When Procter & Gamble plans a global launch of a new product with 10 SKUs under three brand names across five continents, rest assured that—in addition to consumer delight—supply chain efficiencies are of the utmost importance. P&G has been lightweighting packages in earnest for over a decade, and their sustainability efforts are public knowledge in their Annual Sustainability Reports, coming in at 105 pages and 81 pages the last two years (2008 and 2009, respectively, available at www.pg.com/sr).
The design brief for the recent global launch of the Stain Release laundry additive had a laundry list of performance and sustainability requirements. The nexus of the Stain Release liquid bottle package development efforts was P&G’s European headquarters in Belgium, where teams explored new ways of pushing package lightweighting limits while meeting all the other design and brand requirements. To conserve on efficiencies of scale, the global brands of Dash and Ariel would use the same package design and construction methods as the U.S. Stain Release products.
Among the highest priority requirements were lightweighting for supply chain energy savings, recyclability, bottle clarity, passive oxygen venting, ergonomics, an iconic shape, intuitive and efficient dosing, and strong brand association (Tide, Ariel, and Dash). For the liquid Stain Release bottle, P&G explored injection stretch blow molding (ISBM) to achieve lightweighting gains of 15% to 20%. (Since this is a new product, a direct before and after comparison is unavailable.)
Blow molding PP into a thin-walled bottle creates a lower density bottle that delivers an oxygen transmission rate that PET might not be able to deliver. “Partners have all been very helpful as we try to drive innovations in this area,” says Stephen Sikra, section head, global bottle blowing capability at P&G. Particularly instrumental in this endeavor were Alpla in Europe and Plastipak Packaging (PPK) in the U.S. P&G encourages a “connect and develop” culture that celebrates partners and invites their innovation efforts, also known as "open innovation" at P&G.
David Ingram, R&D packaging associate director, global bleach and laundry additives at P&G, was impressed by the final “aspirational shape” that developed through design explorations. “P&G has a real need for something extra,” Ingram says. “We felt that we could really add something. ISBM helped us get that iconic shape and clarity together with the technical properties we were looking for.”
Wide angle view
Part of the responsibility of pushing new technologies into
high-volume consumer goods is creating an environment where those technologies are recyclable and encouraged to be recycled. P&G is an active member of The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), which promotes the development of the plastics recycling industry by providing leadership for long-term industry growth and vitality.
P&G along with APR and other key industry leaders have taken a leadership role in pushing companies and municipalities to recycle beyond #1 and #2 plastics. Currently, 30 of the largest 49 U.S. cities collect #1 through #7 bottles curbside, according to P&G. Beyond this collection, it is imperative to get more separation capability for materials like PP leading to even larger, marketable PCR streams. “We certainly can’t drive an infrastructure on recycling by ourselves,” says Sikra. “The leaders and experts in the industry need to lead instead of the regulators.”
The Stain Release bottle (#5) and dosing cap (#1) are both recyclable plastic and the sleeve is made of corn-based PLA material. The pouring spout is HDPE currently, but plans are in the works to transition to PP. P&G values the clarity and weight efficiencies of ISBM, where biaxial stretching in the new bottle has achieved the same drop resistance as a PET bottle. “We want to demonstrate to our packaging suppliers that we’re really interested in innovation in ISBM,” says Sikra.
A clear advantage
David Haller, senior scientist, NA bottle blowing capability at P&G, explains how they pushed the limits in ISBM while achieving many specific goals. Haller believes that they have created the largest ISBM bottle currently in retail circulation—the 68-oz. bottle for the liquid Stain Release product. Another goal was to create a clear bottle so the consumer could have an intimate brand experience and also notice when the bottle was nearly empty to encourage repurchase.
“These bottles are as glass-clear as PET packaging,” says Haller. “We achieved both performance and consumer appeal.” One partner that contributed to the brand clarity was Milliken & Company. Milliken is a chemical and textile company that produces clarifying additives for plastic resins in consumer product goods packages and a variety of other industries.
Brian Burkhart, global market manager, for PP clarifiers at Milliken, explains how their Millad® NX8000 and Millad 3988i have compelling aesthetics for greater PP possibilities that are cost-competitive with PET, polycarbonate, and other engineered
polymers. "The PP resin and additive capability for a glass-clear ISMB package has been available to the market for some time, but processing limitations did not allow full utilization of the technology," Burkhart says. "With recent processing advancements, you end up with a package that’s ideal for P&G at this time.” He goes on to emphasize that Milliken’s “triangle of success” comes when partners combine a resin, an additive, and a processing method to develop an attractive and functional package.
The ridges on the ISBM PP liquid Stain Release bottle are another design feature with several advantages. During production, the ridges help reduce asymmetrical bottle warping while maintaining the cylindrical needs of the bottle structure. They offer stability during shipping and ergonomic advantages during use. “We listened to what consumers were telling us about the handling experience they were looking for,” P&G’s Ingram comments. “Test subjects continued to hold the package past the point that they wanted to make. They didn't want to put the packages down..”
On the shelf, the iconic Stain Release shape stands tall against the established competitors that have built their own strong design languages. Sikra believes that the design builds on Tide's design language while being independent and forward-
thinking as well. “The design underlines the fact that we’re leveraging the knowledge we have from our products,” emphasizes Sikra.
(December Cover Photo ©2009 RickLohre.com)