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Packaging Choices
Planning Strategy

By Sum-Sum Chan

In the gourmet world of coffee and tea, packaging is an essential component to differentiating your product on the shelf. It helps manufacturers communicate the quality and aroma of the product to their customers.

Companies research packaging colors, design and materials, finding a look that best captures the target audience at the greatest price point.Most companies, however, neglect to consider how packaging plays an important part in enhancing the bottom line, especially in relation to logistics and warehousing planning. Packaging can mean many things; the individual packaging, the case or master packaging and the protection “packaging” when your product is placed on the pallet. This type of planning takes a great deal of forethought and research – a luxury not often afforded to startups or new product development. However, it’s never too late to learn about the potential pitfalls and how to prevent them.

Testing Your Durability
Protecting coffee and tea products enroute to a distribution center, store or customer comes down to one characteristic - durability. Loose-leaf teabags, breathable jute coffee bags, designer packaging and other crushables all need to be protected with durable packaging. Every company’s needs are different, so for packaging suggestions, feel free to revisit the March and April 2008 articles “Innovative Solutions in Packaging.”

As you weigh the options, consider several durability factors. Your packaging assembly as well as your packaging choices should reflect weight distribution, temperature changes and handling. What materials are most durable for long hauls and long-term inventory; which have the highest breathability to combat moisture; which are lightweight enough to minimize transportation costs?

There has always been debate surrounding material packaging choices that would allow products to breathe and maximize freshness. Both coffee and tea take on the smells and tastes of products around them, contaminating the delivered product. So comes the conundrum: the packaging should be porous, yet the more porous the packaging, the greater the risk of damaging the product’s authenticity.

Take your top packaging choices and evaluate their performance under stress. Consider three tests; weight distribution, durability during movement and extreme environmental conditions.

First, test your stability over a set period. Do so before a carrier or warehouse decides to stack your product two or three pallets high in case it can only withstand its own weight. Stackability is an especially prevalent issue in tea packaging. Its individual packaging is often delicate and fragile. The popular cardboard tea box is flimsy, so the casepack must be particularly durable to protect the individual units yet remain thin enough to maximize pallet real estate. After one day, note the immediate stress points. Then test again for one week and two weeks. This will give you a better indication of in-warehouse inventory conditions and damage management. These stackability tests will also help trim costs. If stackable two high, you will save on volume pricing for LTL and TL transportation and minimize your inventory floor costs as you outsource warehousing.

Durability in movement is essential to determining how your product moves on a pallet. Follow the pallet from storage to truck loading. Jostling can misalign slippery outer packs and a misplaced forklift can easily puncture a valve pack or jute bag. Cardboard slips have become a staple for wholesale shipments of 10 to 20 lb bags.

Finally, test environmental factors, including extreme heat, heavy moisture or cross-contamination, from fragrant products. Simulate these conditions for the course of a standard shipment and over longer periods of time, in the event a scheduled delivery is missed or an enroute delay occurs. Drop trailers will leave products more vulnerable to humidity and extreme heat, and non-breathable packaging will exacerbate the already hygroscopic product.

After a long travel through Florida and Georgia in the hot and humid summer, the pallet may find itself suddenly thrust in a cool section of a dark warehouse.Mold and buildup then become your immediate concerns. It is essential to stress proper stock rotation practices to your warehouse provider. Inquire about the moisture levels in the warehouse. Is there a refrigerated or freezer section? While proper temperature control can minimize mold, the moisture adjacent to any refrigerated section will adversely affect inventory.

Reconsider revamping production and warehouse operations for a more just-in-time system that will cut your inventory in half. A smaller inventory with higher turns restricts the time for mold to build up, contamination to develop and damages to occur. Not only will this shift lead to better quality and efficiency, but it allows for more accurate inventory checks and quality assurances, providing higher profits and a greater return.

Since coffee and tea is highly porous, absorbs nearby flavors and cannot be shipped with spices or other strong smelling products, conduct tests on a variety of products that could possibly rest near yours in the warehouse and on delivery. Many types of packaging can block other product’s odors, but not stronger, chemical-like, odors. For example, plastic molded items do not normally emit smells, but in extreme heat, the plastic may soften and release fumes. While you cannot test every shipped product on the market, it is a good idea to test a few suspects.

If you are a design-driven product, take extra care to protect the integrity of your investment - even miniscule scratches and bumps will lower your brand investment and cost you millions. Protection packaging is one of the best resources for the coffee and tea industry, especially when working with bulk coffee or loose leaf teas that must breathe. Cardboard slips and dividers provide protection from forklifts and prevent slippage. Wide straps, plastic or nylon, create stability at minimal cost. Shrinking is most often used, but spacing blocks can be used to maintain extra breathability. In-warehouse tools can include paper wrapping to prevent jostling, soft corner padding, or cardboard shells.

Invest in and opt for a strong sturdy pallet to provide better protection from breakage. Too many new and growing manufacturers have learned the hard way that design must be functional when placed in the warehouse setting. Other SMBs remember to consider packaging durability and forget to consider what palletizing and environmental conditions can change.

Find the Right Partner; Take the Proper Precautions
Careful packaging planning minimizes unexpected costs in damages but is only part of the equation, especially if packaging planning is limited. Finding an expert provider that understands the unique characteristics of coffee and tea will help ensure product integrity for the consumer.

“Some transportation people don’t have the expertise it takes to move our products in a careful manner,” says veteran coffee distributor Andrew Vournas, of Vournas Trading Company in Los Angeles, California, which delivers some of the world’s highest grade coffee from small farms direct to U.S. specialty roasters. Vournas knows firsthand the careful planning needed to protect his fragile freight and recommends taking special care in finding the right transportation company that knows the intricacies of your product and industry. He works directly with CaseStack, a national provider/broker, to deliver all his coffee to roaster customers.

It is best to carefully screen carriers and request recommendations for working with a seasoned representative that deals with other industry clients. Also rate them on delivery costs, on times, customer service, ease of claims processing (it is inevitable) and overall shipment transaction. Communicate to your representative very clearly and concisely your product’s unique characteristics. Voice your concerns and past negative experiences immediately.

Vournas stresses to his team and transportation representative to note exceptions directly on the bill of lading (BOL), like “do not ship with chemicals.” Logistics professionals’ primary objective is to deliver on time, under cost and with no damages. Therefore, intricacies such as the dangers of flavor contamination must be constantly reiterated.

As a distributor, Vournas takes that extra step to remind his roasters about the pitfalls of being hasty. “The roaster should physically inspect the coffee the minute it arrives, before the truck leaves and before signing the bill of lading. I tell them, ‘Don’t just count the bags, because it is a bit of work to go back and file claim. Note every thing on bill of lading at that very moment the product is received.’” He also stresses that every pallet should be clearly and properly marked for identification.

By planning ahead and developing both a packaging and pallet planning strategy, you will save money in the long run. Whether revamping the packaging of an existing product in an effort to increase sales or developing a pallet planning strategy for a product new to market, sales will increase only if the packaging is both attractive to the consumer and durable enough to make it to the shelves. Incorporating these considerations into your company’s overall production model will cuts costs, decrease damages, and enhance the product line’s success.

Sum-Sum Chan is the director of marketing & communications at CaseStack, a sustainability- focused logistics company providing shipping and warehousing solutions. She oversees the to-market strategy and brand building of the award-winning 3PL. She previously held the position of marketing director at Hint Mint, a gourmet confectionary company. www.casestack.com Contact Sum-Sum at: schan@casestack.com.

Tea & Coffee - June, 2009

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