Fiji. Naked. Evolution Fresh. Odwalla. Starbucks Frappucino. And now, the meal replacement of the future, Soylent.
They’ve all embraced the same type of bottle for their products. It’s not exactly a square. And it’s not exactly round. “The official term is ‘sqround,'” says John Zelek, Senior Creative at Soylent. The company’s new bottles are shipping now.
Soylent redesigned its own bottle a mere two years after the company launched its first pre-bottled drink. The food startup known for its mixable powder had made the leap to full-fledged, meal replacement beverage, but to do so quickly, Soylent also made a compromise: It used an off-the-shelf bottle its manufacturer had in stock rather than create its own bottle from scratch.
The cylindrical white bottle had a wide mouth and a rounded neck. It was almost–but not quite–as neutral as the Soylent brand itself. Because with an almost art deco flourish, it tapered toward the bottom and had feet at the bottom to add stability.
“It was the kind of thing we needed then,” says Zelek. “We used it as a blank canvas to put our brand on. But there were a couple of issues with it.”
Part of it was about ensuring competitors couldn’t put their name on bottles that looked just like Soylent’s. But the larger problem was that Soylent had chosen this cylindrical bottle for a product that was shipped in 12-packs straight to consumers, taking the abuse of warehouse pallets and UPS trucks.
“Two circles are going to have one pressure point. If you hit one side of the box, all of the bottles are going to smash into each other,” says Zelek. “A lot of the time, we’d ship to consumers, and the bottle would show up dinged. It just didn’t set up the best look possible.”
It was a domino effect of dings. So Soylent began to investigate a redesign of its bottle, using a square base instead. Squares would displace pressure across a plane, reducing denting. And it would also allow Soylent to fill dead space in those rectangular boxes. (The redesign shaved 15% of volume off the shipping box.)
Searching for the perfect modified square profile, Soylent looked to the shape of milk bottles from the ’50s and ’60s. “We thought there was a nice parallel to the days you used to get your staple foods delivered, because that’s where we are at again,” says Zelek of the Amazon Prime era of shipping. “I’d say that was the main object for inspiration.” And ultimately, the soft-squared curves of those milk bottles are very similar to what you see in use by beverage companies today.
It’s the sqround bottle!
“The reason ‘sqround’ is a thing is, when you’re manufacturing these bottles, and they’re going down conveyed belts around corners, if they have too sharp of corners, they lock up along each other, and can shut down the line,” says Zelek. “That’s why every square bottle you see is kind of the same shape.” Which is why, even though Soylent came to the conclusion that it needed a rounded, square bottle largely on its own, much of the packaged beverage industry had already landed at the same place first.
“When we pitched it to our manufacturer, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, sqround? We can do that,'” laughs Zelek.