Replenish concentrates on conserving
THROUGH ENGINEERING AND AESTHETIC DESIGN FEATS, Replenish marries a reusable bottle with a replaceable refill pod for its concentrated multi-surface cleaner, scoring multiple eco points. Market success-bolstered by efficient manufacturing and packaging of this bottle "system"-inspires the brand to take its next steps.
Lisa McTigue Pierce -- Packaging Digest, 2/1/2012 5:09:21 PM
Don't blame American consumers for being slow to accept concentrated cleaners and their refill packs, says Jason Foster, founder/CEO of Replenish LLC. "The onus is on the industry to make the experience of using concentrates better. Consumers will change if you give them a good reason to," Foster says, backing up this grand idea with an equally audacious action: proving it.
Introduced in November 2010, the Replenish bottle/pod container concept delivers concentrated multi-purpose cleaners via refills in a fun and mess-free way. Additionally, the two-container "system" cuts plastic use by 90 percent compared to typical packaging for pre-mixed cleaners, while Replenish costs 50 percent less than competitors' products. The bottle looks different enough to catch the shopper's eye and feels good in the hand during use. And the product and packaging components are made in America—tapping into the country's bountiful ingenuity in engineering, says Foster—with an efficient, centrally located (Midwest) manufacturing hub.
Nearly a year and half after the brand's launch, the company is still innovating. This month, February 2012, Replenish is revealing a 3-oz pod size, new retail-ready displays and expanded global distribution into Europe and Asia.
Why is Replenish so bullish on reusable packaging and concentrates when the majors look but don't really touch? Because Foster sees consumers' ecological and economical paths converging, and Replenish answers both needs—with functional flair.
"Is sustainability important? Yes," Foster admits, "but the larger motivation is getting a better product at a lower price. Sustainability is getting the most out of what we have. The idea that you have to pay more to be eco friendly is ludicrous."
Here's how Replenish works: A small refill pod docks with an empty reusable spray bottle and becomes the base. Consumers turn the combined pack upside down and pump the pod to dispense the concentrate into a measuring cup built into the bottom of the bottle. Then they fill the uprighted container with regular tap water and gently mix. One 3-oz pod makes three bottles of cleaner.
Ecologically, the concentrated cleaner cuts down on the amount of plastic packaging nearly 90 percent by replacing multiple throw-away bottles with one reusable container and pods.
By removing the water from the product and shipping smaller pods instead of full-size bottles, Replenish significantly cuts both bulk and weight for a more eco-friendly footprint. A single truckload of pods equals 17 trucks of 32-oz bottles.
Not shipping water also keeps the product affordable. As Foster wrote in a July 2011 GreenBiz.com blog, "Concentrates, with their slimmed-down packaging, are both cheaper and easier for manufacturers to produce and ship while saving money for everyone involved."
This "economy of scale" allows the company to deliver a quality product. Foster explains, "We use twice as much cleaning surfactant than other products. We can do that because, in a pod, we have a lower cost, which we pass on to our customers."
All these positives would be moot, though, if the design didn't capture the shopper's eye. "The refills are the hero," Foster says, "and you want that to be an attractive package, something that's going to grab the consumer's attention and engage them."
Lastly, Foster refutes the myth that concentrates aren't convenient because they have to be diluted: "We pour water into things at home all the time!" The "Mix Local" design adds convenience, he argues. Pods are easier for consumers to buy, carry, store and handle because they're lighter, smaller and have better utility than other refills.
"The way the industry sees the consumer today is that the consumer is lazy, uneducated and doesn't want to be hassled, but people's behavior is quite different, actually," Foster says, citing the popularity of reusable shopping bags as an example of what consumers are willing to do.
Familiar yet futuristic design
In the early stages of development, Replenish enlisted help from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry to make sure the design could be manufactured profitably and was cradle-to-cradle inspired. "They helped in navigating the infinite possibilities in this respect," Foster recalls. In June 2011, Replenish received Silver Cradle to Cradle Certification for the reusable concentrate mixing and delivery system, which is both intuitive and iconic.
Intuitive: Once you see someone use the Replenish bottle system, "you totally get it," Foster enthuses. Its simplicity is showcased in the minimal instructions on the label: "Flip, squeeze pod. Mix, slowly fill with water."
Iconic: The Replenish bottle is elegant, feminine and strong. It resembles the familiar spray bottle, so people would recognize it and wouldn't be alienated or confused. "But it's different enough to engage people to question an assumption," Foster says. "It was a fine balance of being traditional but, at the same time, engaging, forward-looking, futuristic—and helps you understand the benefit." The bottle, with its built-in measuring cup, is an all-in-one design, providing a no-mess way to make cleaner from concentrate.
The reusable bottle and trigger sprayer are made with the fewest number of parts and no obsolescence so they will last, which is a fundamental difference compared to typical disposable bottles. The Replenish bottle has a lifespan of at least three years—as many as 40 pods can be applied before a foam ring between pod and bottle begins to wear out, and that could then be replaced. "The consumable portion—the part that you're squeezing again and again—you can replace," Foster explains. "That way you're isolating the wear and tear on the bottle. The rest of the bottle is designed to be permanent."
The PP sprayer from Afa Polytek (North America) Inc. was still working after 10,000 trigger pulls, which was the limit of the performance test. Where a normal spray head has about two dozen moving parts, this one only has nine, and it's all plastic—no metal springs or coils to rust and go bad—which means a lot of potential failure points are eliminated in this design. The longevity of an all-plastic sprayer was a happy by-product, though. Foster admits he was shooting for a totally recyclable container and metal in the closure would have nixed that.
Nearly invisible branding on the bottle—the logo is etched into the front panel during plastic molding—is another sign of the container's permanence, intuitive design and functionality. "Think of Replenish more like an appliance or a tool," Foster says. "We knew that consumers would have a different relationship with the product when they got it home. They don't need instructions printed on the bottle."
"How hard could it be?"
Foster remembers thinking naïvely at the beginning, "How hard could it be to create a bottle with two holes in it?" But the radical Replenish bottle—with threads at the top for the sprayer and at the bottom for the pod—created a host of manufacturing obstacles.
Experts at Radius Product Development helped Replenish work out the engineering issues and coordinated intense collaboration between project contributors, including valve and spray developers, materials suppliers, primary manufacturers and chemists.
The bottle is injection molded without a bottom by Five Star Plastics in Eau Claire, WI, using Eastar copolyester EN067 resin from Eastman Chemical. Due to its slower crystallization kinetics, the PETG resin can produce injection-molded parts that are free of crystalline haze.
The bottle's base is precision molded separately, with reverse threads for holding the pod. Two valves are seated and a cap is sonic-welded to hold them in place. The measuring cup—a cone on stilts, as Foster describes it—also is precision molded and ultrasonically sealed to the base. This combined piece then is sonic-welded to the bottom of the bottle. (An animated illustration showing this semi labor-intensive assembly can be seen on Five Star Plastics' homepage at www.five-star-plastics.com.)
Steve Piltz, vp of rapid prototyping and partner at Five Star Plastics, says the company did prototypes and validated the design for manufacturability. Also, Radius figured out how to weld the pieces together without incurring burn marks typical of ultrasonic sealing by controlling the order of assembly, as well as by how Five Star made the tooling.
As volume rises, Foster says he will tap plastics manufacturing leader Nypro, the parent company of Radius, for large-scale manufacturing. He will, however, keep some of the business with Five Star, which he describes as "a small manufacturer, but great on taking risks."
The two silicone valves from Vernay Laboratories Inc. are engineered to allow proper product flow yet prevent leaking, especially with the various pressures encountered during product use—that is, squeezing the pod, releasing the squeeze and the pressure of a filled bottle. One valve releases the liquid into the bottle; the second one lets air back into pod to keep it from collapsing.
Bruce Kealey, new product account manager (West Coast) at Vernay, explains, "We chose a valve with a high-enough cracking pressure [the pressure needed to open the valve] that allows enough force to get a good sealing force. Then it comes down to making sure the two mating surfaces are as perfect as you could get."
Joy Brim, Vernay's global marketing manager, adds, "We put value in our engineers. They know how to look at a part and where it's going to be used and are able to turn that into a product that's going to function properly, because it is a critical component. If it doesn't work, the whole system doesn't work."
The valve works so well that a filled bottle won't leak even when the pod is removed.
Pods are extrusion blow molded using Eastman's Eastar Copolyester EB062, a resin from the same family as the bottle but in an extrusion grade. It's suitable for applications where aesthetics such as high clarity and gloss, coupled with design flexibility, are in demand.
A more recent switch was changing the pods from 4 oz to 3 oz to lower the entry price from $7.99 to $6.99 for one bottle/pod, and from $3.99 to $3.49 for a refill pod. Foster explains this move delivers even more value to consumers. "As we gain scale, we'll continue to drive down the price to parity with competitive bottles," he says. The 3-oz pods are lighter and even easier to squeeze. Because they nest, Replenish was able to reduce the height of shipping cases by 0.5 in.
Pods are filled by contract manufacturer/packager Northern Labs Inc. in Manitowoc, WI, (about 200 miles from Five Star) using standard filling equipment. "That's the one area where we didn't have to design anything new," Foster stresses. "That is a key, key, key thing."
Brian Gates, operations manager at Northern Labs, says, "We do a lot of liquid products for home and institutional use, and this is one that's more unique in the style, shape and size of it. Our people were excited about the opportunity to be part of it."
Although Gates respectfully declined to identify machinery manufacturers, he did do a virtual walk down the packaging line.
Northern Labs brings in all the raw materials and packaging components, which are inspected and tested before using them. It formulates the product in four scents-Fresh Lavender, Green Tea, Sun Lemon and Free-and-Clear.
Pods are filled on an in-line volumetric filler, then go on to an automatic capping station where white continuous-thread PP closures with inner seals from Rexam Closures & Containers (recently purchased by Berry Plastics) are applied. Bottles then pass through an induction sealer. Next, at the labeling station, four clear film p-s labels printed in one color (white) are added: one to the front of the pod, one to the back and one on each side of the top.
The Replenish bottle/pod combo pack appears on retail shelves side-by-side with separate refill pods.
Once bottles are made and assembled at Five Star, they are married with a filled pod shipped from Northern Labs. Closures are removed and disposed of because the inner seal is still connected to the pod.
Shrink-sleeve labels from Group Lelys and JCP Label Systems are positioned over the combo pack, which travels through a heat tunnel. Foster still ist testing the shelf presence of different shrink label designs but admits that the retailer may dictate which label it wants. One of the designs has a QR code and invites shoppers to scan the code to watch the Replenish story.
Hang tags from Bedford Industries with simple messages and usage instructions are dropped around the bottle's neck and the sprayers are screwed on. Final bottle/pods are case packed in counts of six and palletized.
Foster is excited about the brand's new retail-ready displays for the refill pods, which add simple, colorful and yet effective messages at the point of purchase—something the previous shelf display was lacking. "What we learned and fought hard for was the retailer has to let us tell that story. They have to want to educate their consumer," Foster says. "You can't just show the pods on the shelf and expect people to notice them from a distance."
Replenish worked closely with its new retail partner Tesco, who provided "a lot of feedback," Foster says, on a design that best communicates with consumers at shelf yet still works within the confines of the retailer's system. "Tesco wants to be part of that conversation with their customers. They see it as a vital level of differentiation and shows that they're proactive, leading, responsible," Foster says. "I've been impressed with what I've seen in Europe and other countries. In Europe, they don't like to touch just one of anything. Tesco wants everything to come in trays."
With a different message and color for each of the four scents, the trays create a billboard that is easier for shoppers to see than the previous clear shelf display, especially when the scents are stocked side by side. Each message builds on the others, as a way of continuing to explain the product/package benefits.
The pod display also makes the shelf space more productive for the retailer: Trays of six pods can stack two high (at least) in one shelf row/facing, for a total of 12. Since each pod can make three bottles, this is the equivalent of 36 16-oz bottles of pre-mixed cleaners. Retailers can raise their revenue base by selling a lot more product in a lot less space.
Since its November 2010 introduction, Replenish has earned numerous accolades:
• It was one of eight products chosen (from thousands evaluated) for a 2012 Good Housekeeping VIP (Very Innovative Products) Award.
• The editors of Martha Stewart magazine picked Replenish as an essential item for spring cleaning in the March 2012 issue.
• In July 2011, it received a Bronze Intl. Design Excellence Award (IDEA) in Packaging & Graphics.
• Replenish was Best New Product in 2010 on Alice.com and, today, is the third most popular cleaner on the e-commerce site. Three Replenish products are on Alice.com's top 10 best sellers list in the cleaning category.
• Perhaps most prestigious of all, Replenish won a 2011 Edison Award. This award program was established in 1987 to honor Thomas Edison's wide-ranging contributions to technology and consumer products, and to inspire continued innovation in the U.S.
Most telling, though, is the brand's success with consumers and retailers.
Consumers: "Sales have been outstanding. We have achieved double-digit market share in the markets we serve," Foster says. He estimates average usage for one bottle would be about six months. "We're seeing people come back in three to four months. People are leaving the bottle out and cleaning more."
Retailers: "For this product, you have to have the right shelf presence; the retailer has to give you the space to tell the story," Foster says. "With some of the new retail channels that we're going into, we're getting an unprecedented amount of shelf space. We wouldn't get that unless there was a clear advantage."
This February, Replenish will be sold through its first retail store in Japan, will gain distribution in Korea, will expand its reach in Canada through more Canadian Tire outlets and will launch into 600+ Tesco stores in the U.K. "Tesco has been the most eager and excited about reuse. In the U.S., we're still stuck in the concept of recycling," Foster says.
Foster sees the brand's next growth spurt through two avenues: line extensions ("Stay tuned!" Foster says) and contract manufacturing for other consumer products companies willing to embrace reusable packaging. The bottle/pod concept can be tailored to custom sizes and/or other bottle designs for such products as beverages, lawn and garden care, and virtually any product that consists largely of water.
Replenish puts a modern twist on an age-old value. "The idea of disposability and ultra-convenience is only about 60 years old," Foster points out. "We can still go back to some of the great virtues [of reuse] that we had earlier."
Afa Polytek (North America) Inc., 636-300-3110. www.afadispensinggroup.com
Bedford Industries, 877-233-3673. www.elastitag.com
Berry Plastics (formerly Rexam Closures & Containers), 812-306-2000. www.berryplastics.com
Eastman Chemical, 423-229-2000. www.eastman.com
Five Star Plastics Inc., 715-831-1682. www.five-star-plastics.com
Group Lelys, 800-361-3961. www.lelys.com/en/
JCP Label Systems, 972-722-7727. www.jcplabel.com
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), 434-295-1111. www.mbdc.com
Northern Labs Inc., 920-684-7137. www.northernlabs.com
Nypro, 630-671-2000. www.nypro.com
Radius Product Development, 312-664-1333. www.radiuspd.com
Vernay Laboratories, 404-994-2000. www.vernay.com
xpedx, 919-467-8141. www.xpedx.com
Replenish founder and chief reuser Jason Foster will tell the tale of commercializing his reuse+refill container concept at the Sustainability in Packaging 2012 conference. The event, to be held March 12-14 at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate in Orlando, FL, is organized by Pira Intl. in association with Packaging Digest and Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News.
His presentation, "Not your Grandparent's Spray Bottle: Building a New Platform for Concentrates with Replenish," is scheduled for Tues., March 13, at 1:30 to 3:00 p.m., as part of the segment "Innovative Packaging Design to Minimize Waste with Collaboration of Converters and Suppliers."