Laundry Pod Pioneer Advances Sustainability with Move to E-Commerce

In 2012, Procter & & Gamble made a splash in the laundry products market with its introduction of single-dose, dissolvable pods containing concentrated detergent that minimized making use of water from 50% to 10%. The concept was admired for injecting some much-needed development into the category and represented a substantial action in sustainability by a global brand name owner.

However, years before Tide’s announcement– 7, to be precise– Philadelphia-based Cot ‘n Wash, Inc., presented what was the very first water-soluble laundry pod with its Dropps brand. In contrast to Tide’s product nevertheless, eliminating the excess water was just one aspect of Dropps’ sustainability proposition. Its formula was likewise eco-friendly– a rarity at the time.

For many years, Dropps has pioneered other firsts in the single-dose detergent pod market. For example, in 2015 it was the first in the U.S. to introduce an aversive bittering agent to the pill’s water-soluble film as a precautionary measure for child security. Regardless of the business’s ingenuity, however, the preferential treatment offered by sellers to “big laundry,” as Dropps founder and CEO Jonathan Propper refers to well-known brands such as Tide and others, along with a recent saturation of green brand names in the category motivated Dropps in 2017 to move away entirely from retail to an e-commerce design.

According to Propper, the shift to Direct-to-Consumer sales has substantially boosted the company’s ability to collect and act upon insights from customers and has even more reduced its products’ ecological footprint. In early 2020, the company shared that it had experienced year-over-year sales development for the previous two years, driven specifically by DTC e-commerce. Considering that its inception, the business has offered more than 50 million pods.

On Feb. 18, 2020, London-based financial investment company The Craftory, which explains itself as a “cause capital, counter-corporate, and anti-traditional VC” firm, announced it would be investing $16 million in the business. Provided that The Craftory invests only in mission-driven opposition brand names, news of the collaboration was an affirmation of Dropps’ eco-conscious efforts and its growing success.

Pod product packaging progression

Dropps’ roots go back to the early 1980s, when Propper and his mother, Lenore Propper Schwarz, established a detergent that would be mild enough for the cotton sweaters they produced at their fabric factory, Conshohocken Cotton Co. The first version, Cot ‘n Wash, removed the enzymes utilized in traditional hand-laundry detergents, which the business states can harm material fibers over time, along with irritating delicate skin.

Dropps’ site informs the story of the next evolution of the product: ” With all the stuff we got of this new cleaning agent, we understood we had a little wonder on our hands. Which got us thinking: ‘What else can we make smaller sized?’ Then we believed the last thing anyone required was another huge drippy, sticky jug of detergent to deal with. So we put all the cleaning power in little, practical, dissolvable pacs. Each is pre-measured to make laundry down-right fool-proof. You simply drop ’em in the laundry. Voila! Dropps was born.”

The single-dose pods utilize a dissolvable, low/mid-hydrolysis polyvinyl alcohol membrane to include the liquid detergent. The PVOH used by Dropps is noted on the EPA’s CleanGredients database– the definitive market for chemical components whose formulas have been pre-approved by the U.S. EPA for use in Safer Choice-labeled products. After the pod membrane dissolves in the washer, it gets in the water stream, and micro-organisms, including bacteria, yeasts, and fungis that typically exist in water treatment plants, take in the monomers.

While Propper says he can’t reveal the company’s providers, he notes that Dropps has invested time and resources in guaranteeing that all its suppliers fulfill its high requirements for security and sustainability.

Considering that the pod was introduced, the product’s secondary packaging has gone through several iterations, ending up being progressively more eco-friendly as the thinking around what makes up sustainable product packaging has advanced. “The initial Dropps item was packaged using an rPET clamshell,” shares Propper. “Then in 2007/2008, we changed to a flexible stand-up pouch to minimize plastic and produce a more efficient package. One high-density polyethylene plastic bottle of conventional liquid laundry detergent equates to 292 of our old pouches.”

The issue with the pouch, however, as Propper discusses, was that its multilayer movie construction made it non-recyclable. In 2011, the company partnered with upcycle TerraCycle to develop the Dropps Laundry Cleaning Agent Pouch Brigade to collect pouches after usage, however according to Propper, “the procedure was inconvenient for the customer, adoption was extremely low, and it ultimately resulted in more plastic packaging production.

“Then, in 2016, we rethought our product packaging to present the world’s very first liquid unit-dose laundry detergent packaged in a recyclable, compostable, and repulpable container.” When Dropps transitioned to D2C the following year, the resilient construction of the corrugated product packaging enabled it to double as a carrier as well, further reducing excess packaging.

Compact and clever carrier

In the e-commerce age, it’s not uncommon for emerging brands to introduce online very first to rapidly broaden their geographical reach, and after that move to retail as their brand name grows. Dropps took the specific opposite path, entirely eliminating its items from store shelves and shifting totally to online sales– a relocation that Propper states have enabled it to enhance consumer convenience and sustainability.

“When third-party sellers belonged to our method, we didn’t have quite an insight on customer habits from our retail partners. Now, we have a direct line of interaction with our consumers, which gives us vital insight to simplify the user experience and help us develop brand-new products,” he states. “Likewise, the traditional third-party retail design is extremely wasteful. Rather put simply, it adds an additional layer of shipping into the supply chain. By eliminating those retailers, our item goes from warehouse to the client’s doorstep, reducing our carbon footprint at the same time.”

Dropps cleaning agent pods are readily available as a one-time purchase or on a membership basis, for a 25% discount rate, and be available in amounts of 64 (Single), 120 (Couple), and 240 (Family). Products are also available wholesale quantities of 804.

The secondary-package-turned-shipper for Dropps’ 64-ct order is a special building and construction of two tuck-top E-flute corrugated boxes, each holding 32 pods, that are linked at the bottom with a perforated panel. The design of the shipper permits it to be closed like a book, with one box positioned upside down on top of the other. When the consumer gets the shipper, they can separate the two boxes by means of the perforations for simple storage.

Despite holding adequate detergent for 64 loads of laundry, the carrier is compact, with its front and back panels sized to fit a 4 x 6-in. shipping label. As noted, the corrugated material that makes up the box is robust enough that the pods can be loose-packed without the risk of damage. In addition, the stability of the pods’ PVOH membrane also helps safeguard them in transit.

“These days, almost whatever you get in the mail is double-packed,” states Propper. “Nobody likes getting a box inside a box, and it’s a substantial waste of resources. That’s why our product packaging functions as a shipping container.”

Giving the packaging product its sustainability credentials, Dropps’ corrugated board providers are Forestry Stewardship Council-certified, with forests licensed by the Sustainable Forestry Effort. The tape used to seal the shipper is a Kraft paper material, which Dropps chose after consumers required the business to swap out the plastic tape it had been utilizing previously. “We’ve even gone a number of actions further by using recycling-compatible adhesive [RCA] to ensure the [paper] tape stays recyclable and compostable after usage,” says Propper. “Our sustainable shipping labels are also recyclable and compostable and use the exact same RCA as our product packaging tape.” The labels’ release liners are recyclable too, unlike standard silicone-coated liners.

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Visually, the Kraft carrier is brown on the outside and white on the inside, with copy and line illustrations printed in dark blue throughout. When the carrier is open, a note from Propper with the heading, “We’re All in This Together,” shows up on the connecting panel. Penned pre-COVID, his message refers to Dropps’ dedication to making “sustainable and powerful cleaning accessible to all.” Copy and illustrations on the external panels of the carrier read, “Conserve Plastic,” “Conserve Time,” “Save Water,” and “Save Cash,” while a message within the opening flap of each box asks consumers to “Please re-use, recycle, or compost this box.”

According to Propper, the driving force behind Dropps’ packaging style is the digital and client experience. “When we remained in third-party retailers, we needed to comply with their standards and requirements for product packaging in order to rest on their retail rack, and even then, ‘huge laundry’ was constantly front and center. It was really a hierarchical caste system,” he says. “Now that our business is 100% e-commerce, our packaging is developed for effectiveness and sustainability, with visual appeals being a close second.

“Our compact product packaging size allows us to maximize area when it pertains to shipping, and the exact same can be said for the end user also. Smaller sized living is ending up being more apparent, particularly for our consumers in major cities. Sustainability is a journey, so we continue to innovate our product packaging while keeping sustainability top of mind.”

Not all pods are produced equal

Since water-soluble pods were first presented to the market, almost every significant brand along with smaller sized players in the laundry and dish-cleaning products markets have released single-dose cleaning agent packs. But not all pods are developed equivalent. Says Propper, Dropps prides itself on using a more secure, more sustainable clean than its rivals.

According to Dropps, in contrast to some mainstream cleaning agent pod items that contain more than 20 different chemicals, its pods use simply 6 natural ingredients and are free of phosphates, dyes, and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), which are poisonous to marine life. The pods themselves are smaller sized too. Dropps pods weigh 10 g and utilize a single layer of PVOH. In comparison, a number of its competitors’ items weigh 25 g-plus and consist of multiple chambers filled with “water, unnecessary ingredients, and colorants.”

In the years since it first developed its liquid laundry cleaning agent, Dropps has reformulated the product and has established new product lines with the EPA’s CleanGredients ingredient database as an assisting resource. Dropps’ items now also consist of scent booster and material softener pods for the laundry, oxi-booster pods for home and laundry usage, and dish cleaning agent pods, all in powder kind.

While many eco-friendly-positioned family cleansing items have gone into the marketplace of late, Propper says Dropps’ durability in the space has been a big selling point for the brand name. “The client has more options than ever to be ‘eco-responsible.’ It can be overwhelming to some, particularly when greenwashing buzzwords come into play,” he states. “Since Dropps has such a tenure and a track record that supports it, we have had the ability to keep trust with both knowledgeable and beginner sustainable homes.”

In the online area, Dropps provides another competitive benefit versus its competitors too: The company just recently attained carbon-neutral shipping status. In addition, it now provides free carbon-neutral shipping on all of its items.

Full supply chain control

For numerous brands, both startup and established, one of the more intricate elements of executing an e-commerce strategy is logistics, or shipping D2C, rather than to a distributor. Rather than utilizing a 3PL, Dropps operates its circulation and satisfaction center in Franklin Park, Ill., a northwest suburban area of Chicago. Propper states the location was strategically selected, “as traditionally this area of the nation has constantly been the center of logistics because of the seemingly equivalent distance from end to end.”

Having its own center not only enables Dropps to remove another step in the supply chain, however with the introduction of COVID-19, but it has also likewise made it possible for the business to ramp up quickly to meet an increased need for its items and make sure employee security.

“Since late, there has been a spotlight put on the logistics of these massive e-commerce brand names, with the well-being of warehouse employees taking the spotlight. However for Dropps, that has constantly held true,” says Propper. “Our logistics infrastructure has needed to adapt and progress to meet the changing landscape and increased need. In addition to enormously updating our distribution center, we have made substantial investments in our logistics and warehouse staff to satisfy this brand-new regular.

“Prior to being D2C, we had to trust our item in the hands of the complex logistics systems of third-party merchants, a number of which have been inspected since late because of the way they run. Now that we manage the entire supply chain, including logistics, we guarantee that all operations are effective and sustainable, and not simply for the customer, however likewise for our valued staff that is fulfilling all of these orders and effectively keeping our supply chain moving.”

A danger that has settled

Moving out of retail to a 100% D2C design turned out to be an extremely effective method for Dropps, but it was not without its risks. One of the greatest challenges, says Propper, was increasing brand name awareness. “Brand name discovery wasn’t happening in brick-and-mortar since we were no longer on the shelf,” he states. “So how do you find the consumers to whom your brand appeals if they don’t walk by and select up your product on the rack?”

Dropps resolved this challenge by heavily purchasing different digital marketing plays. “That, paired with a vastly increasing consumer adoption of D2C/e-comm, has been our saving grace,” Propper notes.

More moving its success has been the chance the D2C design has paid for the company to quickly understand and adapt to consumer behavior. Using advanced e-commerce tools, Dropps is able to generate consumer data, providing a peek into how its clients’ shop and what they expect.

“Big information aside, relocating to e-commerce only has brought human connection back to customer care,” Propper says. “When we remained in standard sellers, we didn’t have the insight into who our clients were. We couldn’t see how or when they purchased our products, and we couldn’t hear what they desired from us. Now, our clients have direct access to us. We can see the varying subtleties of laundry day from client to customer through Instagram. We can hear how Dropps has allowed families to reduce their plastic waste in our item reviews. We can collect feedback on how we can improve, or what we ought to do next via our 24/7 client service.

“In addition to this human connectedness, transferring to e-commerce has permitted us to substantially cut down on waste. We flourish in the digital world. So much so that beyond our warehouse, all Dropp’s staff work remotely to assist cut down on our carbon footprint. This has been the case for the past 4 years.”

Moving on, Propper states Dropps will use the $16 million investment from The Craftory to continue to expand its product offerings, broaden its market reach, and develop its sustainably-focused infrastructure. “The Craftory is a perfect partner for our organization, and I’m humbled by their investment,” he says. “Their founders and functional group supply more than simply money to their portfolio business. In addition, The Craftory’s advanced financial investment viewpoint aligns well with our mission-driven values so we can maintain our triple bottom line of social, environmental, and financial impact.”