Apr. 28, 2008, Specialty foods quickly loose their appeal when contaminated by dust,
human hair, and packing material scraps. And no one is more aware of
the potential disaster than those companies that charge premium prices
for exquisite edibles.
Packaging faux pas spoil specialty food profits
Your customer reaches for the giant, juicy Royal Riviera pear. The texture and color are perfect. The scent is sweet. His mouth opens for that first succulent taste, and then he sees it: a piece of cardboard scrap is wedged into the delectable fruit like a rusty nail. On another occasion your deluxe chocolate truffles arrive in a gold gilded box. But as the customer bites into your heavenly confection, his teeth discover a corrugated fragment embedded in the candy’s smooth surface.
Specialty foods quickly loose their appeal when contaminated by dust, human hair, and packing material scraps. And no one is more aware of the potential disaster than those companies that charge premium prices for exquisite edibles. Be it fruit, nuts, chocolates or bakery goods – frozen or fresh – the presentation is often as important as the taste. Yet accidents happen, and holy Galloping Gourmet, are they ever costly.
The fault lies not in the stars, dear Brutus, but in the die cutting. For example, a firm qualified to cut corrugated cardboard – the everyman of packaging – may lack personnel who have the experience needed to apply a steel rule to plastic. And some specialty food firms with packaging needs may be fooled by the general perception that die cutting is nothing more than a “cookie cutter” process. The reality is tool making is a challenging profession, a mixture of art and engineering, which belies such simplistic comparisons. Therefore, specialty food companies would do well to seek specialty die cutters, whose proven skills and track record put them a cut above their competitors.
Ralph L. Clark, vice president of Cowlitz Container & Diecutting Inc., said companies with special skills can provide the finesse some large integrated shops are simply unprepared for. When his Washington state firm is called upon to fix a packaging problem, Clark gathers his staff of veteran cutters, and together they seek a solution that may include a change in methods or materials or both.
“When they come to us with a problem they’ve been experiencing with other suppliers, we find that either what they wanted wasn’t communicated well, or the company they’d hired simply didn’t have the experience to supply it,” he said. “We can combine our experience of cutting and tool making and be pretty creative with the end product. Cleanliness is not just the function of the tool cut, but the training of the people you have running the project.”
A case in point is a major online provider of gourmet food gift baskets. This Oregon company’s gift cartons are constructed with numerous corrugated partitions. And each partition is cut with slots so that it can integrate with all the other pieces of the packaging puzzle. Clark and company were contracted to devise a plan that guaranteed refuse from slot cuts would not embed in fruit, chocolate and bakery treats. Some larger firms simply don’t have the experience or patience – time is money – to make and keep such a promise.
“Imagine paying a hundred dollars for a food basket and you open it up and find scraps of paper in the product,” Clark said. “Other companies have tried to run that product and haven’t succeeded. In the food industry, scrap must be one hundred percent removed.”
And if scrap is not removed via the die cutting process, food packaging companies are forced to deploy staff members to clean it up. This solution is impractical and it disrupts productivity, which, in turn, incurs further costs that are unacceptable. “A lot of times, the converter will claim it’s the limitation of the tooling. But the machine itself can’t take out the scrap. The tooling has to be designed to do it properly. You need to choose someone who can backup what they say they can do. It will save you money in the long run,” Clark said.
Shermain D. Hardesty, Ph.D., an extension economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, said debris in specialty foods has not necessarily increased in recent years. However, that doesn’t mean problems don’t persist. A lack of industry forums that might help companies address packaging issues and share valuable experiences may be a contributing factor.
Lack of shared knowledge has the biggest impact on companies introducing a new specialty food. Since 1993 Hardesty has served as the primary instructor for the class, Getting Started in the Specialty Food Business, offered by University of California-Extension, Davis. Packaging mistakes rate high among the many pitfalls of introducing a new product, she said.
“They err by cutting corners on design fees and forgetting that their packaging is often their one and only salesperson,” said Hardesty, who in 1991 founded Food Marketing & Economics Group, a consulting firm that specialized in domestic and international marketing opportunities in the food industry.
Hardesty said another mistake specialty food firms make is trying to gain lower per-unit costs and printing large volumes, only to have to make changes in their labeling and/or ingredients and having to dispose of much of their packaging inventory- a huge waste of resources.
Clark said some firms who find themselves in such a situation may realize enormous savings if they find the right die cutter. Cowlitz was approached by a firm that for five years had stored expensive boxes sprayed with an insulated foam material. Rather than dispose of the boxes, the firm wanted to use them to package an entirely new product, but there was a hitch: the boxes needed to be about 5 inches shorter. Clark said his team designed die cutting tools that re-cut the end of the boxes, saving the firm about $9 per unit. “It’s an example of the versatility we have to offer,” he said.
At the end of the day, the delivery of a clean food product is the number one goal of specialty food firms. But even some established companies neglect to look closer to home when seeking cost-cutting procedures. If, for example, packaging is poorly designed it may gobble up excessive storage space. Again, the secret to success lies in finding a die cutter that can help streamline production before the fruit, nuts, muffins or caramel-covered popcorn ever reach the consumer’s lips.
“For one client, we presented a different design that was easier to setup and was stored flat, so it took up a lot less space. It saved the client a lot of money. And as concerns about the economy grow, those savings can be the difference between spending money on new projects, or putting off ordering new things,” Clark said.
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