Insights 08/03/2019 Nick Dormon

A Response to LOOP

It was exciting to read about the announcement of TerraCycle’s LOOP returnable packaging system launching at Davos last month. Not just because it’s a novel way to reduce single use plastics, but also because so many corporations have signed up to it, providing essential momentum and so a much better chance of success. By example Unilever’s innovative compressed deodorant can, with its lower carbon footprint and packaging reduction struggled to gain traction because other brands didn’t follow suit. The little cans looked like a poor deal on a shelf full of large conventional ones despite them containing the same amount of product. It is much easier to change consumer perceptions and behaviour for the good if everyone pitches in.

We have questions around a potential increase in carbon footprint with more volume and weight of durable packaging being shipped, but of course it is early days and these trials are a great opportunity to adapt and experiment. We wonder, for example, whether it would be preferable for the durable packaging to remain in the home with compact lighter refills going through supply chain instead.

Of course, we have been here before. We had the milkman picking up the empties all over the UK and Carlsberg and Tuborg shared a returnable bottle scheme in Denmark back before the EU intervened and encouraged competition and new formats. In both cases the bottles would develop a patina of wear, but this was ok as this was the norm.  It will be interesting to see how acceptable the inevitable scratches and marks will be to today’s consumer used to their pristine one-use plastics.  We believe, as designers, that we have to consider and develop a new approach to aesthetics so the packs actually improve, rather than degrade, with age. It will also be interesting to see how essential graphic communication on pack will be dealt with without adding additional packaging. Some information like ingredients and variant descriptions with be necessary, but will need to change over the life time of the pack– perhaps removable direct printing on the durable surface?

I understand that the Häagen Dazs metal tub for LOOP has an ingenious double wall that can keep the ice cream in perfect frozen condition. It is absolutely vital that consumer benefits like this are built into the durable pack designs as early as possible in the trial. We are asking people to change their habits and engage in an extra shopping task which is bound to be less convenient at the beginning. It will only be a success if we can encourage consumer pull along with the sustainability push.

Unilever’s LOOP deodorant packs look aesthetically pleasing yet uniform across their brands with their Apple like styling. They will eventually need to be designed to be on-brand and more useful to their respective consumer target as this channel will be no less competitive than any other and each brand will have to fight hard to keep its share of the market.

We wish this exciting experiment every success and look forward to getting involved. There many challenges and opportunities to create consumer benefit, increase sustainability and build brand value.