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  • 16 Sep 2020

Flexxing the boundaries of packaging

AeroFlexx, a disruptive new packaging form is set to change the face of consumer packaging

Virtual Label Summit 2020 speakers Ken McGuire, research fellow at P&G; Ben Greengrass, creative director at ThoughtMatter; and Cedric D’Souza, CTO at AeroFlexx talk about how a disruptive new packaging form they collaborated on is set to change the face of consumer packaging.

Why you decided to present at the Virtual Label Summit 2020?

Ken McGuire (KM): The AeroFlexx technology brings an entirely new approach to decorating liquid packaging forms. Instead of designing a bottle with a ruled surface, which typically limits the available decorable surface on a bottle (new and exciting shapes being necessary for defining brand equities), packages can now be designed and decorated in a 360 format. This brings exciting opportunities for beautiful new designs (which Ben will address in his portion of this talk). We think the Virtual Label Summit can help elevate these designs even further.

Ben Greengrass (BG): Yes, for me, it was the chance to tell the unique story and huge opportunity of this once-in-a-career packaging format. From a designer’s perspective, the chance to be involved in a project from ground zero vision, to ideation, structure design, design development and right through consumer testing to production, was a real eye-opening challenge not to be missed.

Cedric D’Souza (CD): There is tremendous momentum around what we are doing at AeroFlexx. This is a game changing innovation that combines the best of flexible and rigid packaging to create a completely new package form. The unique benefits and functionality of this package have created a sense of anticipation and elevated interest across the CPG industry. We are constantly looking to share our excitement and plans with potential customers and build partnerships with world class suppliers. The Virtual Label summit presents a wonderful opportunity to do this.

Can you give a sneak preview of what you will be speaking about in your conference session?

KM: My portion of the talk will address the ‘spark’ of the new idea. I’ll discuss why, in 2012, P&G wanted to play in this area, and I’ll also cover some of the early (ugly) prototypes that we created in late 2012 and through 2013. I’ll cover the ‘a-ha’ moments that led us to believe that we had something revolutionary and irresistible, some of our early in market tests (in 2015-2016), and our evolution to a winning e-commerce package (2016) with plenty of opportunities in brick and mortar stores as well.

BG: I’ll be covering how the power of design can be a huge influence on the consumer experience. This is especially true when there are no pre-existing constraints in the design process to deal with, such as structure and labeling. Also, when product creation, production, design and end delivery all work in sync, the magic can really happen.

CD: I will share our plans to make AeroFlexx the biggest packaging disruption of the decade. I will describe how this technology invented by P&G is being scaled up by a start-up company and made available for adoption to all brands and companies across the industry. Anyone wanting to differentiate their offerings and grow their business via this disruptive innovation can have access to it.

How AeroFlexx came about?

KM: Without giving away too much in my talk, we began back in 2012 with the vision of obsoleting the rigid plastic bottle – the standard packaging form for most of the CPG industry’s liquid products. We wanted to create a package that had better consumer appeal (most noticeable in the one-handed use through the proprietary, integrated one-way valve), better sustainability profile (up to 70 percent less plastic than a bottle), with a potential long-term cost benefit.

CD: AeroFlexx is an Innventure portfolio company. Innventure works with multinational companies to commercialize market changing technologies. We focus on systemically aligning innovative technologies with substantial market opportunities and rapidly commercializing them into highly successful businesses. AeroFlexx came about through our association with P&G, from whom we have licensed the technology.

What challenges did you encounter along the way?

KM: The challenges, as with any disruptive innovation, were continuous and many times unexpected. The key to succeeding with this kind of innovation is recognizing the challenges as opportunities. Many times, these challenges force a pivot in direction which can be freeing if viewed through that lens. For example, our first brick and mortar in-market test showed an immediate drop in sales of 50 percent. As we penetrated the reasons for this dramatic downturn, we found that consumers didn’t recognize the product in the new form and didn’t understand how this would benefit them. This led to new artwork and a second market test done through e-commerce where video of the product usage could be incorporated into the online webpage. Realizing later that this package also does not require prep (tape over the cap, insertion into a secondary zipper bag, etc.) was icing on the cake and opened e-commerce as a ready market.

BG: In particular, really uncovering the prime uses for the format was one challenge that took some real experimentation and went through many iterations. Also thinking about how to educate the consumer on a brand new almost alien format and self-sealing technology was tough. The pack also had visual cues of a refill, so that needed addressing out of the gate. I will say though, having real buy-in from the client to push the boundaries of print made the design process enjoyable and engaging.

CD: Going forwards, our biggest challenge is scaling from lab to commercial production sooner. Early pilots have created a sense of anticipation, customers are excited, and the industry is anxious to leverage this technology at commercial scale. A major milestone is the startup of our lead commercial line in the second quarter of next year. The next big challenge is recyclability. While the package contains 50-70 percent less plastic, like most multilayer films widely employed today, it is not curbside recyclable. Getting to a structure, process and recycling infrastructure that enables curbside collection is a key priority and an exciting challenge for us. Doing all this in today’s environment where physical access and engagement with our partners across the globe is impossible, is making these challenges exponentially more exciting.

AeroFlexx has been described as the ‘perfect e-commerce package’. What makes it so special and why it could be a game-changer?

KM: Because AeroFlexx does not require any prep, and is ISTA-6 approved, it can be shipped directly with other products. This results in a substantial cost savings when shipped through e-commerce.

CD: Something that many of us will have experienced before is when a much-awaited package shows up at our doorstep as a soggy, sorry mess. A broken bottle cap is generally the prime culprit.  Air cushions, induction seals, shrink wrap and other excessive secondary packaging required to prevent this is both, expensive and wasteful. AeroFlexx needs none of this to maintain its integrity over the e-commerce supply chain. It can ship in an envelope with no extra prep. Customers save on packaging and the cost associated with managing returns and unhappy consumers.

What can we achieve with this new packaging?

KM: The benefits of using AeroFlexx include improved consumer experience – single handed use, precise dosing control, and an ability to “feel” the product through the package, and better overall sustainability profile by reducing plastic use by up to 70 percent versus a conventional bottle.

CD: In addition, AeroFlexx addresses several unmet and underdelivered needs of the consumer, customer and the environment in a single innovative offering. To the consumer, it’s a novel and delightful usage experience; to the customer it’s reduced e-commerce cost, fewer consumer complaints and increased agility in shape/size initiatives; and to the environment it’s 50-70 percent less plastic that is introduced into the planet.

What is the biggest packaging challenge facing the consumer goods industry currently?

KM: E-commerce is the most rapidly growing segment in the CPG industry and having packaging that is designed to be shipped in this market will be key to success. P&G has several initiatives aimed at this channel, and AeroFlexx is but one of them. Tide EcoBox has recently won a few industry awards and is also aimed at the e-commerce channel. The ultimate goal is to have packages that are both e-commerce and brick and mortar ready.

CD: Normally I would have suggested that designing for omni-channel distribution is the biggest challenge. Today, it’s hard to pick just one. I think the current Covid situation is simultaneously challenging and redefining every single node of the packaging value chain. From packaging material supply to production to distribution. From innovation to development to execution.  With restricted and limited physical access to assets and resources, companies are re-evaluating their business plans and finding new ways to adapt to this new normal. Those who figure this out will rule.

BG: Personally, I agree with both Ken and Cedric. New ways of cutting down on packaging and working in tandem with the big e-commerce retailers on seamless solutions will be huge. The challenge for design is to do this, but never compromise on the customer experience. Also, there’s work to be done on pushing harder to build emotional connections and experience online pre-sale. The new different world that may emerge post-Covid will leave consumers demanding even more from brands, and they’ll be looking for brands who can prove they are not only for us but with us.

How can customers learn more and gain access to the package?

CD: You can learn more about AeroFlexx by visiting our website. Feel free to reach out to me directly as well. We are currently working with customers across the globe to execute pilots with different brands, products and categories. In North America, we have successfully completed four e-commerce pilots, have two active executions, and are constantly adding to the list of new customers.

Can you give us a sneak preview of any other projects in the pipeline?

KM: Not without losing my job!

BG: My career took a huge change of direction pretty much directly after the AeroFlexx project. I do much less in the mainstream CPG world across the board and my current agency, the clients and the brands I engage with believe firmly in ‘positive impact’ as a ticket to the game for their businesses. This has widened the horizon of design disciplines and projects I operate in.

CD: AeroFlexx is a platform technology, and the interesting aspect of this platform technology is its ability to get more diverse in applications over time. Our innovation pipeline is guided largely by our key customers’ needs. We have plans to add on new shapes, sizes and features that are meaningful to our customers. We also have plans to develop new disruptive functionalities that I can’t unfortunately reveal right now.

Breakthrough Innovation in Packaging: From Design to Print session takes place on Friday, October 2, 2020, between 08.45-09.45 US Central Time.

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