Digital Packaging Summit: 'Thousands of Small Brands' Equal 'Thousands of Customers'
If, as Kevin Karstedt says, small, regional and start-up brands are “low hanging fruit” waiting to be harvested by providers of digital printing for packaging and labels, then shouldn’t picking the fruit be a simple matter?
Not so fast. On November 6, Karstedt, as co-chair of the Digital Packaging Summit, impaneled representatives of three such brands to talk about what it takes to earn their confidence and win their business. The speakers agreed that what count the most are empathy, responsiveness, and a willingness to understand their products and the challenges of bringing them to market.
As one of the panelists, Calvin Osterberg, director of packaging and facilities maintenance for Rochester Midland Corporation, reminded the audience of package and label printers, “I don’t need a product – I need a supply chain solution that solves my problems.” And that’s far from being all there as to how small brands define their expectations of packaging providers.
Lisa Gregor, owner of The Church Street Brewing Company in Itasca, Ill., made a direct appeal for practical guidance. A small craft brewing business like hers, she said, “needs suppliers that will listen to how we will use their products and help us decide exactly what we need.” This assistance should be accompanied by short runs at reasonable prices, quick turnarounds, and flexibility whenever packaging and label requirements change.
Packaging firms that want to connect with small brands must make an effort to find them through local Chambers of Commerce and other business groups, Gregor advised. There may be more of them than suppliers realize: in the Chicago area, she said, there are about 250 small breweries and brew pubs with the same need for branded packaging and labels as her company.
She added that because “we brewers talk a lot among ourselves,” word about dependable packaging suppliers is sure to get around.
Rochester, N.Y.-based Rochester Midland Corporation is, according to Osterberg, “a small-batch specialty chemical company” that typically ships its products in cartons of 250 one-gallon containers. “Standout” graphic design on a package can turn the batch into a premium product that RMC can sell at a correspondingly higher price, he noted.
Where packaging suppliers go wrong, Osterberg asserted, is in trying to apply “previous standards of manufacturing, rules, and prices” to their digital work when they could be offering “unlimited digital solutions” on terms that make better sense for those who buy what the technology produces. Something else that RMC wants to see, he continued, is a commitment to the kind of “lean thinking” that can help customers reduce their excess inventory; make better use of wasted space; and curb overproduction, unnecessary movement and over-processing.
“Digital processes have the capability to eliminate all of these,” he challenged the Summit audience. “Are they included in your value proposition when selling?”
In 2007, Eddie Simeon and a group of his friends in New York City began concocting drinks based on bitters: an alcohol-infused flavoring that can be sold (like vanilla extract) in grocery stores. By 2011, they’d gained enough expertise to launch an enterprise called Hella Cocktail Company: a specialty purveyor of bar mixes, syrups, and bitters with an expanding product line and a similarly growing need for labels and packaging.
Once a shoestring outfit that put up its recipes in reused hot sauce bottles, Hella today is a supplier of cocktail mixers to Delta Air Lines and is on the verge of launching what it believes will be its breakthrough retail product, a sparkling bitters-and-soda beverage. Simeon, Hella’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, said that this year, the company has spent the equivalent of about 10% of its sales on packaging and expects to keep spending at that pace as sales increase to a projected $10 million-plus by 2020.
“It’s all about the packaging at the end of the day,” said Simeon, who buys labels and cartons for Hella’s bottled products. The suppliers of that packaging must be “empathetic” people who, when something goes wrong, have the same sense of urgency about solving the problem as the customer affected by it.
Simeon mentioned that one of the most persuasive pitches he’s received from a packaging supplier included a sample container “skinned” with Hella brand imagery as if it had come from Hella itself. Gregor and Osterberg, who have seen similar mock-ups, agreed that it can be a highly effective sales aid.
In fact, said Osterberg, a vendor that simulated an RMC package using graphics “scraped from our web site” became a $1 million supplier in less than six months.