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Evolution of Innovation

Sara Mason
  • Innovation is no longer a process just developed in labs—it requires synergy throughout a company, from marketing to R&D to production and beyond.
  • In packaging, opportunities for innovation are often available via eco options, customization, the men’s market and via market-targeted launches.
  • Innovation requires thinking beyond the edges and then pushing past even that. But it also needs to have a visible, relatable benefit.

The process of innovation has evolved. While it previously began exclusively with technology and research focused on future scenarios, today innovation proposes a much more holistic and systemic approach. “It begins by looking at people’s behavior, habits and attitudes at the beginning of the production chain and considers all elements involved in the production process rather than focusing purely on the end product,” says Antonia Mann, senior consultant at trend consultancy Mandalah. In the case of packaging, design should transcend form and become a way of looking at the process itself; the packaging should represent the values, the mission and the intentions of the brand.

Innovation is a driver of business. “But it also promotes positive change, making improvements for an individual, family, community, society, country and the world,” explains Mann. Companies that make changes within their business, based on desires of individuals who drive the market need, can have a much further-reaching effect. “Good, sustainable innovation should make life better for individuals and for society, and respect the environment,” continues Mann. The benefits of innovation are multifaceted and feed each other synergistically. Mandalah— a consultancy that identifies and tracks consumer trends that emerge from changes in society, technology, environment, economy and politics—emphasizes that for innovation to be worthy and sustainable, benefits for individuals, society and the environment must be achieved together.

Better the World

Sustainable packaging initiatives represent the most obvious focus for innovation in recent years. Eco-conscious companies are driven by consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of the need to care for the world. Most brands are making an effort to make packaging sustainable or even to eliminate it. Lush, for example, offers 70% of its products without packaging.

Taking it a step further, In.gredients—a supermarket scheduled to soon open in Austin, Texas—is simply doing away with packaging, selling everything from meat to wine to produce to prepared foods by weight, package-free. The store will encourage its customers to bring their own containers, and will offer compostable containers for use in-store. Going to such extremes isn’t ideal for everyone, but the key to being truly innovative is to think freely and be willing to take a risk—if that risk meets your brand objective and marketing strategy.

For those not ready to eliminate the protection packaging provides, finding alternatives such as bioplastics and thin-walling are more viable every year. For brands such as Lather, an all-natural beauty company, transitioning all product packaging to a biodegradable and recyclable plastic formula is key to staying true to its brand. “Lather has always cared about the environment, using renewable resources and initiating in-store recycling programs, so sustainable packaging was the next logical step,” explains Robert Hoyt, Lather president.

However, as opposed to bioplastics made from cornstarch or wheat, which can only biodegrade in an industrial composting facility, new packaging that, for example, utilizes Bio-Tec Environmental’s new additive EcoPure will be able to biodegrade within a landfill. Lather studied various options before concluding EcoPure was the most effective technology for the brand. About 40% of the brand is now in the new, treated packaging that was introduced a year ago.

EcoPure is a proprietary blend of organic ingredients that has been specially formulated to substantially increase the rate of biodegradation of treated plastics. It is an FDA-approved, nontoxic additive that does not destroy desirable properties of plastic in the process, and EcoPure can be blended in small amounts in most types of plastic, so it is cost-effective as well.

“Treated plastic has an indefinite shelf life, and looks and feels just like regular plastic until it reaches the landfill, where certain enzymes allow the biodegradation process to begin,” says Hoyt. While traditional plastic repels microbes, EcoPure-treated plastic attracts microbes, allowing the plastic to be metabolized into a nontoxic humus in an environment rich with microbial activity. In addition, the by-products are methane, which can be captured for clean energy generation, and carbon dioxide.

Better for the Consumer

For consumers, innovation provides solutions to psychological or physical needs; it presents useful alternatives and, in a word, value. Innovation gives individuals products that are of better quality at a reasonable price.

Innovation is all about being new in the market, extending your reach. It can come by the way a consumer interacts with a brand, how it looks on the shelf or dictates how it performs, and today’s hectic lifestyles create the need for multifunctionality beyond containing and protecting a product. But customization and personalization options enable companies to offer unique and personal products.

MWV’s custom Mini-Trigger Curve, on select TRESemmé and Nexxus spray gel and hair spray products, for example, was a consumer insight-driven development to improve ergonomics that brings a reusable integrated lock for the consumer’s convenience. According to Earl Trout, director of marketing for MWV’s Beauty & Personal Care, MWV is able to bring synergies that infuse development with insight and design. One of the outcomes of the company’s evolution is the implementation of a consumer insights group to validate and test products from a consumer perspective.

“‘Is the package intuitive? Is it preferred over other packaging?’ Asking these kinds of questions during development brings more success in the market and meets the growing consumer demand for high-quality packaging solutions,” explains Trout. Additionally, products—and, consequently, their packaging—now need to be intuitive, building into consumers’ lifestyles and how they use products. “It’s important to communicate to the consumer on shelf,” says Trout.

Suppliers such as MWV are seeing more requests to build on customization requests, to bring functionality and personalization to a specific brand. In the case of Dualiste, Nexxus wanted to upgrade the brand to a salon feel with a unique formulation. “But it’s not just one shampoo or combination,” explains Trout. The right product has the mix specific to an individual’s needs to make it “my shampoo.”

The main driver for Dualiste is to offer both color protection and hair type protection, depending on individual need. The dual-chamber package actually has a shampoo on one side specific for color protection and shampoo specified for treatment on the other. When using Dualiste, the user will get equal amounts of both shampoos. Although Alberto-Culver designed the overall package, MWV developed the Harmony Dual dual-dispensing system using its Harmony dispenser engine.

New technology has enabled companies to provide packaging on demand as well as produce products in small quantities. savvy beauty consumers are becoming more concerned about maintaining the efficacy of their products. Monodose formats address this but create waste, making an opportunity ripe for innovation.

Neopac has developed a flexible tube ideal for use with serums. The Beauty Serum Dropper enables users to generate individual drops that can be applied directly to the skin, precisely and cleanly, or added to another substance by metered dosing. “We ask our customers what is missing or needed in the market, and we create our innovations around an unmet market need,” says Richard Misdom, sales manager, Neopac Pharma North America. “Once a viable packaging solution is found, the brand can promote how it helps the consumer with the use of the new package.”

James Alexander Corporation also provides single-use packages that can be opened single-handedly, offering portability and ease-of-use for today’s buyers’ busy lifestyles. “A unique package that speaks to its product will stand out among competitors with ordinary packages,” notes Carol Gamsby, director of sales. The company’s unique package allows for extended shelf life with no compatibility issues, and the new look stands out in a crowd of other similarly targeted products, according to Gamsby.

Men in Mind

More men are joining the grooming game, but beauty brands are finding men prefer packaging that reaffirms their masculinity. Eco men’s grooming line EvolutionMan is capitalizing on that fact while also finding ways to reuse rather than develop new packages. All of the brand’s recyclable tubes are made with postconsumer recycled materials, and its boxes also use paper generated from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. But founder and CEO Marco Berardini didn’t sacrifice aesthetics to do it. He wanted the products to be responsible, but his one-year-old brand is about more than that: “Proof positive that environmental can be stylish,” he says.

Berardini founded the brand with the desire to combine aesthetics with eco-consciousness. “Everything about my brand was created based on one decision after another that considered the male psyche as well as what was best for the environment,” he explains. Berardini asked his friends to be brutally honest about the packaging throughout its development. There’s a reason for everything. The colors are modern and aesthetically pleasing, and he avoided a traditional eco-friendly palette in order to not distract from the brand and attract consumers with an aesthetic sensibility. The tube is oval-shaped, so it’s sleek but also will fit on narrow bathroom ledges. He also added a cap that feels rugged and masculine, and put it on the bottom, because “men are lazy.”

The future of packaging means understanding your target market. In Berardini’s case, that meant being utilitarian and functional. “You can try to innovate with the fanciest packaging with all the bells and whistles, but if it’s not easy to use, men will hate it,” he says.

The brand also recently launched its Evman System Bag, fashioned from recycled tire inner tubes from a supplier that sources products destined for landfills and refashions them into other products. The material—durable, stain-proof and water-resistant—combines sleek design with function. Though it took a lot of experimenting, the two companies collaborated to find a large truck inner tube to create a seamless product that looks high-end and like leather, says Berardini.

Better Business

Innovation helps businesses to grow and compete, increase productivity, and create new opportunities. “It nurtures creativity and collaboration,” explains Mandalah’s Mann. “Innovation allows businesses to adapt to cultural, economical, environmental and technological events and resulting consumer needs. In this way, businesses can challenge norms, set standards and become pioneers. [Mandalah] bridges purpose with profit.” Taking a collaborative approach to projects garners the best results and ensures ideas—which clients contribute in developing—are seen through to implementation.

From Unilever to L’Oréal, Mandalah takes clients to environments outside their comfort zones and “beyond their imaginations to tangibly experience new products, services and ways of doing things, [where] transferable concepts are discovered and ideas spark,” says Mann. “Clients experience firsthand what is possible and are guided to think beyond that.”

Innovation allows packages to be so unique that consumers see and understand the benefit of both the packaging and the product right on the shelf. “One of the trends we see are the brands wanting a shape associated with their products. They want consumers to be able to recognize the products without delay when walking down the retail aisle,” says Misdom. If the product has a very specific design, there is a belief this will translate to high recognition and greater sales. Misdom cites the Elmex toothpaste brand (owned by Swiss-based GABA group) as one example, as it is well-known on a regional scale for the “Topstar” design on the underside of the polyfoil tube’s cap upon removal.

On the other hand, one of the key factors now and in the future is overall cost reduction with packaging innovations. “More companies today are looking beyond the piece price of a packaging component and at innovative packaging that can reduce costs by reducing weight and the amount of materials in the package,” explains Misdom.

New Paradigm

As if the growing complexity of society is not enough, the increase of consumption and the shrinking globe puts more and more importance on packaging in today’s marketplace. Significant changes that have revolutionized the industry in the past decade, and changes will likely continue to roll through in the coming years. To continue to operate in the old paradigm of thinking and understanding your product and its packaging is ill-advised as the world speeds on by. Beauty brands now have to take action, to think differently about their packaging or be left behind.

Sara Mason is a freelance writer based in the Chicagoland area. She was previously managing editor of GCI.

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Natural Intelligence

Nature is one of the best R&D labs out there. Technology emulating nature has resulted in revolutionary innovations that make modern life easier, healthier and more sustainable: from phones whose loudspeakers were inspired by human eardrums, to entirely new approaches of creating color inspired by the color-shifting properties of a butterfly’s wings. Called biomimicry, there’s potential for replicating nature’s intelligence to produce packaging that decomposes and is not harmful to the environment.

According to the newly formed conglomerate Biomimicry 3.8, the biomimicry field has progressed at a stunning pace in recent years. Biomimicry provides a strategy for practical applications that emulate years of brilliant designs. From durable but biodegradable packaging such as sea beans—large bean pods that ripen to become woody and heavy—or the coconut palm—which dispatches its seed inside a hard shell that contains everything it needs to survive—many of nature’s containers can serve as inspiration for the future’s innovative packaging ideas.

Think of the possibilities if technology of a pelican pouch that scoops three gallons of seawater then returns to shape could be mimicked. A flexible bottle design that fills up like a balloon only to collapse when emptied would provide options for consumers on the go or for easily returning containers for recycling hundreds at a time.

What if liquids could be stored in a cellular matrix similar to fruits and vegetables, which are often times more than 90% water but don’t slosh because it’s stored between cells? Or if a cellular matrix could be applied for the skin of a bottle; once emptied, it could be eaten like an orange slice or dissolve in the bath tub instead of a landfill.

Nature is filled with wonders that tote, store and protect treasures from a treacherous world. If packagers take the time to seek sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns, they can learn from nature that has already solved many of the problems the industry is grappling with.

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