Every year, BRANDPACKAGING honors individuals influencing branding and packaging in some way: Please join us in congratulating Jason Foster of Replenish as a 2015 Brand Innovator for doing his part to change our industry for the better.
THE REPLENISH REFILL SYSTEM
Faithful attendees of our Packaging That Sells conference will remember having the privilege of listening to Foster’s story about his refill system when he told it to the audience in 2011 as one of our brands to watch. Not even four years later, and just six years since Replenish Bottling LLC was formed, Foster has already partnered with Walmart as the exclusive provider of packaging for its line of premium CleanPath concentrate products, making it easy to see why all eyes are locked on him.
I first met Foster, founder and chief reuser of the Replenish Refill System, in 2014 at the end of a long set of hours on the PACK EXPO tradeshow floor. I’ve always had more than a soft spot for sustainable packaging, and I was fascinated by his excitement in actively working to solve a problem in the industry. It made no matter to Foster I was interviewing him as the floor closed and people streamed to the exits. The passion he had for making a difference with packaging was evident. It very well could have been the hundredth time he told his story that day alone, but he spoke as animatedly as if it was the first time — and with no concern for his own escape.
“Replenish has invented a new category of consumer packaging — bottles that are reusable and designed to mix water with a concentrate at home,” says Foster.
The Replenish Refill System is a no fuss, no mess bottle and pod combination: The packaging allows users to effortlessly combine concentrated products with water right inside the bottle — because Foster rightly states that the enemy of sustainability, or any efficiency, is waste.
THE BIRTH OF AN IDEA
Foster’s concern with addressing that issue of waste is what sparked the refill system’s creation.
“Waste is not a virtue,” says Foster. “We have a natural instinct to want to do ‘good’ and make the most out of what we have. I learned that lesson from my late Grandmother Jewell, who was a waitress for over 30 years of her life and the most successful person I have ever known because she lived those virtues every day. If we tap into that intention in how we design products, we have the ability to reshape our culture and make sustainability just plain old common sense.”
In the creation and design of Replenish, Foster turned his non-packaging background into an asset. In his mind, there were no “cannot’s” in feasibility keeping him from getting started. How the system would be put into production, what the branding would look like or any other concerns weren’t holding him back: He saw a problem, had a solution and got to work.
“I wasn’t an engineer, a designer or a brand manager, and I knew nothing about making plastic bottles,” says Foster. “However, I have always been a curious person. One day, while I was ironing my shirts, I contemplated what would happen if one poured a bottle of ironing spray directly into the iron. I quickly realized how fast the product would get used up.
“Therefore, to not spend a ridiculous amount of money on ironing spray, I would need a liquid concentrate that I could mix with water. But balancing a bottle of concentrate and a mixing bottle on an ironing board wasn’t appealing. I wanted those two separate bottles to be one.
“It was in that moment that the Replenish Refill System was born: a reusable bottle that attaches directly to a concentrate refill pod that’s capable of making multiple bottles. Replenish could break this endless paradigm of waste and save money by adding water at home to the products we love, instead of in a factory.”
THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY?
By this point, you’ve surely thought to yourself a question I had for Foster: Why is this package different in its ability to change people’s behavior when it comes to waste?
Brands have been trying refill systems for some time — little packets shrink-wrapped to a spray bottle of water, a bulk rigid container full of product you purchase to dilute and empty back into the original bottle bought.
The trouble with those systems can quickly become evident if they haven’t been designed well: The bottle you’re meant to keep refilling wasn’t really made to last over multiple fills (think: those flimsy spray triggers or pumps that break, rendering the “reusable” bottle unusable), or the guesswork involved in diluting product and refilling smaller packages with it deters all consumers but a few card-carrying LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) members.
“The key is integration,” says Foster. “You can’t have bolt-on ideas that use existing designs. When you do that, you compromise utility and function. With Replenish, we didn’t compromise anything. We put everything you would need to mix a concentrate with water into one reusable bottle. Just flip, squeeze and add water.”
Replenish’s glass-like bottle is truly designed to last for years and won’t leak. A measuring cup is built in to the inside of the bottles, and a quiet, special detail is imprinted on the bottom of each: “Jewell,” in honor of Foster’s grandma.
Creating a bottle with two holes was an engineering and manufacturing challenge, but Foster persevered and continues to improve upon the original design.
The small pods of concentrated product make three bottles’ worth of product diluted, for a total of 30oz from a single pod.
“Replenish turns a disposable object into a tool for doing good,” says Foster, “and is a rare example of a quadruple bottom-line win for brands and retailers, providing them with revenue density, reduced costs across the supply chain, sustainability benefits and lower costs for consumers.”
A PACKAGE NOT EASILY BOXED IN
Currently, the Replenish Refill System is being used to house CleanPath’s soaps, sanitizers and cleaning products, and to great success. Foster doesn’t see the packaging stopping there.
“Replenish can be used for anything where the main ingredient is water. This means beverages, oral care, shampoos, beauty products, pet products, or lawn and garden, among other categories. We have identified 28 billion containers a year that could use Replenish technology.”
Foster’s “can-do, will-do, anything’s possible but you have to try” attitude resurfaced as we closed out our most recent interview.
“I’m excited by the power design has to create abundance in the world,” says Foster. “Right now, Replenish is the only company getting its hands dirty and developing a reusable platform for concentrates that can be used in multiple consumer product categories. If you weren’t careful, you would think reuse and concentrates didn’t matter. That somehow, we are going to keep shipping water and recycle our way to a more sustainable future.
“To learn, you need to fail,” Foster finishes. “Big companies keep finding excuses to not even try and instead keep promoting the status quo. But a tipping point is coming, and Replenish will be there when it happens.”
More information about the refill system, including how to get your own brand started in a Replenish bottle, can be found at myreplenish.com.