In the Loop: Unilever launches array of premium reusable packaging solutions

In the Loop: Unilever launches array of premium reusable packaging solutions

28 Jan 2019 --- Unilever is set to trial reusable premium packaging innovations across nine of its brands, including four new product formats. The rollouts represent the FMCG giant’s first involvement in the landmark Loop initiative. Unilever joins a growing list of world-leading companies committed to exploring the potential of TerraCycle’s waste-free business model in which products are delivered directly to the consumer, returned and refilled in premium packaging.

Premium skincare brand REN Clean Skincare, Hellmann’s, Love Beauty and Planet, Love Home and Planet and Seventh Generation will trial new reusable packaging made from aluminum and glass.

Four Unilever brands will also be the first to test new formats within the Loop system. Deodorant brands Dove, Rexona (known as Sure in the UK and Degree in the US) and AXE (known as Lynx in the UK), together reaching over one billion people globally every year, will test a premium, refillable deodorant stick called “minim.”

Click to EnlargeHellmann's reusable jar, set for launch in New York in May 2019.Made from stainless steel, the design is minimal, compact and sustainable, offering a new consumer experience without any unnecessary materials. Dependent on usage, the product will last on average one month, with the packaging designed to last at least 100 cycles. This means that each pack is expected to last about eight years, with the potential to save up to 100 packs from being thrown away.

Similarly, oral care brand, Signal, unveiled a new product format with new refillable toothpaste tablets called Tooth Tabs. The innovation also enables consumers to brush their teeth using less water by simply chewing, brushing as usual and rinsing.

“Brands have generally chosen their most popular SKUs for participation in the Loop trials,” Andriana Matsangou, Global Media Relations Manager, Unilever, tells PackagingInsights. “They have also chosen packaging that can be redesigned in line with Loop’s guidelines.”

Measuring the commercial viability
Matsangou explains that it is too early to forecast the main challenges that may arise in the Loop experiment, but believes that the trials will allow FMCGs like Unilever to gauge the long-term commercial viability of the model.

“As an innovative new business model, Loop has the potential to change the nature of consumerism. It’s very much a pilot and will be an interesting way to experiment new business models for reuse, which is part of a suite of solutions we’re exploring to tackle the issue of plastic waste,” she says.

“As with all our innovations, we will look at the trials to give us an indication of the long-term commercial viability. Specifically, we’ll look at the trial and repeat rate over the course of 6-12 months,” Matsangou adds.

The Unilever Loop launch dates are as follows:

  • Signal: May, Paris.
  • Hellmann’s: May, New York.
  • Love Beauty and Planet: May, New York.
  • Love Home and Planet: Q3, New York.
  • REN Clean Skincare: May, New York and Paris, with London to follow later in the year.
  • Deodorants (AXE, Dove, Rexona): Q3, New York and Paris.
  • Seventh Generation: Q3, New York.

More deliveries, more CO2 emissions: The lesser of evils?
Loop’s reusability model decreases the industry’s dependency on single-use plastics, but concerns have arisen that the deliver-return-deliver system will lead to increased carbon emissions.

Packaging expert, Ariane Van Mancius, believes that rising CO2 emissions pose a greater environmental issue than packaging, but that consumer sentiment remains more fixated on packaging at this moment in time.

“Packaging is not the top sustainability problem in retail and the cost and energy from logistics might rise [as a result of the Loop initiative]. Packaging is not even in the top four environmental concerns, according to a recent report. It is number five, behind animal protein, food waste, food miles and ready-made food,” Van Mancius tells PackagingInsights.Click to EnlargeSignal refillable toothpaste tablets, due to launch in Paris in May 2019.

“It is positive that the Loop project keeps the ‘loop’ closed and there is no loss of packaging material. Likewise, we will see a reduction in single-use packaging by going back to this ‘reusable glass milk bottle system.’ The initiative will also encourage enhanced product look and feel. But there is a concern that people could just throw away the premium packaging as well,” she adds.

Matsangou, on the other hand, stresses that various Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) have already proven that a reuse model via Loop is more environmentally friendly than current disposable models. She explains that Unilever value recycling highly, but it cannot be the only solution to a more sustainable future, which is why the company is investing in reusable packaging solutions.

“Creating a durable (or ‘reusable’) container uses more energy and resources than creating a disposable (or ‘single-use’) container, however, over time, the reusable container has a lower environmental and economic cost as it does not need to be remanufactured on every use. Instead it is transported and cleaned at a much lower environmental and economic cost.”

“Eco-design impact evaluations are underway, but initial analyses have shown that we can drastically reduce consumer waste and GHG emissions through Loop, in addition to a significant reduction in labeling waste,” Matsangou explains.

Matsangou believes that no business can create a circular economy for consumer goods in isolation. The beauty of Loop, she says, is that it brings together differences in scale and improves consumer understanding.

“It also provides consumers with one simple platform to purchase their favorite brands in one click – so this is more convenient for the consumer than anything we’ve tried before in the area of reuse models. This is the kind of innovation and collaboration needed to shift consumer purchase behavior,” she concludes.

Click to EnlargeReusable Milka tins.Mondelēz gets on board
Mondelēz International is another example of a major player to join the Loop platform to reduce packaging waste in recent days. Four stainless steel containers have been developed to provide consumers with a more sustainable way to enjoy Milka Cake & Choc soft cake, Milka Choco Biscuit cookies and Milka Tender Break bars.

The Milka brand has long engaged consumers with its sustainability approach, sourcing Alpine milk from local, small-scale farms, investing in Cocoa Life to create a sustainable cocoa supply and sourcing sustainable wheat for its biscuits through the Harmony program, the company claims in its announcement.

The program reinforces Mondelēz International’s commitment to cut 65 million kilograms of packaging material by 2020 and make all packaging recyclable by 2025. Pilot schemes are scheduled to launch in the spring in France and the northeastern United States. Additional markets are expected to launch in 2019 and 2020.

By Joshua Poole

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