Case Study: Ooho
Ooho makes edible water orbs that eliminate the need for plastic packaging. The water is encapsulated is an thin clear film derived from algae. The Ooho balls are round, almost bouncy, clear spheres, enchanting in both their form and tactility. To consume the Ooho balls, you either pop the whole thing in your mouth or bite off an edge of the film and suck the water down. In an effort to encourage innovation and healthy competition in the arena of algae packaging, Ooho shared a version of their recipe for the product online. And while I find the idea exciting, I wonder if it really can be effective at replacing plastic packaging. Won’t the balls need to be packaged in something? To find out more I did a brief interview with Rodrigo Gonzalez, one of the co-founders of Ooho.
Ian: The first thing I wanted to ask you is what is your ultimate vision for the secondary packaging?
Rodrigo: Yeah. So the main kind of objective that we are working towards is to have a machine that makes them at the point of consumption. So, that would simplify the distribution and delivery …. We don't need a big factory. …if you want to have that you can kind of like fill them almost at the place where you're gonna buy them, for example, then you can sell them directly… We are referencing food and how it is displayed in this scenario.
Ian: Wow, that's really clever. Another question I wanted to ask you is I love that you published the recipe on creative comments early on and I wanted to ask you, why did you do that? I feel like most businesses would've kept it secret.
Rodrigo: At the beginning it was not thought to be a business… We wanted to get a lot of reach and at the same time improve the recipe and get feedback. So that was pretty nice and I think at the moment we are trying to think how we take at it further, that aspect of the community. At the same time now we are a business, and we have to make money and we have to protect some of the things that we do and the way that we are trying to deal with that is to protect the things that are on a more industrial scale, not on a personal scale.
Ian: Thank you so much for doing that. That's so great for us students. So you mentioned looking at fruit as sort of a metaphor. Is biomimicry something you're consciously thinking of?
Rodrigo: …There are so many solutions that nature has been using for many years that are still relevant. And yea nature is a continuous reference for us in terms of solutions.
Ian: How sustainable is that supply chain as you grow and the company scales?
Rodrigo: Yeah, so I don't know if you know too much about seaweed, but it's one of the fastest growing organisms than the planet. Some of the seaweed that we use can grow a few meters per day, so it's kind of incredible. And as with everything, you have to kind of like, deal with it consciously. You can farm it, or you can harvest. It grows on every coastline in the world. It's easy to get locally as well. And it doesn’t compete too much with food. Because as you know with PLA and other types of bio plastics that come from sources of food that there's always like this kind of dilemma.
1. How does the form of the package relate to the packaging substrate?
The Ooho balls reference the orbs that hang off kelp, but mostly the round form also brings to mind earth, water droplets, and the circle of life. The form is absolutely perfect for the product, it’s novel, beautiful, and creates a playful new drinking experience.
2. How does the materiality of the package speak to the packaging substrate?
The softy slimy feel of the package calls to mind the wet filmy feel of algae. Again Ooho is wildly successful and creating an interesting tactility.
3. Does the tactile feel of the material suggest communicate its proper end disposal (recycling with plastic, paper, compost?)
For the most part there is no waste! But if an outer film were to be peeled off to reveal an inner film, the softy gooey feel of the outer film would successfully suggest compost.
4. How did the design achieve tangible sustainability gains?
In cases where the Ooho balls are appropriate to use, the Ooho balls will eliminate the need for petroleum based plastic. I do worry that Ooho is talking too big a game by suggesting that their product seeks to eliminate plastic water bottles. As far as I understand Ooho, the use case for the product is extremely limited, as you can’t really carry Ooho balls around with you without some sort of secondary packaging.
5. How was the design implemented on a large scale?
Ooho partnered with Imperial College in London and was able to benefit from free labor and lab space in the university’s chemistry department. Ooho also received (well-deserved!) grants from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.
6. What made the design cost-effective? And if the design was not cost-effective, how was a roadmap put in place to make it so?
Ooho took on outside investors to accompany grant funding. The company is investing in its own proprietary manufacturing technology rather than relying on outside packaging manufacturers.
7. How does the design anticipate future infrastructure changes?
The design anticipates a world where plastic is too precious to be used for single-use packaging, but we still have a need for one-time use water containers.
8. Did the design result in a positive brand story?
Yes, there has been a lot of buzz around Ooho with articles in Fast Company and the Telegraph. Let’s hope the product can live up to the hype!