Delivering Personalization in a Circular Economy

April 29th, 2019

Consumer desires and expectations for personalization/customization in offerings across categories and their embracing of a future economic model that is circular by design are two of the macro trends that we’ve repeatedly seen with applicability across industries and opportunity spaces.

Personalization includes not only curated items but convenient forms and delivery options as well – catering to holistic needs for products that consumers view as being specifically for them. But with a heightened concern for the health of our planet, one component of a circular economy is minimizing waste and even reaching goals for zero waste.

These trends are both relevant, but as we’ve done some quick Social Media Ethnography research, the tension is evident as consumers try to strike a balance between personalization and low-waste. From our quick research, here are some of the pain points and delighters of these trends, and examples of how companies have begun solving for the tension.

Pain points

Consumers express delight with products and services that are customizable to their unique wants and needs — often manifested in unique forms and including options for delivery. These bespoke solutions are often delivered in small packages – for example, personalized, pre-packaged meals or supplements to be easily consumed on a daily basis. Although consumers have demonstrated an appetite for subscription boxes with customized contents, they are expressing frustration and misgivings with the amount of waste created from the convenient packages that simplify their daily routines. Job To Be Done: Give me products that are “for me and my family” while also being good for the earth.

“I was still left with a pile of little #4 plastic bags that are only recyclable at a special facility (which, let’s face it, are probably going to end up in the trash).” – Review

“Healthy groceries timed to arrive at your home when you do? #YesPlease However, its packaging created a lot of excess waste. 😞” -Twitter

“A HUGE downside is all this single-use waste. Yes, it’s super pretty packaging, but this isn’t even the full box I got, so more plastic will be thrown away before it’s finished.” – Instagram

Delighters

Tailor-made products that arrive in packages consumers deem “minimalist” and “clean” and with elements that are recyclable hold aesthetic appeal, and shoppers will often overlook any elements of wastefulness when they love the container and its contents. Job To Be Done: Give me convenient, fresh, personalized food and beauty in attractive and recycled/reusable packaging.

“The amber colored bottles are adorable, and the specifics of your [individual] formula are printed right on the label. Also, the box they came in was made from all recycled packaging.” – Blog

“Can we talk about this packaging? Aesthetically speaking, it couldn’t be more pleasing. The amber bottles help to protect the ingredients in the products, but I happen to love that it gives them an old-school, apothecary look. The personalized tags are a dream come true for monogram lovers like myself.” – Blog

“The packing materials are all recyclable and compostable. All this alleviates some of the angst we feel at the sheer amount of packaging needed to send and deliver fresh food.” – Review

Solutions

While some argue that personalized offerings are inherently less wasteful because they offer correct doses and suitable portions, and that bespoke attributes of hard goods and apparel drive consumers to keep/wear/use them longer, brands are taking steps to truly embrace circular economy principles where materials are sourced intentionally, kept in use for as long as possible, and reused at the conclusion of each useful cycle. Here are a few examples that we’ve seen:

The beauty industry as a whole is shifting toward more concentrated formulas – often waterless – which require less product to get the job done and also less packaging. Many shoppers are surprised to learn that personal care products are 95% water. LOLI  (Living Organic, Loving Ingredients) brings Zero Waste Beauty™ to life by sourcing ingredients from by-products of organic whole foods and then having consumers add the water. Its organic bases, mix-ins, and BIY (blend-it-yourself) recipes allow customization, and LOLI products are packaged in reusable, food-safe glass jars with compostable labels.

Flipping the paradigm of brands with bespoke offerings becoming more sustainability-focused, Simply Straws leads with circular economy principles and includes options for customization. Their glass straws and drinkware offer everyday alternatives to single-use plastics. They also offer protective sleeves which are carefully crafted from fair-trade hemp, flax, and organic cotton; all of their packaging is compostable. Responding to consumer enthusiasm for their mission and desire for personalization, many of their products are customizable with text, and businesses may customize products with their logo.

Those who remember when milk was delivered to their home in glass bottles, will welcome the Spring launch of Loop which brings the milk delivery model full circle. Partnering with several well-known consumer goods brands, Loop will deliver a panoply of goods to the home in durable, reusable containers. Their zero-waste delivery system relies on the use of the Loop tote which eliminates single-use shipping materials such as cardboard, bubble wrap, and ice packs. Consumers will be able to deposit their empties (from soap, ice cream, and more) into the Loop tote and schedule a free pick-up. Loop sanitizes and cleans the returned empties so that they are ready for reuse. And, not only is product packaging functional, each offering is designed to be beautiful enough to display. We hope and expect to see this ring-shaped model expanded and adopted by brands across all consumer goods categories.

How might these brands spark ideas for your company to solve for consumer Jobs To Be Done that revolve around desire for customization and sustainability?

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