The innovators behind Seed Phytonutrients and the Loop reusable packaging platform shared lessons learned, and the potential impacts these disruptive new approaches to product and packaging development could hold for their respective industries.
Seed Phytonutrients: Embedding personal wellbeing, ecosystem health and community values in all aspects of product development
By Hope Freedman
Shane Wolf | Image credit: SB
On Wednesday morning, Shane Wolf — creator of Seed Phytonutrients at L’Oréal USA — took the main stage to discuss his brainchild: a disruptive natural, sustainable beauty collection. Launched on Earth Day in April 2018 in the US, Seed Phytonutrients — a mission-driven line of hair, skin and body products that was incubated by L’Oréal USA — is the result of Wolf’s experience growing up on a farm and long career in the beauty industry, including working in various senior-level marketing and sales roles within L’Oréal.
His first inspiration for a farm-to-beauty brand arose from his mentor, a pioneer in the natural products moment. His brand’s mission is “to plant the seeds of health, wellbeing and sustainability for future generations.” With the current line of 25 products, formulas are primarily developed using seeds from organic US farms. As Wolf related, the brand has four obsessions:
Adding pieces to the ‘total impact’ puzzle ...
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Preserving seed diversity
Supporting US organic farmers
Promoting natural beauty
Leading environmental sustainability
As Wolf explained, the seed is the most potent part of the plant, and when seed oils are extracted safely, they provide nourishing ingredients for hair and skin. By using heirloom seeds (open-pollinated, related to the reliance on natural pollination from wind or insects), the brand supports genetic diversity of seeds — important for better-tasting and more nutritional vegetables and fruit — which is an increasing concern, since about 94 percent of US seed varieties have become extinct over the past decades.
Partnering with Hudson Valley Seed Company, Seed Phytonutrients is helping to cultivate communities to “save, share and celebrate” seeds by enclosing an artistic, garden-themed seed packet inside the bottles (which break open in two parts). Wolf proudly stated that Seed pays organic US farmers 100 percent upfront, regardless of yield, so that the farmers can count on that income. Wolf is adamant about full transparency to consumers about the definition of “natural,” as to align with the brand proposition and ethos. And as he stated, the brand embraces the notion that “natural beauty means healthy living.”
Wolf passionately pointed out the unacceptable sea of plastic created by the beauty industry and called on fellow beauty brands to dial up action. With the first shower-safe paper bottle, Seed Phytonutrients is revolutionizing environmental sustainability. The brand packaging is composed of 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and a post-consumer recycled liner — which is 60 percent less plastic than a typical bottle — and the pump can be recycled through partner TerraCycle. Additionally, all formula ingredients are 93-100 percent natural origin.
Wolf recounted highlights of his journey within L’Oréal to bring his vision to market. Since 2013, L’Oréal has been committed to Sharing Beauty with All, a platform to bring shared value to its products and packaging. The company aims to empower employees to bring forward a range of small and big idea — including new brands — and foster an inclusive environment that thrives on diverse perspectives, voices and ideas. While Wolf considered branching out on his own, he saw tremendous benefits of tapping into the biggest global beauty business that has been around for over 100 years. With L’Oréal executive leadership agreement, Seed Phytonutrients operates independently — essentially as a startup in a Pennsylvanian farm town — within its French parent company. On formula and packaging, Seed aims to set a new standard for L’Oréal product sustainability. As Wolf stated, “this truly sustainable product can demonstrate to the entire beauty industry that beauty and sustainability are no longer separate.”
Joining Wolf in a breakout session that afternoon were moderator Danielle Azoulay, Head of CSR & Sustainability at L’Oréal USA; Julie Corbett, president & founder of Ecologic Brands — makers of the paper bottle; and Ken Greene, co-founder of Hudson Valley Seed Company. This group of collaborators spoke about key elements of their partnership that enabled and empowered Seed Phytonutrients to be commercialized and gain momentum only a year after its April 2018 launch.
One essential occurrence was connecting and partnering with Ecologic to solve the challenge of producing paper packaging at a mass level. As Corbett said, “The story of building a 360-degree, sustainable product was so compelling, yet we were afraid of failing again after a redesign mode. Failing is not so bad as long as you have parallel paths.” Wolf was only committed to launching with the right packaging. In under 18 months, the team made the “cracker jack” packaging work at scale. Wolf added:
“You need to have stamina and to deeply believe in what you’re doing to demonstrate intrapreneurship. You can push the envelope more. We had a distribution opportunity in the natural channel.”
Wolf brought together “the Seed Quad” — a supportive ecosystem of trusted individuals who are integral to the brand. As a small local company, Hudson Valley Seed Company views its partnership with Seed as an opportunity to educate consumers about biodiversity and cultural diversity. With artwork from over 200 artists, each seed packet communicates the origin and importance of seeds — utilizing visual cues to establish a relationship between customer and packaging. Panelists’ heads nodded when Greene stated, “We’ve all had to stretch and grow to make this partnership work” and, referring to Wolf, pointed out that “you’ve also listened to us. You could have walked away and done it easier.”
Wolf revealed that the packaging challenges and lessons learned from thoughtful consumer education and retailer interactions is influencing his organization in interesting ways. One obstacle that the team is starting to overcome is convincing consumers that the inside contents are as appealing as the beautiful external packaging design.
“You’ll go on a date with us because of what you see in the outside. You’ll marry us because of what you see and experience on the inside.” — Shane Wolf
Wolf views Seed as an innovator for the professional haircare brands he oversees as Global General Manager. He finds it rewarding to migrate sustainable technology to bigger brands. As moderator Azoulay summed up, this “small brand is proof of concept. By starting small in a non-threatening way, it can be brought to other areas of the organization.”
The future of packaging: An inside look at Loop
By Melissa Radiwon
L-R: SB's Tamay Kiper, Simon Lowden, Alicia Enciso, Anthony Rossi and Virginie Helias | Image credit: SB
Meanwhile, it was standing room only for the nearby panel discussing the Loop reusable packaging initiative, featuring representatives from Nestlé USA, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and TerraCycle — and if the audience size was any indication, this was going to be interesting.
Launched in January, with pilots now taking place in Paris and the northeastern US, TerraCycle’s Loop initiative is an online shopping platform that features products in reusable packaging, delivered and picked up utilizing a reusable tote.
“Tom-on-tour was a big element,” said Alicia Enciso, chief marketing officer at Nestlé USA, referring to Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, and his one-on-one approach to pitching the Loop idea to consumer brands.
The ice cream team at Nestlé USA was on board right away, with a can-do attitude and motivation to make a significant change. But it wasn’t easy — the team went through 15 packaging iterations to create something durable, yet still able to be comfortably handled by the consumer at frozen temperatures. The solution — a container within a container.
However, not all packaging design needed to go back to the drawing board. As Virginie Helias, VP and chief sustainability officer at P&G, pointed out, some of their designers had past ideas tucked away in the drawer. Designing for disposal is cheap, designing for durability is an investment.
“With Loop, the packaging becomes a brand asset,” Helias said. Noting that some consumers that never would have considered the platform are now interested because of the “cool” packaging:
“You can understand the business benefit of this.” — Virginie Helias
Helias listed four tactics employed to get the Loop initiative rolling within P&G:
Go where the passion is. She looked to leadership brands, but asked who wanted to be a part of the initiative. If they wanted to be in, they had to fight for it.
Bring the outside in. Use “Tom-on-tour” as a means to reinforce the idea of Loop within P&G.
Externally announce. Launch the idea at the World Economic Forum.
Peer pressure. Play on the international competition — who is in, who is not.
It is too soon to provide any statistical results, with the Paris and New York launches happening only a few weeks ago. Anthony Rossi, VP of global business development for TerraCycle, stated that so far results look phenomenal, but they are looking to learn and grow from these initial launches. Next up is London by the end of 2019; and Canada, Germany, Japan and the west coast of the US in 2020.
PepsiCo's Quaker and Tropicana brands in their new Loop packaging | Image credit: Loop
Simon Lowden, president of the Global Snacks Group at PepsiCo, stressed the importance of working with partners, customers, consumers and governments to make this effort successful. Several areas — for example, Saudi Arabia, China, India — have regulations around recycled material use in food grade products that will require effort.
“We have to understand, that we don’t understand what is going to be the winning card,” he said. “The card will be different in different regions. The universe for us to make a difference is massive.”
Early feedback indicates that some people don’t like shopping online. Loop may need to expand to existing retail partners including Kroger, Walgreens and Tesco, and get Loop products on the shelf and in front of an audience that expands beyond the sustainably conscious online consumer.
Ironically, Lowden predicted we will be thankful for China closing its doors on recycled plastic imports in the years to come because, “Their action is forcing our action.”
“This is a new era of CEOs that marry business intent with the right thing to do. Making changes will have short-term business impact and long-term business health.” — Simon Lowden, PepsiCo