A redesigned milk jug has been the surprising target of much press attention over the past few weeks. The new jugs; which is slowly being rolled out in U.S. retailers such as Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, and Costco; is taller, rectangular, and has no real spout. The jug was essentially designed with one goal in mind: reduce the environmental impact of milk.
To that end, the new design allows for jugs to be stacked (they’re flat on top), and eliminates the need for plastic milk crates since the stackable design allows for cardboard dividers and shrink wrap to be used. This translates to reduced packing time, faster delivery to stores (which means fresher milk), and fewer wasted resources along the distribution chain. More milk can fit in each delivery truck and in the grocer’s cooler; and empty trucks don’t need to travel back and forth to collect milk crates.
The most surprising benefit of all this, in my opinion, is the reduction in water usage. According a recent New York Times article on the new design, one major dairy used to use about 100,000 gallons of water each day just to clean milk crates! The new design eliminates the crate, and has reduced water usage by 60-70%.
Consumers, however, aren’t all that pleased with the new design. Because of the jug’s lack of a proper spout, many complain of excessive spills and the fact that children find it hard to pour. Sam’s Club stores have resorted to in-store demonstrations to educate consumers on the proper pouring technique (tilt the jug without picking it up). At the end of the day, consumers are simply going to have to adjust. The new milk jug is just one of many changes that we’re likely to see in the upcoming years. As the New York Times pointed out:
The redesign of the gallon milk jug, experts say, is an example of the changes likely to play out in the American economy over the next two decades. In an era of soaring global demand and higher costs for energy and materials, virtually every aspect of the economy needs to be re-examined, they say, and many products must be redesigned for greater efficiency.
Whether or not consumers are ready to make eco-friendly choices, rising energy costs are going to force companies to make the choice on their behalf.
It turns out that this may be the silver lining—at least in terms of innovation. The current economic crisis (recession, anyone?) in the U.S. is pushing organizations—entire industries,even—to reevaluate the fundamentals. If they’re not doing it a matter of environmental responsibility (which, when it doesn’t translate into profit, can only take a company so far), organizations are now readdressing some of the core aspects of their businesses in order to uncover opportunities to cut inefficiencies and make things better.
It’s amazing how many possibilities open up when we begin to question some of the most basic principles of how we do business. In the dairy industry, the 1-gallon milk jug had been the same for decades. Prior to this most recent economic downturn, no one had thought to redesign the container. Suddenly, there’s an economic reason to do so, and we have a new, more efficient design. Consumers benefit, too. They’re saving an estimated $0.20 to $0.40 per gallon.
I’m not saying that the new design is optimal by any means—ideally, it would be easy to use and really efficient to produce, distribute, and store—but let’s be hopeful that this is a “beta” release and that a newer, better version is around the corner.
In the mean time, it might be worth taking a step back and reevaluating the fundamentals of your business to see how you can do it better. You’re sure to find something.