From Baby Formula to Ketchup: How to Keep Products Safe & on Shelves

In this episode, Thomas Osip, R&D Director, at Reckitt Nutrition share some of his experience around product development and innovation at some of the world's largest Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies. Listen to how his company addressed the 2022 baby formula shortage and his take on why it's so important to keep products safe, and on store shelves.

Posted on 
May 12, 2023
Laura Foti
CMO, Specright

With the rise in regulations and concerns about safety and health on the rise, there are actually a huge number of similarities in the relationship between food, medical products, and nutrition. 

With hands-on experience in all of these industries, Thomas Osip has brought several product and packaging innovations to market at industry-leading companies such as Abbott and ConAgra, seeing this relationship firsthand. 

Moving from Abbots Hospital Product Sector into the Nutrition Division Osip quickly connected the dots between the two divisions, seeing areas where improvements could be made - specifically related to materials and packaging.   

My discussion with Thomas pushed my understanding of these industries to the next level and I am excited to share this new knowledge with all of you. 

Below are some highlights from our conversation - you can listen to the full audio on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Soundcloud. And be sure to subscribe to our channel to get the latest episodes as soon as they drop. 

On Innovation and Decision-Making to Combat Covid-19

“It was tough even before the shortage of infant formula because with Covid, getting commodities was tough, and then you compound that with last year and being when two major companies in the industry that had a significant recall and a shutdown of a facility for a long time, and so we at Reckitt stepped up as much as we can to fill the void and it included lots of things.

It was obviously focused on volume. It wasn't necessarily what the consumer would normally want in a pack format or a pack size or what a retailer might want optimally, but our mission was to try to get as many feedings out as humanly possible.

So we ran our plants 24/7. We supplemented it with a program we had with the White House where we were actually flying formula in from Singapore into the US and then finishing and packeting it in one of our domestic plants. We leveraged our worldwide network as best we could.” 

On Product Variation and Market Adaptation

“We're always going to strive to find the combination of ingredients that match as close as we can to the benefits of breast milk. From the pack size to the pack format, it varies around the world. I'd like to think that we could have an iconic Coke bottle, but the economic affordability is different around the world. So what sells in Southeast Asia may not be the exact same thing as in the US. So we tend to look at packaging a little more regionally, even though idealistically, I'd love to have an iconic package that we sold around the world, but typically it varies.”

On Maintaining Brand Image and Competitive Markets

“We had to be extremely careful if we were going to make a change to a package format when we had core heavy users that dominated the sales of that product. So obviously change has to be affordable, but you also want to look at consumer trends and things like that.

The biggest industry change I experienced was when I was working on the Hunts brand with this inverted ketchup bottle. We suspected Heinz was working on it, so we started working on it. We had a press conference out in New York, this is quite a few years ago, and the night after we did that, Heinz hurried up and rushed out some. It looked like something scratched on a napkin saying, "Hey, we're doing this too." And then basically, it was a race to see who could get out to market faster. And sometimes you win the battle, but you lose the war. And in this case, we were first to market, but Heinz is such a dominant brand for ketchup, it never really shifted significantly the market share that we were hoping. But it did kind of help usher in kind of a format that's become iconic now.”

On Bringing New Products to Market

“It's maybe a little bit faster in some ways now in that you can do more computer simulation now that we weren't able to do 20 years ago. There was a lot of engineering thought put into it, but you couldn't really simulate the flow of materials and how they're going to act in different processes. It was more experience based. You would build a unit tool and even a unit tool back then probably took 16 to 20 weeks to build. And that's just to make a prototype single cavity so that you can injection mold or you can blow mold a container and then you would take it through its paces. You'd make adjustments as needed. And then to make the full commercial set of molds could be another 26 to 30 weeks. I bet the timing now is probably longer for molds just because of supply.

Ever since Covid, supply chains have been very, very complicated. So you're talking probably half a million dollars or more for a production mold set these days. Then you have to trial, you've got to qualify the molds, you've got to qualify it on the manufacturing line. If there’s a minor change, you can often use your existing lines, with some modifications, but if it's a completely new design, it often comes with a brand new manufacturing line.”

On The Levels of Approval When it Comes to Packaging

“It involves a lot of functions that you may not think about. I'd go first on the material side because the material you select needs to be suitable. It needs to be, let's call it food grade if it was for a ketchup bottle. If it is for something like infant formula, which my current company makes a lot of, it is really, really detailed as far as what you need to know, what kind of migration could be coming through, what are the acceptable limits for either an infant or a preterm infant. So even if a packaging material is good, it isn't automatically good for infants. It's a completely separate evaluation and process that you go through with the FDA and the Office of Food Additive Safety, which is part of the FDA.

So you do your material screening, make sure that that's going to be okay, and then you would typically go into an engineering design phase. I always love the packaging role because sometimes you've got your creatives that want these wild, crazy things that are beautiful, absolutely beautiful, but they may not be very manufacturable or they may not be very runnable. Then if you're on a production line, you probably want a hockey puck. You want something short, round, and that can go fast. You want something space age if you're on the creative side. And what you need to do is bring those two together, get the design elements that are important to consumers, yet affordable, functional, and can run in a manufacturing plant.

And so the functions really vary. I mean, it's a lot of design up front, but we try to bring the engineering and manufacturing folks in at least conceptually so that they can weigh in. But also it’s procurement, it's often legal, it's marketing, it's sales, product development. The other R&D functions are important, but we go all the way from the front end through even downstream logistics and waste management and things like that.” 

On Driving the Value of Packaging Across Teams  

“For those in the packaging field, you've got to force yourself into those conversations early. In some companies, it might be more well-known what packaging does, more respected and a key part, in other companies maybe not so. If you happen to work for one of those companies where it's not so top of mind, you've got to find a way to get in because it's either pay me now or pay me later, and you don't want to come in late in a project where timelines have been established and you're the bad guy because it's impossible to deliver what needs to be done. Understanding what the product is, where the product protection needs are going to be, and what forms of distribution it is going to take… Traditionally the CPG company is designed for regular full pallet distribution, and now the trend is e-commerce. Between 20, 25% of our products are sold e-comm, but our lines are not set up for e-comm packaging. So it's either you take a chance and you send your retail packaging out there that's meant to be in a full pallet in a truck and protected and live with the damage rates, or you actually pack it off as if it's going to go to a grocery store and you unwrap it and repack it into an e-commerce pack, which is extremely expensive and inefficient.”

Listen to the whole episode here to learn more about the value of packaging for all companies and teams.

You can learn more about Reckitt Nutrition here and you can connect with Thomas on LinkedIn here.

Click here to listen to more Beyond the Shelf podcast episodes.


Laura Foti

Laura leads marketing and investor relations at Specright. Prior to Specright, she led advertising and analytics at GE Digital, GE’s Industrial Internet software business. Before that, she was a consultant at Deloitte Digital working in enterprise digital transformation, where she helped clients design and deploy eCommerce experiences, develop revenue-driving mobile apps, and reimagine their global digital marketing strategy. Laura was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for marketing and advertising and Brand Innovators 40 Under 40 and 100 Women to Watch lists. She graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She resides in Newport Beach, CA.

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