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P&G has introduced a new bag-in-box for North American e-commerce channels to ship Liquid Tide laundry detergent with greatly increased efficiency. Tim Sykes spoke to some of the creators of the new format.

Many of the most audacious recent innovations in packaging have been driven by the demands of online retail, as the model begins to mature and industry works out the requirements and pitfalls of its extended and bumpy supply chains. Garçon Wines’ ‘letterboxable’ flat profile wine bottle, Rieke’s leak-free spray pump and Uflex’s waterless flower AMAP packaging are just three examples of reinventing formats in direct response to changing distribution patterns. In the background, Amazon has played an active role in driving adaptation and efficiency through its Frustration Free Packaging program and broader engagement with brands and OEMs.

In this context, Tide has ingeniously re-imagined its classic liquid detergent with a new Eco-Box package containing an ultra-concentrated formula designed for e-commerce in North America. The new Tide Eco-Box arrives on a shopper's doorstep in a shipping-safe cardboard box. On the inside the box is a sealed bag of ultra-compacted Tide liquid laundry detergent. To use, a perforated cardboard flap is peeled off to reveal a dosing cup and a new ‘no-drip’ twist tap. To make dosing simpler on flat surfaces, the box includes pull-out legs to raise the height of the box, so the cup fits easily beneath the tap. The pack features one further convenience feature that is hidden to the user: P&G’s designers have incorporated a cardboard ramp into the inside of the package, so that gravity ensures all the detergent is used without consumers having to tilt the box.

‘Eco-Box’ was named as a kind of pun, underlining the ‘eco’ in ‘e-com’: the format will have a lighter shipping footprint, as it dispenses with the need for an overbox or void fill as is frequently required when sending bricks-and-mortar packaging through online retail channels. Shipping in its own container of course chimes with the best practice Amazon has been promoting through the Frustration Free Packaging program, and the design meets a variety of retailer certifications, including ISTA 6A-SIOC and the ISTA 3A industry standards.

Innovation for the last mile

To eliminate excess packaging, P&G designed the Tide Eco-Box to ship as efficiently as possible on its journey from a manufacturing site to a retailer’s warehouse to a consumer’s front door. “The Tide Eco-Box has been designed to reduce the environmental impact of shipping laundry detergent in e-commerce, which is a rapidly growing part of our business,” Elizabeth Kinney, North America Fabric Care sustainability, P&G, told Packaging Europe. “The ‘last mile’ – or getting the product to the consumer’s door – remains the biggest challenge, both economically and environmentally in e-commerce, so the team started with that specific challenge and designed back from there. As a result, the changes we've made include designing the Eco-Box to contain less packaging, 60 per cent less plastic and 30 per cent less water in the product formula than the current 150 oz Tide press-tap. Additionally, the boxed design doesn’t require any secondary re-boxing or bubble wrap.”

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These changes to the product and package make an appreciable difference to shipping weights: that of the current 96 load Tide press-tap of liquid detergent per container is about 12 lbs [5.4 kg], while the weight for the compacted 96 load Tide Eco-Box wrapped for shipping is just 7.9 lbs [3.6 kg].

Ty Martin, associate director, Fabric Care Packaging Development, shared some insights into the challenges of the R&D project. “In general, the impact forces experienced in e-commerce shipping and handling are challenging for packages containing liquid,” he said. “The larger and heavier the liquid content, the more difficult it becomes to sustain drops, especially for rigid plastic containers. The unique ability of corrugated boxes and flexible bags to absorb impact energy without failure was part of what led us to the technologies we are using in Tide Eco-Box. Of course, we were diligent about ensuring the consumer experience was equal to or better than the current bottles. This required going beyond readily available designs by adding in unique features such as the internal ramp and the collapsible legs.”

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The packaging development project addressed the classic last-mile pain points in three specific areas, according to Ty. This begins with the basic structure. “The Eco-Box is a robust shipper,” he observed. “The boxed design is a great chassis to ship heavy liquids in. The bag-in-box combination offers significantly more puncture resistance than a pouch alone and when combined with a cardboard shell absorbs significantly more impact from drops or falls than a ridged plastic bottle. Secondly, the dose cup and dosing spout are protected in shipment. “The eco-box protects the dosing cap and spout inside of the shipping footprint during shipment and uses a patent-pending opening mechanism to simply transition the spout outside of the footprint for use.” Thirdly, the cubic form facilitates easier storage, shipping and delivery. “In fact, we made the shape so compact we developed collapsible legs to make it easier to position the dose cup underneath the spout when is use,” Ty revealed.

“E-commerce isn’t a trend anymore”

The Tide Eco-Box represents the first product launch originating from P&G Fabric Care’s eCommerce Innovation Group. “For the first time, we have designed a package ‘e-comm-Back’ – beginning with the unique challenges and opportunities the e-commerce environment presents,” said Sundar Raman, VP of P&G’s North America Fabric Care business. “This is a fundamentally different approach than we’ve taken in the past and represents our relentless obsession with delighting consumers – wherever they want to purchase our brands.”

P&G vows to continue innovating in the e-commerce space as it adapts its product offerings for the channels its consumers are shopping. “We have some pretty exciting e-commerce projects we’re working on, and that shouldn’t be surprising,” says Isaac Hellemn, brand manager for eCommerce innovation in P&G’s Fabric Care group. “E-commerce isn’t a trend anymore, it’s a reality, and we’re excited to keep innovating for it.”

The Tide Eco-Box will be available exclusively online at major e-commerce retailers in the US beginning in January 2019.