Reusable packaging has come a long way—in strategy, sophistication, and sustainability. Launched in January by Unilever, the new Dove refillable deodorant system exemplifies this new approach, comprising a sleek, stainless-steel outer case guaranteed to last a lifetime, paired with refills in recycled-content, recyclable packaging. The innovation is just one of 100 projects Dove is working on across the globe to meet its goal to ensure all its packaging is plastic-free, is made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastics, or is reusable/refillable. It also represents Unilever’s first refill launch on a mass scale.
The system was engineered by Unilever in collaboration with A Plastic Planet—a grassroots organization founded to “turn off the plastic tap”—and Dutch design consultancy VanBerlo, which began the project in 2018. The refillable Dove deodorant package has a design similar to that of the minim™ reusable package prototype, developed for Unilever’s Dove, AXE, and Rexona brands as part of the Loop reusable shopping platform, but it has been “optimized for personal use,” says Augusto Garzon, Dove Global Vice President of Deodorants, Unilever.
The ergonomic, rounded-corner, stainless-steel case is compact, at 2 7/8 in. H x 2 3/8 in. W x 1¼ in. deep, and has a minimalist design, with silver on the base and white on the overcap, with the iconic Dove logo in silver. Garzon explains that the screw mechanism typically used for deodorant packaging was eliminated, as “it’s often those smaller components that can be most prone to damage over time.” Instead, the case is fitted with a recyclable PET insert, selected for its engineering properties. Says Garzon. “As the refillable case is unlikely to ever be disassembled, it should last the consumer a lifetime.”
First-time buyers purchase a starter kit that contains the reusable case and one 1.13-oz deodorant stick refill, packaged in a carton made from 100% FSC-certified paper from responsibly managed forests. After the initial purchase, consumers can buy two-pack refills of the deodorant—Dove’s 0% Aluminum formula, in Cucumber & Green Tea, Coconut & Pink Jasmine, and Sensitive varieties—also in a carton made from FSC-certified paperboard.
To ensure the deodorant formulas stay fresh and hygienic, the refill sticks use primary packaging made from 98% recycled polypropylene that is also 100% recyclable (in those communities that have appropriate recycling facilities). According to Garzon, the PP packaging uses 54% less plastic than the current Dove 0% Aluminum Deodorant Stick.
To use the refill, the consumer places the deodorant stick on the base of the case, then twists the top until they feel and hear a click. “Remove the refill cover, and it’s ready to use!” says Garzon.
Commenting on the packaging, Sjoerd Hoijinck, Design and Innovation Director at VanBerlo, says, “Cutting consumption and crossing over to circular business models by design, Dove refillable deodorant gives you back an experience not unlike a Swiss army knife, a quality object that is personal and ages well over time.”
For its part, global campaign organization A Plastic Planet contributed to the project by providing insights to Unilever on how to communicate the new concept. “We have been very involved in helping craft the overall messaging of the idea, who the audience would be, and how it could influence other Unilever brands,” explains Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet. “Our role, past and future, will be to work closely with the wider team to see how the next iterations of this beautiful structure can have even less plastic, less impact, and more permanence, especially on the refill system. We act as a touchstone on authenticity and integrity.
“The whole Dove team is sees this as a first big step in a long journey, with a radical new way to deliver products we all love and want in a way that takes as little from our planet as possible. The first step is always the most important, but it definitely won’t be the last!”
For the initial launch of its Dove refillable deodorant product, Unilever has decided not to implement in partnership with Loop, but launched online at Target.com and Walmart.com in January 2021. At presstime, the company says the product will also be available at Target and Walmart stores in February 2021, and on Amazon.com in March 2021. The starter kit, which includes the case and one deodorant refill, is priced at $14.99; the refill kit, with two deodorant refills, is $9.99.