Sustainable Packaging Series: Concentrates


Many of the products we consume are actually dilutions. Important active ingredients like flavour and alcohol in beer or surfactants and fragrance in shampoos are tiny by comparison to the large volume of water they are mixed in. The water is technically only there to aid correct dosing of those active ingredients. If we could reduce that volume of water through the supply chain (where it’s not needed) and just add it at the point of use the resulting concentrated products would radically reduce carbon footprint through shipping and storing of lighter small SKUs as well as significantly reducing the volume of single use packaging.  

However, moving to concentrates is not a simple matter of smaller packs. It will mean consumers adding tasks, like rehydration, to their already busy lives.  At worst many products are difficult to dilute without industrial processes and at best we will need to rely on the consumer doing this correctly (imagine the legal issues involved with people diluting neat alcohol to safe levels).  In many cases smarter packaging and devices will need to be created to aid dilution and dispensing but could also be designed to add further functional benefits for the user. 

Concentrates will also change the way people think about the brand. For example, the only thing actually differentiating mineral waters from each other are a few micrograms of minerals, the rest is just plain old H2O.  Mitte have produced an in-home machine that filters and then mineralises tap water to order. The implication being that in this context source mineral water brands like Evian and Perrier will have to explore how they can protect and own their mineral ‘recipes’ and develop values and meaning of their brands in ways that are bigger than the source they originally relied on.

When consumers have been trained by marketing to super-size everything small packs present a challenge to designers and marketers to change tack and communicate small as precious. Unilever’s compress deodorants struggled to sell on shelf next to large packs despite clear messaging to say they offered equal value and performed the same. We can’t just reduce the size of packs we need to redesign them completely in their qualities, format, function and aesthetics so driving a complete reappraisal by consumers rather than a simple direct size comparison of new for old.

Liquid hand soap replaced concentrated soap bars back in the 70s, sold at a higher margin and providing cleanliness and convenience no one considered the environmental impact back then. Now in 2019 we are thinking about solids again, but we can’t go back to the mess, inconvenience and economy perception of the old bars.  We need to reinvent them for a new generation. P&G backed, start-up company DS3 have develop a range of individual-use solid cleaning ‘tabs’ for both homecare and laundry, thereby solving the multiuse mess of solid bars, but they still have challenges with the amount of wrapping and packaging required – perhaps solid concentrates teamed up with durable dispensers are the solution to convenience and value in this case?

In all cases business success will come from designing a new relationship with the consumer giving them new benefits first, followed up closely by the sustainable benefits of concentrates.