How are disruptive brands also disrupting packaging design?

Disruption has become the way of the retail world. For every long-standing brand name, there seems to be a host of new, young start-ups who are changing things up.    

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Take the likes of Dollar Shave Club, for instance, which disrupted the way we buy razors by creating a subscription model that sent them right to our door. It so disrupted the traditional way of doing things that Unilever eventually stepped in and bought the company.  Among many product categories there is a familiar way of buying and packaging things, which often may not have changed for years. But as these start-ups are disrupting products or the way we buy them, they’re also reinventing the way these items are packaged.  Home cleaning product brand cleancult has done away with much of the traditional plastic packaging you would normally see liquid soaps, detergents and other household cleaners in.  Its ecommerce subscription service allows customers to buy plastic packaging for these items with their first purchase only. Subsequent orders are sent out in paper cartons which can be used to refill the plastic ones. The packaging is fully recyclable.  Deodrant company Myro and soap company Method are also exploring similar concepts with customers getting a plastic or glass container that they can then buy refills for. There is still some plastic involved in the refills, but far less than if a customer was to buy new outer containers each time.  It’s easy to understand why it’s the new brands on the block that seem to be changing packaging so much.

A large, well-established household name has a much larger and more complex production and supply chain to contend with. Making changes to that is not necessarily easy or without significant cost. To implement them across the entire company is no small operation.  New brands, on the other hand, are creating their supply chains from scratch. This means they can factor in different materials and designs and build a system around them, rather than trying to adapt one. They also tend to be closely attuned to the wants of their customers, which is reflected in the design choices.  Many disruptive brands start life online, which means they’re designing their packaging with home delivery in mind. This can prompt certain decisions around shape and material to best maximise efficient logistics, while creating a pleasant unboxing experience. The choice of packaging and design means that buying a new razor blade is no longer a mundane habitual task, but a nice little moment.  The other way these brands are disrupting product packaging is by creating more unusual, interesting or substantial designs in the first place. With more and more start-ups exploring the idea of refillable products, it stands to the reason that the first-purchase reusable packaging needs to be more robust than it might have been in the past.  There is also the opportunity to make it more attractive as with Myro’s deodorant holders.

The high-end design looks nothing like the standard deodorant packaging. It’s the sort of packaging you’re proud to have on display and happy to keep seeing over and over again. The brands recognise that to make refills work people have to want to keep the packaging around – something that it’s not easy to say about your average bottle or jar.  And while this disruption may be on a small scale for now, it’s important not to overlook the wider impact. As customers move towards these newer brands with their fresh approaches to packaging and products, so the traditional big names are also adapting to keep up. It seems disruption breeds standardisation, so if you want to know where packaging might go next look no further than the ecommerce disruptors.  

By Cate Trotter, Head of Trends at Insider Trends.