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Walk the aisles of your local supermarket and consider all the shelves devoted to liquid products—not just beverages, but the number of food, cleaning, and personal care items that have a liquid component. Now think about how much that liquid weighs, where it came from, and how much energy it took to get it to your store.
We like to vilify the bottled water industry as an example of waste because it takes millions of gallons of oil to produce and ship those bottles. Yet according to Beverage Marketing Corp., we purchase nearly the same amount of water—8 billion gallons each year—as an ingredient in our cleaning supplies and personal care products.
Water is the main ingredient in most household and grocery staples. All-purpose cleaners are 95 percent water; shampoos are 70 percent to 80 percentwater; creams and lotions are 50 percent water; and juices and sodas are 90 percent to 99 percent water.
All that water has a cost.
In cleaning products alone, reducing the amount of water by just 25 percent would save companies $200 million in transportation costs annually and, by reducing fuel consumption, keep 1.4 billion pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere. According to our estimates, that would save the same amount of emissions as replacing every new Hummer purchased in the U.S. since 2006 with a Prius.
Unfortunately, consumer perceptions have kept concentrates from becoming as popular as their ready-made counterparts. Concentrates gained a reputation for being messy, labor-intensive, low-budget, and simply old-fashioned. As a result, there was no thought or investment put into improving them.
Arm & Hammer tried concentrates in 2008 with their Essentials line, but the product was quietly phased out after only a year on the market. Arm & Hammer asked consumers to pay for an ordinary spray bottle and deal with a messy refill system. In a category where brands compete on convenience and value, that was a mistake.
Today, concentrates are poised for a renaissance. Engineers, scientists, and designers are refashioning concentrates for the 21st century, focusing on new benefits that going waterless can provide consumers (see sidebar). What does a winning experience look like to the modern day consumer? It’s not as simple as pushing the same old frozen OJ.
Replenish Bottling in West Hollywood, Calif., has succeeded by incorporating the refill system into the bottle design. In doing this, the company eliminated the empty bottle and made refilling look easy—even fun. Suave’s new dry shampoo is an unconventional example. It is not a concentrate in the traditional sense, but it addresses the water problem in a new way.
Beyond minimizing the amount of water in the actual product, dry shampoo cuts the amount of water used during the hair washing process. It makes it possible to do touch-up washes without getting in the shower. This can be a water, energy, and time saver for people who frequently wash and style their hair.
Initially it will cost businesses more to formulate new products. Powdered, gel, and tablet forms require a balance of different ingredients to dissolve instantly, hold together, or keep from clumping. Concentrates can also require more energy to produce. Juice, which naturally has high water content, is the perfect example of this. It requires extra energy to remove the water and turn it into a concentrated form.
The biggest challenge for companies shifting to concentrated forms of their product will be ceding control of key components. Concentrates require some form of self-assembly. This means companies must take their formulation, packaging, and even branding—the foundational pillars of most consumer products—and hand control of them to the user. Done wrong, this could mean losing what makes your product special.
This happened to Kraft’s Tang brand in South America, where Tang is considered premium and the same quality as fresh juice. Recently Kraft noticed that local customers were substituting a lower-cost juice mix and serving it as “Tang.” The two looked and tasted the same. With nothing to distinguish it from its cheaper competitors, Tang was no longer worth the higher price.
To solve the problem, Kraft developed a unique concoction that looked and smelled more like fresh juice. The R&D team added foam and fruit pulp that made Tang look just like a pitcher of freshly blended juice. They also reformulated the taste, making it more authentic to the regional fruit flavors. The new Tang has been a huge hit in Brazil.
Companies must focus on what their consumers truly value and design a product that delivers that benefit. They must go beyond the old-fashioned powders and messy concoctions of yesterday and imagine new, engaging experiences that beat ready-made. Looking ahead, the concentrates of the future promise a triple win—for business, for the environment, and for consumers.