The Rise of Refillable

Michael Rutchik, Creative Director of the OLIKA brand of hydrating hand sanitizer, answers PW questions about his brand’s pivot to durable, refillable packaging.

Packaging World:
Is there a unique process or methodology behind outside-the-box package design thinking? What’s your approach?

Michael Rutchik:Michael Rutchik, Creative Director of the OLIKAMichael Rutchik, Creative Director of the OLIKA
These last two years marked a turning point in the urgency we felt toward the environment and personal well-being. From extreme weather conditions to stay-at-home orders, we’re more aware of what’s in our home. Sustainability became top of mind and a dominant conversation topic for our team.

We started the OLIKA outside-the-box package design with a focus on form and married it with an ergonomic, yet eco-friendly, portable consumer experience.

Our team knew there was a heightened focus on hand care and especially hand sanitizer as a “rescue category.” Predecessors in the space delivered a less-than-stellar experience with boring plastic bottles, harsh chemicals, and wasteful packaging. We were primed to build a better-for-you experience with a blank slate.

I designed our hand sanitizer forms as [durable, refillable] “forever bottles,” and developed the packaging with paper that uses a hybrid between a die-cut card and a carton for the secondary packaging, allowing it to stand on the shelf while using the minimal material usually associated with a simple card. To our knowledge, no other personal care or cosmetic product uses the same form and packaging as OLIKA.

By eliminating single-use plastic in packaging, the customer experience is amplified with the product before it’s even purchased. The limited use of packaging materials allows shoppers to experience the hand sanitizer as if it wasn’t packaged at all. OLIKA gives a consumer the accurate experience of the product without getting in the way—we encourage the consumer to see, feel, and experience the product even while it’s protected.

How has package design changed in the last few years?
We’re seeing the rise of the refill. Previously, the refill was an afterthought or a secondary purchase. Now it’s becoming the actual product. With the changes over the years, I now envision a world where nothing needs to be thrown away. This time will come soon as producers and manufacturers will be held accountable for everything they put in the waste stream.

While consumers may never live a zero-waste lifestyle, what if brands were responsible for taking back all the waste materials from primary and secondary packaging? This isn’t a novel idea but something I’ve been considering. 

Companies could then treat the packaging as raw material—worst case, the brand recycles the material for the consumer. And best case? The material is reused. Overall, the goal is nothing is thrown away.

How does the rise of durable, reusable packaging with refillable contents impact how you approach design?
Sustainability in product design is now non-negotiable. I recently read that there are 500 times more microplastics in our oceans than stars in our galaxy. So as product designers, we need to ask ourselves: are we part of the problem? 
OLIKA hand sanitizerOLIKA hand sanitizer

The rise of durable, reusable packaging is both a challenge and an opportunity. For example, how do you sell an empty bottle? As product designers we’re responsible for making it attractive enough to sell. But we’re now putting a price on something that consumers believed they were getting for free as the cost of the bottle was baked into the whole product. But again, I’m encouraged by the success of categories such as refillable water bottles which makes me hopeful to transform other categories such as beauty, hygiene, and personal care.

What design trends are you seeing emerge moving into 2022?
By 2025, our goal is zero waste but some trends to reiterate include that forever bottles will be well-designed, tastefully branded, and created for a one-time purchase. Think of what happened with plastic water bottles. A whole new market opened up with consumers now spending $40+ on a forever reusable bottle that they love.

I also see packaging becoming the return shipper which removes the friction and allows consumers to participate in sustainability.

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