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Plastic Packaging Boosts Sales … and boosts profits even more!

March 10, 2011

My association with PINE-SOL liquid cleaner was another key factor in becoming passionate about the power of packaging.

I joined Cyanamid’s Shulton division in a marketing role and spent my first year there working on OLD SPICE, the company’s flagship brand.  Guess some folks thought I knew a lot about packaging because I’d worked on transitioning the OLD SPICE gift set product line from setup boxes to folding cartons and had found a way for the brand’s deodorant and shave cream lines to be packed in lithographed cans (as opposed to plain cans with a paper label).  After a year on the job, I was offered a position in Operations as packaging and product development manager.

The major project in this position was to develop a plastic bottle for PINE-SOL. The major challenge in this project was that one of the ingredients in PINE-SOL was an aggressive solvent which was one component in the pine oil used as a disinfecting and deodorizing agent.  This solvent would dissolve most polymers, such as polyethylene, that were used in making bottles.  There were some other features that Marketing wanted in the new plastic package – crystal clarity (to replicate the look of glass), impact resistance and cost – that added to the challenge.

I don’t have any photographs of the product from my time on the brand, but here is a US television commercial that illustrates how the PINE-SOL package used to look.

As a novice in packaging, I was fortunate to be able to work with some brilliant packaging engineers from our US parent company.  After testing a number of different resins, we finally found one that met all the criteria marketing has asked for.  I worked with the blow molder and package designer to refine the bottle to deliver the required impact resistance and, about 14 months after I had started on the project, the new package was ready to go. We were the first Shulton operation to put PINE-SOL in a plastic container!

The purpose of this post isn’t to describe all the technical challenges in creating this package, but I wanted to provide some context for what follows.

After developing the new plastic bottle, I was moved back into Marketing to be the brand manager on PINE-SOL and oversee the official product relaunch. It was during my time working as the PINE-SOL brand manager that I really saw how much influence on sales and profitability a package could have.

When I started on PINE-SOL, it was the smallest brand in the Shulton stable, after OLD SPICE and BRECK shampoo and also considered to be the least profitable of the brands. Two years later, PINE-SOL was the largest brand, its sales nearly doubling in that time. It also became the most profitable brand after I changed the terms of reference from straight gross margin to economic value added and, by doing so, I was able to persuade the company to keep the brand (instead of divesting) and to actually invest in it.

Now let’s take a closer look at why changing the package had such a huge impact on sales and profitability.

1. Where the product is used.

PINE-SOL is a classic household cleaning brand that was founded on a “Triad of Benefits” – it cleans, disinfects and deodorizes. The second of these benefits – disinfecting – meant PINE-SOL was used primarily in the bathroom, one room in which people can be guaranteed to be barefoot at least some of the time.  The risk of a glass bottle shattering in such an environment was found, in research, to be one key factor holding consumers back from purchasing PINE-SOL. These consumers would prefer to see the brand in a shatterproof plastic bottle.

2. Where the consumers are

Our biggest user base was in the Western Provinces in Canada, which is about as remote from our manufacturing location in Toronto as you can get in Canada. Depending on the province, we were either the #2 brand to Procter & Gamble’s MR CLEAN or the market leader.

We estimated the weight differential for glass over plastic was costing us over $250,000 in additional freight costs, so this provided a strong economic incentive to convert to plastic.

3. Dis-Economies of Scale

Because the Canadian market is only about one-tenth the size of the US market, we were paying a hefty premium for glass bottles compared to what our associates in Shulton USA paid for their glass PINE-SOL bottles.  Based on the volumes we had, we estimated we were paying about another $250,000 in premiums for glass bottles compared with our US sister company.

Glass containers require high volume runs to be efficient, so our small Canadian runs didn’t enable us to get low prices. Plastics had a more forgiving cost-volume curve.

4. It Pays to be Seen

The original PINE-SOL bottle was a waisted glass cylinder, a shape that allows for very space-efficient packing.

However, on retail grocery shelves, the product tended to get lost for two reasons:

  1. The primary competitor, MR. CLEAN, came in an oval shaped bottle that was about 30% wider than a PINE-SOL bottle, and so there was just more of it to be seen by shoppers than our product.
  2. The colors of the original PINE-SOL label were predominately dark green and black, with PINE-SOL lettered in yellow.  Overall the colors rendered the PINE-SOL package very recessive, so it certainly didn’t shout out to consumers to be picked up. The colors also made the product look “dirty” – not a good perception for a cleaning product!

We redesigned the plastic bottle to have an oval profile, while retaining the waisted shape and some other design elements from the glass pack.  Our new pack had a similar facing to MR. CLEAN, which also allowed us to place 33% more product on the shelf when we replaced facings of old bottles with facings of the new oval bottle.

Having more product on the shelf per facing also allowed us to slash stockouts.  In a grocery environment, if a product is not available when the consumer is shopping, they are likely to purchase a competitor’s product, which means a lost sales opportunity.  By retaining our facings and increasing on-shelf  inventory,  we were able to prevent those lost sales and retain our customer loyalty.

For continuity’s sake, we kept the color scheme green, black and yellow. However, we changed the green to a much richer, cleaner tone. We kept the PINE-SOL lettering in yellow, but changed to a much bolder font. The combination of a new green and more prominent yellow gave the package a much cleaner look, and made the presentation simply more contemporary.

PINE-SOL Label Circa 1979. Thanks to The Clorox Company

PINE-SOL Label Circa 1981. Thanks to The Clorox Company

Courtesy of DDB, here’s another commercial that illustrates the new look of the product.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzL0U9_Rzcs

The growth that we realized on PINE-SOL came largely in the absence of consumer advertising.  Pretty amazing performance for a product that was sold at a 35-40% premium vs. its number one competitor.  We did a small amount of regional television advertising, but nothing on a national scale until the brand had grown so much that management wanted to sustain the momentum.  So the packaging was a major success factor in the brand’s growth.

Our Operations people even made a contribution to the marketing of PINE-SOL.  Our Director of Operations noted that PINE-SOL had a significant refractive index and suggested we could leverage this in consumer contests.  We created the PINE-SOL “Magic Window”, which was a rectangular diecut opening in the back label that enabled the consumer to see the back side of the front label.  By printing a winning message on the back side of the front label, positioned directly opposite the “Magic Window”, the refractive index of the product prevented the consumer from seeing the message until they had consumed sufficient product that the level of the product was below the bottom of the window.

We had a gallon-size glass jug of PINE-SOL that was primarily intended for institutional use.  One kind of institution that wanted to by PINE-SOL, but was reluctant to do so was the prison system.  A glass container could quickly become a weapon in the hands of an inmate.  So we invested in a mold to produce a gallon-sized plastic jug, and this also contributed to the growth of the brand.

Summary

So the conversion of PINE-SOL from a glass bottle to a plastic bottle played a huge role in the brand’s success:

  1. It enabled us to overcome one of the biggest objections consumers cited about purchasing the brand.
  2. It ended up adding over $1MM per year in profits, through cost savings and freight savings
  3. It helped ensure the product was available when the consumer was shopping.
Just as a footnote, The Clorox Company acquired the PINE-SOL brand from Shulton in 1990.  I’m very grateful they have an archive of historical PINE-SOL labels that I was able to use in this post.
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