Simple Green, in name and deed

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1, Freelance Writer

January 30, 2014

10 Min Read
Simple Green, in name and deed
The scalable design of the new package enables Simple Green to use the bottle in a range of sizes, including 16, 22 and 32 oz.



Simple Green Family

In the past decade, environmentally friendly cleaning products have proliferated like, well, weeds. But one of the pioneer brands in the category, Simple Green, has no intention of being overrun: Brand owner Sunshine Makers Inc. recently completed a major restaging of Simple Green spray packaging with an eye to both brand equity and improved sustainability. 


The 38-year-old brand launched the new consumer packaging for its family of concentrated cleaning products in April 2013 and plans to roll out the same proprietary design for Simple Green institutional/industrial concentrates. Sunshine Makers gave the package-restaging initiative the catchy moniker "Project 13."

"The goal was to go all the way back to ground zero, so to speak, to analyze the materials we were using, where we could make enhancements, where we could improve our sustainability, and of equal importance, where we could provide a very specific and prolific brand identity," says Jeff Hyder, svp of sales and operations, Simple Green.

Regarding branding, he adds that numerous other companies had been "knocking off the appearance of our packaging, utilizing either ‘green' or the word ‘simple' in their products and actually making slight modifications to our bottle shape. We felt it was time to go into a new proprietary shape, so there would be no confusion as to whether or not people were buying an authentic Simple Green product. It was time to rebrand ourselves from an aesthetic point of view."

As for the sustainability goal, Sunshine Makers evaluated every aspect of its previous packaging, from bottle-preform weight to the number of corrugated dividers in cases of finished goods, to create more eco-friendly packaging for Simple Green. 

Although the brand owner has, from the beginning, sourced everything possible for its products and packaging from U.S. suppliers, it was looking for additional ways to reduce carbon footprint and the overall environmental impact of its packaging. "We knew we needed something new. We knew we needed to increase our sustainability profile," Hyder says. 

The result was a reduction of resin in the bottle and trigger sprayer, use of post-consumer plastic in the bottle, elimination of metal from the sprayer and, unexpectedly, less operational waste and higher line speeds-plus continued use of only U.S.-made packaging components. And of course the new PET bottle, like the old one, is recyclable.

Branding and ergonomics
To achieve its branding goal, Sunshine Makers redesigned the Simple Green bottle and label. The bottle's front panel is larger than before, and so is the label. The new label graphics quickly communicate the brand, type of cleaner (SKU) and key product attributes—"Concentrated, Non-Toxic & Biodegradable Formula." Further, the Simple Green brand name is embossed on the side panel of the new bottle. 

"We manufacture virtually all concentrates, and we want to make sure when somebody is off-pouring our [Simple Green] gallon into a spray bottle that there is no confusion about what's inside that spray bottle as they continue to use our product," Hyder says. "Even if consumers do self-made label modifications, it's impossible to escape the fact that they are utilizing a Simple Green bottle" because of the embossing.

The new spray bottle is sold at retail in 16-, 22-, 24- and 32-oz sizes and is compatible with the various chemical formulas of Simple Green's numerous products, which range from the concentrated original formula to ready-to-use cleaners for glass, carpet and lime scale. Simple Green also has started transitioning to the new design for industrial products in 24- and 32-oz sizes, rolling out through the end of the year.

Ergonomics played a key role in the bottle design, which reduces hand strain and enhances the consumer's product-use experience. Finger grips are molded into the bottle's neck, and the wide variation in consumers' hand sizes was considered during the redesign.

"In the past, we considered our target market to be more male than female, but we have determined that our users are split 50/50 between males and females," Hyder says. "So we wanted to make sure that whether or not it was a large-handed man in the industrial/institutional side of our business or a housewife with a couple kids trying to clean up a mess, that the bottle, from an ergonomic point of view, would allow them to utilize the product to its fullest. We made cleaning comfortable."

He adds that Sunshine Makers performed a great deal of modeling and used starch molding and testing to arrive at a bottle design that met those ergonomic objectives. The brand owner worked closely with bottle supplier CKS Packaging Inc. on the redesign, and Sunshine Makers has a pending patent application for the new bottle design.

The package's trigger sprayer is also ergonomic. In addition to its easy-grip lever, the sprayer features an intuitive foaming feature, a mesh door over the nozzle which, when closed, converts sprayed product to foam. When the door is flipped to the open position, the sprayed product remains liquid.

According to MeadWestvaco (MWV) Corp., which designed and supplies the VersaPlast all-plastic trigger sprayer used on the new Simple Green package, the sprayer delivers 28 percent more product per trigger pull. And each full spray covers a 24 percent wider area than previously.

The durability of the package, including the sprayer, was particularly important for Simple Green. The sprayer "has to last throughout the life cycle of the bottle," says Bill Riley, president, Home and Garden, MWV. "With Simple Green that's really important, because [with] concentrated formulas that sprayer has to last generally more than one life cycle of the bottle."

In addition, Simple Green has a 100 percent money-back guarantee. That applies to "all facets of the product, whether it's the efficacy of the cleaning chemical itself, the bottle performance or the trigger performance. If a customer calls and a trigger has failed, we throw a new trigger in an envelope and ship it to them," Hyder says.

He adds, "By the time we decide to put something on our bottle, we have good confidence that we're not going to become the U.S. Postal Service, throwing triggers in envelopes every single day. We felt very confident with the build quality of the [new sprayer]." 

In fact, MWV's lab qualification for all its sprayers ensures they will last for more than 10,000 strokes, Riley says. Simple Green is the first North American brand to use the all-plastic VersaPlast sprayer, which is an adaptation of MWV's European version of the sprayer, VersaPlast SP05.

The green angle
The last piece of the restaging puzzle-enhancing sustainability-is a success story in its own right. The new package reinforces the brand's core value of environmental consciousness, keeping green features from the previous package, like recyclability and U.S. sourcing, and adding some important new ones.

For example, the new bottle uses less PET resin than the one it replaces. Like the previous bottle, the new one is blow molded.

"We did a lot of testing to see if we could take some grams out of the [PET] preforms based on the size of the bottles, and the shape and design of the bottle," says Hyder. "We were able to decrease the gram weight of all our preforms by around 6 percent, which, when you think about it, is quite substantial over the life of this bottle shape."

Sunshine Makers also wanted to use as much post-consumer waste in the new bottle as possible, without losing clarity in the finished package. "We've always been in clear bottles, and we wanted to make sure that they continued to shine like emeralds," Hyder explains. "We've been able to take the post-consumer waste up to 25 percent, and we continue to test quarterly with other resins that might allow us to increase that percentage."

Source reduction also influenced the choice of trigger sprayers. Made primarily from polypropylene and polyethylene, the new, all-plastic sprayer uses 10 percent less resin than the previous one and is lighter weight. The new sprayer eliminates more than 19 tons of resin and 10 tons of steel per year vs. the old one, which was built with a stainless steel spring and ball.

Trigger sprayers are not recyclable, and the all-plastic sprayer is no exception. However, the new sprayer does aid recycling in its own way. "For the bottle to be recycled, the sprayer has to be easily removed," Riley says. "The non-ratcheted screw-closure configuration that we came up with for the VersaPlast sprayer actually facilitates the recyclability of the bottle," because the sprayer is easy to remove.

The spring in the new sprayer is made from acetal resin, which ensures "a quick return of the trigger lever after actuation," Riley says. "Some plastics have a little softer feel or not-as-quick of a return on the trigger level. ...We wanted to have a feeling similar to that of a metal spring, in a plastic configuration. The acetal material provides that robust feel of durability and spray performance."

MWV manufactures the sprayers in Winfield, Kan., using high-cavitation molds and high-speed, automated assembly with redundant quality checks throughout the assembly process. The bottles are made in Atlanta by CKS Packaging.
Sunshine Makers' commitment to U.S. sourcing adds yet another sustainability benefit-smaller carbon footprint via reduced shipping distances-and also encourages the local economies where manufacturing and packaging are performed. 

In the plant
Simple Green products are filled and packed in the Garden Grove, CA, and Lawrenceville, GA, facilities of Goodwin Co., a contract packager. Remarkably, no new equipment was needed to run the new package on those lines, and modifications to the lines were minimal.

Sunshine Makers ran numerous line tests to make sure the new packaging would run well, but ultimately the adjustments to the equipment were "nothing outside of the norm at all," Hyder says. "There was no substantial investment in time or energy against any of the [packaging] equipment or anything related to the manufacturing process."

The packaging line flow looks like this:
• First the bottles are labeled using an NJM Packaging labeler, Model S91B5000. WS Packaging Group Inc. supplies Simple Green's holographic labels.
• A Laub/Hunt Packaging Systems filler, Model 30HPL, fills the bottles.
• Dip tubes are manually inserted into the bottles as they move down the line to a Pack West Machinery Auto 120 torquer.
• A Markem-Imaje Sigma S7 coder applies date codes to the bottles.
• The bottles are manually packed into cases.
• A Zebra 110PAX4 print-and-apply system labels the packed cases.
• After workers manually palletize the cases, pallets are wrapped using a Lantech Q-1000 stretch wrapper (a conveyorized turntable wrapper).

In the early line testing, Sunshine Makers and Goodwin spent time creating a "perfect marriage" between the label, the labeler and the new bottle, Hyder says. Consequently, a previous problem with mislabeled bottles has essentially been eliminated. Operators no longer lose time pulling bad bottles off the line, and packaging waste has been reduced.

"We've been able to take this bottle to a point where we have 99.6 percent label efficiency in application. We're not seeing any darting, we're not seeing any line failures in comparison to our previous bottle. So far that has been a substantially bigger win than we anticipated, and we're able to do that across all sizes," Hyder reports, adding that packaging line speeds are up 2 to 3 percent overall.

For the future, he says, Sunshine Makers will continue to work on the sustainability of its packaging: "We're continuing to play with other resins. There are new resins being developed daily. And we're going to continue to push the envelope of using post-consumer waste. It's the right thing to do. It makes sense, and we're going to continue to move that way," Hyder says.


Kate Bertrand Connolly is a seasoned freelance writer based in the San Francisco area covering the packaging, food and technology markets. You can contact her at [email protected].


CKS Packaging Inc., 800-800-4257,
Goodwin Co., 770-995-9481,
Lantech, 502-815-9109,
Laub/Hunt Packaging Systems, 888-671-9338,
Markem-Imaje USA, 770-421-7700,
MeadWestvaco Corp. (MWV), 804-444-1000,
NJM Packaging, 603-448-0300,
Pack West Machinery, 626-814-4766,
WS Packaging Group Inc., 800-818-5481,
Zebra Technologies Corp., 866-230-9494,



About the Author(s)

Kate Bertrand Connolly 1

Freelance Writer

Kate Bertrand Connolly has been covering innovations, trends, and technologies in packaging, branding, and business since 1981.

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