Startup To Scale

109. Choose the right packaging for your products

April 24, 2023 Foodbevy Season 1 Episode 109
109. Choose the right packaging for your products
Startup To Scale
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Startup To Scale
109. Choose the right packaging for your products
Apr 24, 2023 Season 1 Episode 109

 Choosing your product packaging is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in starting your company, but it often gets rushed over. Your packaging impacts your shelf-life, branding, manufacturing method, and more. Join me for a conversation with Jeff Jacobs with ePac as we discuss what you need to consider when choosing packaging for your brand. 

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Show Notes Transcript

 Choosing your product packaging is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in starting your company, but it often gets rushed over. Your packaging impacts your shelf-life, branding, manufacturing method, and more. Join me for a conversation with Jeff Jacobs with ePac as we discuss what you need to consider when choosing packaging for your brand. 

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.


Jordan Buckner: [00:00:00] On today's episode, we're gonna be talking about how to choose the right packaging for your products, which is a very important decision as you are getting started and throughout the lifecycle for your business. So for this conversation, I've invited on my friend Jeff Jacobs, who is the VP of marketing for epac, and they specialized in flexible packaging, but Jeff knows a little bit about everything on the packaging front.

So Jeff, welcome. 

Jeff Jacobs: Thanks, Jordan. Glad to be 


Jordan Buckner: So as emerging brands are starting out, a lot of times one of the first decisions they have to make is what type of packaging they're gonna put their products in. And along with the kind of branding and design and everything else that goes into that, sometimes it's a little bit of an afterthought.

Sometimes it's looking at competitors who are on the shelf. So I'd love to start off to hear your viewpoint of what considerations go into choosing a packaging type. 

Jeff Jacobs: Oh, a lot. So it's kind of a loaded question there a little bit, Jordan, but , you could say that your [00:01:00] business hinges on your packaging if you do it wrong.

It is something that can destroy a startup. And so it is really a critical element when you're starting up to make sure you get it right. I don't say that in mean to scare anyone, but it is kind of a cautionary. Of warning that it is not something to take super lightly because if you put something in a package that doesn't work well for your product and everything goes bad, by the time it hits retailer shelves, you've got a really serious problem.

You don't have a product, you don't have anything to sell. And so that's super important, super critical if you get your package. Wrong or you miss a very critical piece of regulatory information. You could have to recall all of your product and that kind of expense can be a death sentence to certain brands that are just trying to get off the ground.

And so certainly a very critical piece of any startup. Trying to figure out what's the right way to package my product. And so there's certainly a whole host of considerations that you [00:02:00] have to kind of think about. Everything from kind of what the materials are to what you put on it, how you print it are you gonna get it in time?

What are delivery dates, things like that. 

Jordan Buckner: You know, when I was starting TeaSquares, we had no idea what we were going to package our product in. And we were doing you know, these like small bite size energy squares. And I ended up finding like this rice paper look flexible packaging, like stamp patch you see everywhere.

Like on Amazon we printed off the label that FedEx office. And kind of stuck those on and took those to our meeting with Whole Foods, right? It was something that we could easily buy that was available and we were like, okay, I think that's just what we have to go with. But it was complete just out of convenience and I didn't understand things around how material affects shelf life.

And we're bringing your product from Lauren Vasay if we're getting, you know, think about moisture barriers. Or even how it looks and stands , on shelf. And so I know there's a lot of areas on there that, you know, brands , can think about. And so, you know, like what are [00:03:00] some of those material considerations around that affect shelf life for our product?

Jeff Jacobs: Yeah, I mean, you kind of touched on a couple of them things like moisture barrier and with that example of the rice paper look that you gave, my guess is that it was a much thinner material. It did not have a moisture barrier so of any significance. And so your product was either if it was gonna sit for a while, gone stale much quicker than if you had a higher moisture barrier type of product.

Something like a met pad or something with kind of a metallic type of a finish or just a higher barrier property layer. And so that. Really plays into the quality of your product, the longevity of your product. And so thinking about what type of product you have and how impacted it is by whether there's a moisture issue whether your packaging popcorn you wanna make sure that there's no moisture that gets into it.

If you're packaging a frozen food, you wanna make sure that there is some barrier exchange within. Otherwise you could have other issues because of that. And so [00:04:00] understanding kind of what your product is and either researching it or talking with your packaging provider is really key to understanding.

How do you Package your product or pick the appropriate material so that it works well. Things like glass, if you're in a glass jar for a product you notice that a lot of products like tomato sauces are generally in glass jars. And so there's a number of reasons for that, whether it's customer perception, marketing thing that it feels more premium to be in a glass jar, but you'll also.

Less expensive products that , are in a glass jar too, because you don't have any of that potential for the plastics to leach into the product and impact the quality of the product that you're putting there. And so I know personally, I only blank buying glass jars just because I'm not so sure about the acidity and the potential for how that might impact the product and what I'm eating.

And so I think a lot of consumers kind of have that same thought. And so by considering kind of what the product is that you're gonna be putting in there, there are additional [00:05:00] considerations that you need to be thinking about to understand. All right. How is this gonna impact what I'm putting it in?

How is someone gonna be experiencing the product? So it's not just the actual material. It's a convenience product that someone needs to be able to open quickly when they're on the go? Doesn't need to be resealable. I mean, that's something that you think about. There's a number of products that 

I'm trying to see, I may even have one on my desk here somewhere that doesn't have a resealable resellable zipper or a closed top. It's a single open type of product and then it, that is kind of a problem to try to store it and maintain it if you want, need to use it later. And so that's always a big consideration is how someone is going to actually use my product.

And how would that, Impacting , their experience of it. And are they gonna buy it again or is it gonna be, oh wait, that's product that I tried once and I had to go get another jar out to put the leftovers in and it was a pain in the butt, so I'm gonna buy the other product instead this time.

Jordan Buckner: So, you know, it's interesting. There is a I think it was like one of the Bob's Red Mill like flowers or something [00:06:00] had a kinda like a Vero Seal on it. And I just remember like that was a lot more convenient just to close than the typical like paper bag that I'm trying to like scrunch over. And just like the ease of use for, I was like, oh, this is a great idea.

Or like a lot of people have been posting around like, why don't. Like cold cereal bags have resealable you know, closures on there since it lasts for, you know, 10 to 20 servings or so. Yeah, absolutely. 

Jeff Jacobs: It's just so I know, my example of that is the sour cream. I buy the squeezable with the top on it sour cream because I know I can just like squeeze it out and I know I'm paying, I don't know, probably triple per ounce, what I would pay in a container, but just the convenience factor makes it worth it for me.

 That it's gonna last a little bit longer, that it's not exposed to the air as much and it's just easier to use. And so I think , there's a ton of examples like that. And so think about kind of your product and say, all right, how would. Want to work with my product? Is this a one-time [00:07:00] use thing that I'm gonna open and we're gonna , be good?

Or do I need to think about more creative solutions for how I package, how I use it, how someone might be using it? 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. You know, I think that's interesting. And one thing that I've noticed with myself and other emerging brands and founders think that they're not really sure what questions they need to ask.

So that they can consider all the different options. And I think we've touched on some of 'em. So one being what are the product requirements for the packaging from a standpoint of shelf life and moisture barriers? And so kind of understanding and bringing that. Product and the qualities of it to your packaging supplier are gonna be super important.

Then you also mentioned the consumer perception of the product. So products are packaging, glass versus other materials. The convenience of it maybe if it is meant to be single use, is that a, a pleasant experience or sustainability and the recyclability of certain products in there as well. And then I think , a third area.

As the manufacturer ability of the packaging. Mm-hmm. Because for a [00:08:00] lot of manufacturers, right, they have very specific pieces of equipment that run mm-hmm. Specific types of packaging on there. And if you bring something that's unique to a manufacturer, they might not be able to run it on their machines.

Yeah. Have you experienced that with the work that you. 

Jeff Jacobs: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That's something that we work with , our vendor, both vendors and customers. So vendors meaning co-packers and other companies like that to educate them on how to use some of the products.

Sometimes it comes into that. Just this morning We were talking about a hot fill, hot fill requirement for one of our customers in figuring out what the right material spec was for that. So you have to not only think about kind of what the equipment is, but also what's the process that they're using.

So if it's a hot fill, you again, don't want products , to leach into your product. Impact the quality of your product or have anything that the taste kind of comes into or your consumers are consuming. And so if you just go out and just go buy something that you don't understand from overseas, that you don't [00:09:00] understand really what it is or what the material is, they just say, oh, this is good.

This is good. You can use it. I mean there's some risk in that. And so understanding kind of what that process is and kind of walking through with your co-packer, if that's who you're using, then that's a good way to kinda really make sure you're understanding to avoid some of those mistakes.

Because you're right, some equipment won't work with certain types of packaging. So if your co-packer only does bottle fill or they only do flexible you wanna know that before you go out and go buy all this packaging, that's not gonna work. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. And then even I know a lot of times brands will think about, you know, they'll start with one manufacturer and then maybe switch to another and you're like, oh, like, you know, it's fairly.

And interchangeable a lot of times, like you have to know, like what their packaging equipment looks like, what their lines are because they might have 80% of the equipment but not the remaining 20 that you need, and that can be expensive if they're running with 500 million pieces of equipment.

Jeff Jacobs: Yeah. Well, I mean, the other things that you don't think about are things like a [00:10:00] rewind. So how is that for unflexible packaging if you wind , your film a certain way and that's not compatible with the way that the manufacturer that you're working with equipment is set up, you can have some problems and have to kind of deal with some issues.

And so thinking about some of those, And asking that beforehand makes it a lot easier and makes the process go a lot smoother when manufacturing. 

Jordan Buckner: Oh my goodness, Jeff, I won't tell you the mental gymnastics that I had to do when figuring out the specs around our TeaSquares energy bar wrappers, and we ran it through a flow wrappers and flexible film and, you know, first figuring out like what.

Material that we needed to, one, get the look, but also the moisture barriers. So like that was an issue. And then second was, Figuring out the dimensions the width of the packaging, right? Because our bar was four inches by one by half an inch. But then we had to figure out the width and the length of , the flexible for each one.

And we're like, okay, we have to take into account like how thick is our seal that [00:11:00] goes in? Mm-hmm. Because, We won't want any overlap. And then the, it has to wrap around the packaging, but not be extremely tight, but not have, be too loose. And so like all these little things went in to figure out like the measurements around.

And so like we finally got that. And then as you mentioned, , the rewind. And basically that's if. You know, if you think about right, the role of the film is the mm-hmm. Print on the kind of inside along with the film, or is it on the outside looking at it? Yeah. And is it facing one direction or facing the other direction?

And so there's like four different options, I think, 

Jeff Jacobs: and, yep. Yep. That actually, oh 

Jordan Buckner: my goodness. I don't even wanna imagine. 

Jeff Jacobs: Well, cause then you also have to consider your horizontal versus vertical. Mm-hmm. And so horizontal vertical, if you swap that and then you wind it one way versus winding the other inside outside, and it seems simple.

It's kinda like, well, , you just wind it. You just. Roll it up, right? Well, yeah, kind of. But it gets a little bit more complicated than that. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. There's not just like one standard and we manufacture our things on our own flow wrapper that we like [00:12:00] rented from a company. And it was just like mentally, literally like thinking like, okay, the film's going this way and flipping around five times through the machine, and it comes out this direction.

So , what does that need to look like? 

Jeff Jacobs: Yeah, yeah. Well, it's a little bit like a who's on first comedy routine of like, all right, it goes this way, goes that way, this way. Which, what? How does that work? 

Jordan Buckner: Oh my goodness. So, yeah, I mean, it, you know, that gets me to another question is a lot of times founders will think.

You know, like, oh, I wanna come out with an innovative product and an innovative packaging to go along with it. What's you typically advice when you're seeing brands in terms of when they should create an innovative packaging type versus going with something that's standard? 

Jeff Jacobs: You know, , it's tough because , you wanna stand out on the shelf and so you wanna be different.

There's definitely something to be said for that. On the other hand you've gotta educate consumers if you're different. People don't always understand. There's a company that I worked with as a mentor that manufactures ice cream products that are a dry, good product that you, it's like a [00:13:00] mix.

When someone sees it on the shelf and they see it in one kind of packaging, they're not expecting that. They kind of look at it and say, you know, this isn't what I'm expecting to see. I expect it to see in the freezer section. I expect it to see it here. And so one of the things that we did with them is , we moved it into a pint.

Cardboard ice cream container. And so it both serves as a kind of visual cue to the buyer that, Hey, this looks like ice cream. Wait a minute, I'm in the middle aisle section of the store and then gets them to look a little bit closer so that both does at attract attention and gets them to look at it.

And then also serves going back to that experience piece of it as, all right, how am I gonna use this? And so what we talked through as well, if we use that. When you empty the product in, you mix it up in the bowl, you add your ingredients, you can then pour it back into that container, and then you put it into your freezer, and then it acts just like a ice cream container.

And so , there's kind of all these different pieces to that experience and kind of how , you look at it. And so by [00:14:00] understanding. What your consumer is experiencing, how you want them to see you. Then you can kind of be a little bit more creative. You can do things that are a little bit different.

But with that are, the kind of, the watchouts why is it that everyone is using a certain type of packaging in their container? Maybe there's a reason that you're not thinking of that. Nabisco or Nestle has spent millions and millions of dollars on and determined that this was the best packaging solution for X, y, z reasons that you may pay a very expensive lesson , to learn.

And again, kind of that the different things you don't think about. That maybe are related to the type of product, the category things like that could be very costly lessons, but it's kind of rest versus reward. Sometimes it's worth it to go for that and just kind of go for something a little bit different.

So you do stand out on the shelf and you do kind of attract attention. 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. You know, I have a innovative framework that , I like to talk through with brands and the gist of it is because consumers only have [00:15:00] three seconds maybe at max, to determine , if your product is right for them.

It's easier to have one, maybe two points of differentiation with your product for someone to easily understand. Mm-hmm. And so a consumer should be able to see it and say, oh, that's X, Y, Z, and I want it, or I don't want it. And if it takes longer than that then you're gonna lose that battle because they'll say, huh, interesting.

And walk away. Right? Because they don't have time to really think about what it is. And customers literally told me that with TeaSquares they're like, I saw it, didn't really get what it was. And so I left it. But now that I try to the demo, I really like it, and now I'll buy it. Right. But we can't demo all the time and sample.

And so if the packaging, as you were kind of saying, Is the key differentiator that you're going for and people can understand the rest of it, then great. I think that's, that's really smart. Mm-hmm. But if it's just mm-hmm. Another thing to add just because and it's not really the core differentiator that customers are asking for, then that can be problematic and it's easier to go with something that's [00:16:00] standard so that they don't have to really do all their mental gymnastics to figure out like what the product actually.

Jeff Jacobs: Yeah, absolutely. It's that risk versus reward piece of it is that, like the sour cream example I used earlier, there's a risk in putting in that, that you're not used to it being like that. But they mitigated that by having a brand presence, that looks exactly the same as the jar.

So it's instantly recognizable. As a sour cream product. And you see it and you're like, okay, oh, that's a little different. I'll give that a try and see how it works. And then you can , kind of do that. So, especially if you're a new brand and you don't have that brand equity that you can leverage to try to move people over to a innovative type of packaging, then you've gotta kind of consider that.

Jordan Buckner: That's the per example. I love it. Cause then people say like, oh, it's sour cream in the squeeze jar. Yep. It's easy. It's like easy 

Jeff Jacobs: three seconds. Exactly. One point of differentiation. Different packaging. That's what does it. No, if there's 

Jordan Buckner: like a, if you're strawberry dill flavor, sour cream in the cheese, in the squeeze pack, then it's like, what?

Jeff Jacobs: Wait. [00:17:00] Yep. Oh yeah. Exactly. Exactly. And so kind of that reward that you can get out of it you've gotta. Weigh your risk. Yeah. Of what you're, what you're doing to, to do that. And so it's, there's no definite catch all answer to it because for some brands, they need to take that risk.

If you're in a crowded category and you have to differentiate yourself and your product isn't differentiating it. Maybe the packaging is what you , use to do that. But if you're a unique flavor and completely different and sanding out there and you have a completely different package, then you're.

Maybe, taking on bit off more than you can chew and trying to achieve too much with what you're doing. So I agree with that point.

Jordan Buckner: Totally agree. The other thing I wanna mention on which kind of goes into that testing is, you know, a lot of times founders on their first orders will think like, oh, do I go with a.

Large volume of packaging and get a lower price? Or do I go with a lower minimum more quantity, but pay a higher price? What [00:18:00] are your thoughts on that first decision? 

Jeff Jacobs: Yeah, I mean my opinion , is it's a risk if you say, Like, well, I can get it for a 3 cents cheaper if I buy 10,000 extra or double my quantity of what I'm looking to buy for my first order.

Well, you may say 3 cents on each package, but if you end up throwing half of them away, you just doubled the cost of your initial order. And so it's kind of like You gotta be pretty confident that you're gonna use all of it to generate that benefit and that discount that you're thinking you're gonna get.

I've seen a number of brands, I think of one that I won't name, but was talking to him at an event. , he was explaining what his product was. He pulled it out of his bag and showed it to me. There was a sticker on the back of it with like the revised ingredient panel, and it's like, Hey, what's going on with this like this?

 Looks a little funny. He's like, yeah. Well, we changed our ingredients right afterwards and we just, we have so much packaging that we don't even know what to do with it. And so that even if you do think, oh, well I can just change it. I can put a sticker over it. Did that cost you more than 3 cents?

How much time did it take you [00:19:00] to. To print that out, to put it on there wouldn't have been a whole lot better if you had just ordered a few less and then your next order you could do that. So I generally like to air on the side of kind of be sure of what you're doing. Especially with so many providers out there that can offer, I mean obviously Eex a digital provider and so I'm may be biased in that, but I think that digital is just a really good way for smaller Brands that are just getting off the ground to really be able to show what they can do, try it out.

 There's digital in all different types of packagings with labels and flexible and corrugated and various cardboard types that you can order a little bit less and you may pay a little bit more when your quantities are lower, but, With digital, you can still, once you do get up to those quantities, you're gonna be at a similar price point to what you would be required to buy under some of the other methods.

And so, yeah. 

Jordan Buckner: Jeff, , I'll go a step further. I'll say for if you're a new brand with a new product for your first two or three packaging runs, [00:20:00] always go the minimum budget that you need. Go digital if you can, and pay the lower price. A hundred percent of the brands that I've talked to have made changes or have wanted to make changes and had to delay it just to go through the packaging.

I just talked to you in two brands this week at the I like sell their packaging at discount. It rates just to move it or throw it away. And so yeah, you will make changes and so always go with the lower quantity until you have that proven product in market. 

Jeff Jacobs: Absolutely. I think you're right. I agree. You're right.

Everyone makes changes to their product. I mean, I'm not sure I've seen any brand that hasn't changed something after their first couple of runs. And so once you get a little bit more confident in, you're starting to get bigger orders, then maybe you can kind of, all right, we can order a little bit more to get some of those discounts and then you're in a better place to Try to get some of those quantity discount pricing.

Jordan Buckner: I love that, and I think for any brand listening to this, if you have a product in market, you know these challenges and you've gone [00:21:00] through it. If you are a new brand, always start with finding a great packaging supplier to really talk these questions through, because they not only know their own products really well, but they've talked to hundreds, if not thousands of other brands, and seen these problems firsthand that have come.

I know Jeff and his team have seen them as well. Like anything that's happened to the packaging, they have seen it and can help identify those issues quickly when you might have known those would be an issue. And so I know Jeff and his team are definitely game to reach out and help talk through these issues.

I'll include the link in the show notes of how to get in touch with them. But Jeff, thanks for being on and talking about packaging. 

Jeff Jacobs: Great. Thank you so much for having me.