Innovative Packaging to Alleviate Competitive Threats: Lessons from Aleve®

aleveSome tremendous products don’t reach their potential in the marketplace due to inattention to packaging. Smart entrepreneurs in consumer goods, medical products, and other areas understanding that packaging not only governs much of the response of shoppers to your product on the shelf, but also can affect its value and function after purchase. Child resistant packaging is a classic example of this. Medications with child-resistant packaging can frustrate and irritate many consumers, and even lead to non-use of the product and failure to repurchase. Many child-resistant caps are hard top open for adults with limited mobility, hand injuries, arthritis, etc. Some frustrate strong, healthy adults, and have even led to injuries as people strive to pry a lid open with a tool.

One clever and perhaps under appreciated innovation in this space is the “Safety SquEase®” bottle developed by Procter & Gamble for Aleve® (now owned by Bayer), the over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever that is the nonprescription strength of Anaprox® (naproxen). I held a bottle of Aleve® for the first time recently and was really impressed with how they combined ease of opening with child-resistance. Turns out there’s a real story of innovation behind this product, with at least three patents that I’m aware of:aleve-USD330677

  • US Pat. No. 5,038,454, “Injection Blow Molding Process for Forming a Package Exhibiting Improved Child Resistance,” issued to Thornock et al., August 13, 1991.
  • US Pat. No. 4,948,002, “Package Exhibiting Improved Child Resistance Without Significantly Impeding Access by Adults,” issued to Thorncock et al., Aug. 14, 1990.
  • US Design Pat. No. D330,677, issued to Thornock and Goldberg, Nov. 3, 1992.

The system took years to develop and drew upon fundamental insights into the capabilities of children. Their inability to do two different things at once was the key insight that guided the clever, low-force development of Aleve®’s package. Rather than requiring high forces to be applied or complex operations that could frustrate many adults, the Aleve® package merely requires light force on two opposing tabs on the side of the bottle at the same time the cap is turned. Press gently with one hand, turn with the other: two different motions that stymie young children but are easy for adults. Looks like a minor packaking tweak, but the simplicity of the solution has extensive data and years of serious work behind it. Many elegant innovations are that way. Anyone can make something complex – it’s elegance that demands real brains and real sweat. Or grit, as some would say.

The Aleve® packaging system was the topic of a presentation to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on March 28, 1995 as part of their Safety Sells Conference, available online at The presentation by Gordon F. Brunner, a Senior V.P. at Procter and Gamble, provides valuable insights on how packaging innovations can provide potent competitive advantage while solving critical real-world problems such as safety. Here is an excerpt from Grodon Brunner’s talk:

P&G developed and patented a new bottle closure, “Safety SquEase,” that meets government requirements for child-resistance. It also adds value and consumer satisfaction to a new P&G over-the-counter analgesic by making it easy to open for most adults, including senior citizens.

My case study concerns P&G’s patented new child-resistant closure, which we have named the “Safety SquEase.” One year ago this Thursday we were honored to receive the CPSC Chairman’s first-ever “Commendation for Significant Contributions to Consumer Product Safety” for our invention and marketing of this new closure.

The “Safety SquEase” closure has been used on bottles of Aleve, our new, long-lasting, over-the-counter analgesic drug, since its introduction last year. We have also begun using it on our Scope mouthwash product and will introduce it on our Vicks NyQuil and DayQuil cough relief products this coming fall.

To really convey how we developed the “Safety SquEase,” I need to give you the context. Two long-standing corporate policies had a major influence. The first was P&G’s policy regarding the human and environmental safety of its products and packages. The second was P&G’s stated corporate purpose to create and deliver products of superior quality and value that best satisfy consumer needs. . . .

The development of the “Safety SquEase” cap for P&G’s Aleve brand analgesic is an excellent illustration of our drive for product and package superiority. For those of you who haven’t heard about it, Aleve is the result of a joint venture between P&G and Syntax Labs. The aim was to introduce an over-the-counter version of Anaprox, a fast-acting sodium form of the medicine in Naprosyn. Naprosyn, sold by Syntax, had been the leader in the Rx non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drug market for a decade. The thinking was to do what had been done in the early ’80’s when Rx ibuprofen, led by Motrin, was converted into the Advil’s and Nuprin’s of today.

When used at over-the-counter (OTC) dosages, sodium Naproxen has advantages over acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin. . . . At the same time, we knew that our competitors in the highly contested OTC analgesics business would not take Aleve’s entry lightly. Consequently, we wanted to increase Aleve’s margin of superiority with consumers if at all possible.

Our packaging people thought they had an answer — develop a truly user-friendly child-resistant package. Child-resistant packages are required for products like Aleve to help prevent very young children from consuming toxic amounts out of curiosity. Personal experience, feedback from family and friends, and consumer research, however, told us that adults regarded existing child-resistant packages as hard to open.

Some consumers, in fact, believe they must choose between having a drug package that they can open and one that is child- resistant. This is a terrible dilemma if children live in the house or grandchildren visit. Some adults, unfortunately, cut corners. They buy child-resistant packages but leave the caps loose or off after opening the bottle the first time. Obviously, this defeats the purpose entirely.

aleve-patentThe reason why most current child-resistant packages are difficult to open is straightforward. Their child-resistance is primarily based upon requiring a higher level of strength to open the package than a small child can exert. What was needed was some entirely new principle for achieving a consumer- preferred child-resistant closure.

This was what our packaging people set out to do. It was not an easy task. In fact, it took five years. The first two years were spent inventing the design. Several alternatives were conceived and evaluated during this period. We now hold four patents relating to Aleve’s Safety SquEase design alone. The next year-and-a-half were spent fine-tuning the package design, with heavy emphasis on testing to confirm child- resistance, ease of adult use, and product protection. The final one-and-a-half years were spent scaling up to full production.

The “Safety SquEase” child-resistant closure is based upon the principle of hand-to-hand coordination. By that I mean the ability to do two different things with two hands at one time. This is an ability that children do not develop until around age five. By that time they should be mature enough to understand and follow instructions to leave dangerous items alone. But virtually all adults, of course, have this degree of hand coordination.

To open the “Safety SquEase” package, you simply squeeze the two tabs on the sides of the package lightly while twisting off the cap with the other hand. Closing is even simpler. You just turn the cap until you hear a click. This click, which can be both felt and heard, is a positive signal that the cap is fully closed and in a locked position — fully child- resistant again. We call this a “safety click.”

You may find it surprising that small children find it very difficult to do two different things with their hands at once but I can assure you it is true. A case in point is the old game of simultaneously patting your head and rubbing your tummy or vice-versa. Here is some footage of two real charmers trying to do this for us. We also asked them to try to open a bottle with the “Safety SquEase” closure, with similar results.

Of course, we didn’t rely on just those two young ladies for all our research, helpful as they were. In fact, we had the “Safety SquEase” package tested for child-resistance by more than 1,000 children at an independent qualified laboratory. We also had “Safety SquEase” tested by seniors at this same laboratory, using the senior-testing protocol that was being considered at the time by CPSC. We further tested the package among hundreds of people with arthritis and among thousands of typical adult consumers of analgesics nationwide. The new “Safety SquEase” closure — and, I might add, our Aleve product as well — passed all these tests with flying colors.

Before I go any further, let me openly acknowledge that the “Safety SquEase” closure is not the total solution to either child-resistance or user-friendliness. No package that is reasonably usable is completely childproof, and all medicines should be kept out of the reach of small children. Turning to user-friendliness, there is unfortunately a small segment of the population whose hands are very impaired. Even opening the “Safety SquEase” closure is too difficult for this small group. To better meet their needs, we are considering marketing the allowed one size of a non-child-resistant package.

But even with these caveats, we believe the “Safety SquEase” is a real step forward in terms of both product safety and consumer satisfaction. Importantly, consumers seem to think so, too. In just the few months that Aleve has been on the market, it is now the #4 brand of analgesic. This is well ahead of what other highly successful analgesic brands achieved at the same stage of their existence.

Obviously, I can’t tell you how much of Aleve’s success is due to the “Safety SquEase” closure and how much to its outstanding pain-fighting properties. The two go hand-in-hand, so to speak, to create a superior brand entry. What I can tell you, however, is that in less than a year we have already received more than 2,500 unsolicited testimonials from consumers about Aleve, including more than 300 about the “Safety SquEase” package. That is a very impressive number for a package feature. Let me read to you from one of the more touching letters [Exhibit C]. We are certainly pleased that the “Safety SquEase” closure has been such a help in many peoples’ lives.

In summary, P&G’s new “Safety SquEase” closure is providing a high level of product safety, along with consumer satisfaction and strong business results. We think it is a clear example that “safety sells.”

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