Open Innovation Solution to a Detergent Packaging Problem

Published Jan-17-10

Improved product packaging to prevent the leaks of a laundry detergent.

A small UK-based company, United Kingdom

The Story:

Open Innovation Solution to a Detergent Packaging Problem Faulty packaging, falling sales, and a problem they couldn’t solve led Procter and Gamble to an open innovation broker to help them find a fix and reverse the decline.

Packaging Problem

The global corporation was having a problem with the packaging of one of its leading brands of laundry detergents it was selling in the European market. The detergent was marketed in prepackaged pouches, which were placed inside cardboard boxes. The predicament was that a small number of these pouches - approximately one out of every 1,000 - developed leaks. The detergent trickled and dribbled out of the containers, staining the cardboard with small oil spots.

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t escape the notice of consumers who only selected the non-oily boxes, and the stained ones were left on the shelves. Before long this started to harm sales and how customers felt about the brand. To stop irreversible damage from being done Procter and Gamble assembled some of their top brains to figure out a solution. Its manufacturing people were working on it and so were their packaging people. And just to make sure that no stone was left unturned the supplier of the plastic pellets was also trying to figure out a solution. However, despite this feverish research activity no one was able to provide an answer.

Open Innovation to the Rescue

Fortunately for Procter and Gamble there was another way. The company approached NineSigma an open innovation services provider to see if they could find the solution they so desperately needed.

NineSigma turned to its network of solvers and sent out a request-for-proposal to a number of likely candidates inviting them to submit ideas. The solution came from a small, not very well known company in Britain that was making agricultural concentrates such as herbicides and pesticides.

This company was wrapping up some of its products in the same water-soluble film that P&G was using, and it had already encountered the problem - it was due to a number of factors including the amount of time pressure is put on the seals. More importantly, it had come up with a solution and this was easily adapted to suit Procter and Gamble’s detergent product.

Value of Open Innovation

How P&G’s detergent dilemma was solved is a perfect illustration of the value of open innovation. The solution came from a place that Procter and Gamble would never have thought to have looked at had it not been for the assistance of an open innovation broker. “So our client’s solution came from a company that no one had heard of in an unrelated industry,” said Paul Stiros, CEO of NineSigma in an interview with Business Week magazine.

It also demonstrates another advantage of open innovation and how it can be used to provide the swiftest and most effective answers; companies unload millions of dollars onto their research departments to try and invent a solution. But the people with the problems don’t always know where to look for the answers, and they end up spending a ton of money when the answer is already available somewhere.

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