Eating the pods causes “vomiting, mental status changes, and respiratory distress” ©Alamy Stock Photo
Eating the pods causes “vomiting, mental status changes, and respiratory distress” ©Alamy Stock Photo

Supply audit: Tide Pods

13 July 2018

P&G claims more than a quarter of the global fabric care market – but one brand features in a very different soap opera.

They look good enough to eat, don’t they?
Please try to resist the urge. They do have a sweet-like appearance, but it is still hard to fathom why eating Tide Pods has become a YouTube trend. More concerning is the risk that young children will unknowingly eat the pods, a worry that predates the #TidePodChallenge. In 2012 the US Center for Disease Control put out a warning after four children reportedly suffered from “vomiting, mental status changes, and respiratory distress” after eating the pods. The American Association of Poison Control Centers issued another this January.

What exactly are Tide Pods?
If you don’t do your own laundry, you may not know about these small plastic pouches that dissolve in your wash releasing concentrated detergent stored inside. Every major detergent brand now has a version but it was Tide – the US brand owned by Procter & Gamble – that popularised pods as we know them today.

So no more measuring powdered soap?
And wasn’t it such a chore? Washing powder as we know it first appeared in the 1880s. Tide, which started life as a synthetic heavy duty cleaner, was first introduced to the US market in 1946 and quickly rose to market dominance. The brand is still a powerhouse in the US, and became so popular that in 2011 there was a Tide crimewave. Drug dealers stole the liquid detergent in bulk to sell on the black market: with a street value of $5-$10 per bottle and no serial numbers – making it hard to trace – it was presumably easier than laundering cash.

Surely Tide wasn’t the first to make pods?
Pods have been a long time in the making. The first iterations of pouches and tablet-based suds arrived in the 1960s and included Colgate-Palmolive Action bleach pouches and Salvo tablets. These weren’t a great success, but P&G tried again in the 1980s with Cheer Power pouches, and in the 1990s Unilever launched Persil tablets.

So what made Tide Pods stick?
A combination of the right technology and, arguably, the $150m marketing budget (widely reported at the time) set aside for the product’s launch. Another novelty was the combination of detergent and fabric conditioner.

So why do they look so tasty?
A very good question. The firm switched the packaging from a transparent to a solid orange container in an attempt to reduce its confectionery vibe. However, the pods have kept their colour.

What the heck is going on, people?
P&G has gone out of its way to encourage the safe use and storage of the pods, and to discourage teen memes, even recruiting NFL player Rob Gronkowski to star in a short video warning people not to eat them.

Rob Gronkowski starred in a video warning people not to eat Tide Pods

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