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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Personal care packaging: the burden of doing better


More than 70 percent of consumers think brands and retailers aren’t doing enough to make their beauty and personal care purchases more sustainable. That’s seven in ten people who think initiatives such as the recent drive in refillables, reusables and recyclables isn’t enough – or, at least, not as easy to access or use as they’d like.

And they’re right. Of course, sustainable products and sustainable packaging are different sides of the coin, but more often than not, the former begets the latter. Think of shampoo bars taking their cues from the soap category – the product informs the packaging.

While a whole range of these sustainable options are available, they’re often complex to set up and expensive to produce – if pulp paper is ten times cheaper to source than paper made from sugarcane, where’s the incentive for the manufacturer to opt for an option that destroys margins?

Part of the problem is the infrastructure of giant companies is at odds with the green agenda.

To change even the smallest link in the supply chain, from sourcing raw materials to the types of inks used on-pack, is a monumental task. To do this is to uproot a system that’s been developed over decades.

If you’re a Procter & Gamble or a L’Oréal, the changes you’ll have to make to your supply chain will be significant – and at that stage, it can often come down to money. That’s not to say the sector’s giants aren’t making important strides towards sustainability. Unilever’s sustainability brands actually outperformed the rest of its roster in 2018. It also stated recently that it wants to collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells by 2025.

Part of the reason why Unilever appears so nimble is that it acts with a startup mentality, spurred on by the many startups it incubates in the Unilever Foundry. Because honestly, startups have the best ideas. They’re not bound to an existing business model or supply chain – they can set out to achieve something without any self-imposed barriers.

Take the antiperspirant balm AKT, for example. Packaging-wise, it’s zero-waste – the entire product comprises fully recyclable aluminium, including the cap, allowing customers to access the novel balm easily. AKT’s founders may not have come to the aluminium solution without first exploring the concept of an innovative format, i.e. a balm – the kind of NPD that may not have gotten off the ground in a big corporate.

Naturally, this format is much more costly for the customer – entrance into the AKT brand and its paraphernalia requires a £40-plus outlay, as opposed to a few pounds for a can of regular deodorant. However, 69% percent of shoppers say they would spend more on products that had genuine sustainability credentials, but only if they received genuine value for money.

The want for this innovation is clearly there, and people are happy to pay a premium for it, as long as the quality reflects the cost. When it comes to sustainable packaging, the key is to ensure functionality for both product and pack – paying attention to not only the materials, but reducing the components and offering that dual functionality. Smart design isn’t just aesthetic. Take something like Danish makeup brand Kjaer Weis, which has offered reusable metal cases for a decade, giving customers a fully recyclable keepsake if they don’t want to reuse it for makeup – its new red paper packaging offers a similar luxury, but remains fully recyclable and reusable. Because the relationship customers have with a product runs deep, and really is personal – redefining the packaging for something as tactile and intimate as deodorant, makeup, beauty products and the like isn’t an afternoon job. Start with what you have, and figure out how to take the customer on a journey without alienating them. Nor do you want to disorientate them when they can’t find your new packaging in Boots, the change being so vast they no longer recognise your branding.

Everything comes back to the customer. Brands will only bother changing if there’s enough customer demand to force that change, to the point where there’s something of an exodus from wasteful packaging to greener tides. Because at the moment, sustainability can seem like too much of a hassle. TerraCycle’s zero-waste Loop initiative is noble, but it requires active participation on a customer’s behalf. As people are increasingly time-poor and just trying to get by, initiatives like this can seem like a massive inconvenience – in the cold light of day, of course they aren’t. But as a customer having a bad day, nine times out of ten you just can’t be bothered with it. The main barrier to fixing this comes down to collaboration. There are pockets of collaboration in different corners of the industry, but no consolidated effort to solve it. If the P&Gs and L’Oréals of this world worked together, they could quickly find a solution that covers all bases, keeping customers satisfied, profits healthy and packaging sustainable. Much like the COVID-19 vaccine situation we’ve found ourselves in, different businesses offer different formulas – because sharing the secret means slashing the profits. While not as immediately life-threatening as vaccines, it’s a comparison worth drawing. But until that moment comes, smaller brands will still lead the charge when it comes to innovation and well-planned sustainable solutions. Decades back, we used to hand in our fizzy drink bottles for money – it incentivised us to go out of our way and make a difference. Somewhere down the line, we sacrificed sustainability for convenience. When the big names realise the two aren’t mutually exclusive, we’ll see long-lasting, major change.

  • Statistics for this piece were sourced from The Pull Agency’s January 2021 research, which canvassed 2,000 UK respondents.

Darren Cornwall, Creative Director,  The Pull Agency

Darren is the senior, creative cog at Pull which delivers game-changing, award-winning transformations for health and beauty brands including Schwarzkopf Professional, Tangle Teezer, Right Guard, True Skincare, allbeauty, Eylure and Vice Reversa. 



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