Another take on Packaging: Tom’s of Maine Laminate Toothpaste Tubes

I noticed another change the other day. My toothpaste now comes in plastic tubes.

Stop the Presses!

Yes, I know that if you use Crest or Colgate, this is nothing new. But for years, Tom’s of Maine packaged their paste in recyclable aluminum.

The problem? While it might have been a good idea at its inception in the 1970s, in the 2010s things have changed:

  • Consumers complained about leaking tubes.
  • Recycling companies wouldn’t accept the tubes for recycling
  • Non-deposit aluminum recycling opportunities have decreased.

Why do I know this? I read the Tom’s of Maine Blog, which says:

In 2011 Tom’s of Maine began packaging its toothpaste in plastic “laminate” tubes rather than the aluminum tubes that were part of the brand for many years.

We made the decision to switch after giving the subject lengthy, holistic consideration which included taking into account current practices of manufacturing and recycling and, most importantly, your overwhelming feedback. (Source:  Tom’s of Maine)

Not only do they reference their decision process they make an environmental appeal for the change:

In 2007 Tom’s of Maine began the in-depth process to assess options for a better package alternative for our toothpaste.

In our evaluations we made sure to consider both the feedback you provided on tube usability and product waste as well as the values based Stewardship Model that has guided our decisions for many years and continues to do so today.

The results of our investigation, including consumer home-use testing among current Tom’s of Maine users like you as well as a critical review of our packaging and its projected sustainability and environmental impact, indicate:

  • Plastic Laminate tubes outperform aluminum tubes in both ease of use and our Stewardship Model beliefs;
  • Current Tom’s of Maine toothpaste users — and potential users — participating in testing significantly preferred plastic laminate tubes over aluminum tubes;
  • The lighter plastic laminate material reduced tube weight by nearly half — which saves energy when shipping tubes.
  • Manufacturing plastic laminate tubes requires less energy than the manufacture of aluminum tubes. (Source:  Tom’s of Maine)

Why Does This Matter?

It’s 2011:  if you have an opinion about a company you broadcast it on Twitter or ask them on their Facebook page.

Tom’s of Maine was smart. As they introduced the change they explained it in all their media. Why? They know their customers.

There’s a key to marketing.

What other consumer product changes have you seen?

Were they well-managed? As a consumer are you happy with the change, or at the very least does it make sense to you?

Tell me about it!

7 thoughts on “Another take on Packaging: Tom’s of Maine Laminate Toothpaste Tubes

  1. Dig a little deeper. I bought my first Tom’s in the palstic tube, and opened it to immediately notice the huge difference in size. 20%! I just happened to have an old metal tube in the bathroom, and I did the math. Wierd thing was, the package was the same size…dramatically downsized tube, same price, but no downsized packaging to warn the consumer of what lies inside. So I called the company, and heard the wildest PR spin I’ve ever heard. Supposedly they retooled for the plastic tubing, and downsized at that time, but were “unfortunately unable” to reduce the price commensurately. And the packaging? Also regrettably, their partners (the store chains) required that they keep the same size packaging if they wanted to keep their existing shelf space. You can’t make this stuff up! I am outraged, and I’m not done with them yet!

  2. If the new tube uses less energy to manufacture and to transport, why don’t we consumers see any savings. Tom’s should be forthright about the reasons for the change–$$$. And your blog should do more than simply shill–er–report what Tom’s website assures us is true.

    1. It probably has more to do with their tube suppliers and cost than anything else, but plastic is a crude oil by-product, and as crude oil gets more expensive so will this. It probably has more to do with the crude oil industry bullying the other container industries by undercutting their price, hardly making a profic, but cornering the market. When the major aluminum tube companies go out of business the price will go up. The toothpaste is made in USA, but no mention where the packaging is made – or – where the plastic for the packaging comes from. Unlike aluminum, plastic can contain a number of contaminants that can leach out. They could not pull this off without a slick “natural” marketing campaign. That we know. This is the first time I ever heard that plastic is better for the environment than aluminum, which is more natural and will decompose easier. I’m literally and figuratively “not buying it”

  3. I appreciate both your comments.

    Packages for all consumer goods are definitely getting smaller. Manufacturers have two choices: raising prices or reducing the product size. Which is easier for consumers to stomach?

    That being said, my post was not about the economics of the packaging, rather how the company chose to communicate their decision. They did that very well. Their job is to sell toothpaste and retain customers.

    What would you have thought if they made the change and said nothing?

  4. I have severe chemical sensitivity and these plastic toothpaste tubes give me a moderately severe vascular [migraine] headache. Mostly my symptoms occur when my wife and daughter brush their teeth. It is a recognizable plastic odor mixed with the mint odor. Apparently, the plastic vapors are being leached and dissolved into the toothpaste in the tube, and become vaporous and airborne when they brush their tooth, filling the room with this plastic “packaging” odor, when they squeeze it out to brush their teeth. It dominates my sense of smell because I am so sensitive to it, but I can easily see how the mint odor would mask this plastic odor for most people.

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