheet, excuse me. It's hard to say. A slip sheet as opposed to printing directly on the interior corrugated on the shipper and what this does is it prevents the dust that can happen, that can be created in shipping anything that's corrugated. It prevents that dust from settling on that beautiful glass container.

      Thanks for watching this week's Take Five from Packaging World.

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