Innovation and Engineering in America

The Time Is Now for Concentrates


Here are five consumer trends that suggest concentrates have the potential to capture consumers’ attention once again.

1. PERSONALIZATION

Gen Y has grown up with the ability to express their individuality through nearly everything they touch, from Facebook posts to the car they drive. Companies have capitalized on this desire to personalize, creating online platforms such as Nike ID, which allows shoppers to design their own sneakers by choosing colors, graphics, and even signatures. Toyota Scion has taken a similar approach with the “build your Scion” section of its website.

What if this ability to personalize could extend into the home—to such things as shampoo, soda, and fragrances? Ordinary household items designed to facilitate individual expression would provide Gen Y consumers with value above and beyond the competing one-size-fits-all option.

2. MINIMALISM

After the recent financial crisis, the American dream no longer includes a McMansion. In the downsized dream home of the future, space will be at a premium. Imagine if an entire cleaning arsenal could fit on one shelf or if the stacks of sodas in our garage were something that could be mixed up on demand, like Kool-Aid?

In the laundry category, this shift has already happened. Experiential products such as fizzy drinks may not take the same path. But the technology is available—just look at SodaStream, a countertop appliance that carbonates water from your tap. Using one carbonated canister and a variety of flavorings, SodaStream makes it possible to store the equivalent of seven cases of soda in one 10th the space.

3. PORTABILITY

People are living increasingly on-the-go lifestyles. This means they need to carry around more daily necessities. But that doesn’t mean they need to carry water. Water is everywhere—it doesn’t make sense to carry it around.

Starbucks VIA instant coffee and Listerine Pocket Packs take advantage of liquid sources away from home (yes, your mouth is a source of water). With VIA, the challenge was to get consumers to believe that quality coffee could come in powdered form. But first-year sales (2009) hit $180 million, indicating Starbucks met this challenge and proved that premium products can exist as concentrates. Imagine how many other formerly liquid products could be stashed unobtrusively in your pocket or bag, available whenever you need them if you just add water.

4. FRESHNESS

It may seem counterintuitive to argue that concentrates can be fresh. And compared with freshly squeezed orange juice or milk from a local dairy, they are not. But compared with ready-made products, concentrates seem fresher.

Think about instant oatmeal—no matter how long it sits in your cupboard, it still feels fresh every time it is prepared. Dry packets of mix-your-own salad dressing not only feel fresh when you whip them up in your kitchen; they also don’t contain the preservatives that shelf-stable salad dressings often do.

Beauty products that come in jars with expiration dates start to feel old after a while, but a powdered mud mask that gets mixed with water before being applied feels fresh every time. While concentrates will never replace made-from-scratch versions—especially when it comes to food—they can deliver convenient, authentic-feeling, freshly made experiences.

5. PRIDE

Most concentrates require some act of assembly. Traditionally this has been considered a negative, because it requires time and elbow grease. Yet there are countless examples of consumers choosing to do more work because they know it will make the result special.

We need only look at the resurgence of such activities as home brewing, canning, and cheese making to see that the Ikea effect—that people become more attached to things they construct themselves—is felt in categories far outside furniture. Concentrates designed to provide thoughtful preparation experiences can deliver this feeling of pride.

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Kristin Heist and Heather Reavey are design strategists at Continuum, a global innovation and design consultancy.

Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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