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Espoma pulls trigger on sleeve-labeled bottle

Recognized for plastic-bagged natural plant foods, this lawn-and-garden firm introduces Earth-tone pesticides in a sleeve-labeled PET trigger-spray bottle.
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Long before it was trendy to tout the environment and sustainability, The Espoma Company in Millville, NJ, was selling natural plant foods in recyclable bags with colorful graphics that delivered shelf appeal and brand recognition. When the company launched Insect Control, 4n1 Weed Control, and 3n1 Disease Control products under the brand name Earth-tone early this year, it did so in a finger-grip, recyclable PET trigger-sprayer bottle adorned with eye-catching full-body sleeve labels.

The company sells a family of “tone” products including Holly-tone, Plant-tone, Rose-tone, etc. “We wanted a tone name that would connote something that is ‘earth-friendly,’” says Jeremy Brunner, Espoma’s vice president.
The genesis of the package decision makes for quite a story. Brunner explains, “The idea for the sleeve-labeled trigger-spray bottles occurred to me at a car wash, believe it or not! While I was waiting for the car to go through the automated washer, I was looking at the products on the shelf and saw Black Magic car wax bottles. It’s a great package, with a beautiful, full-body red-and-black shrink-sleeve label. That was the first time that I had ever seen that kind of shrink sleeve on that style of package for a ready-to-use (RTU) product. So that told me that it could be done for our products.”

Vibrant graphics

Brunner’s vision for an Espoma package became clearer after he attended a contract packaging show in Chicago about two years ago and saw shrink-sleeve labels at the booth of Seal-It, a div. of Printpack, Inc. (www.printpack.com). Through Seal-It, Brunner discovered contract packager Mavpac, Inc. (www.mavpac.com). “I pictured that Black Magic bottle but with beautiful illustrations of flowers and gardens, with our environmentally friendly control products in it,” Brunner recalls. He credits Seal-It/Printpack, saying, “They knew we wouldn’t have a lot of volume to start off with, but they liked our concept and they were willing to work with us on a minimum [quantity].”

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Rather than rely exclusively on chemicals, the 24-oz Earth-tone sprays are made from botanical byproducts and sulfur. Each of the three “controls” products dons a 2-mil Seal-It PETG sleeve label, printed gravure in eight colors. All three labels provide product differentiation on the shelf, making it easy for consumers to select the appropriate control product.

The insect-control label is primarily blue, with a vivid image of vegetables on the front of the label. A green-hued weed-control bottle shows an image of dandelions and weeds growing from a crack in a sidewalk. Printed onto the pink/red disease-control label are gorgeous roses in full bloom.

Brunner credits Eggz Inc. (www.eggzinc.com) with graphic design. “The agency has done all the packaging design for our plant foods and pesticides, and it has been outstanding.”
Environmental focus for products and packaging Back-of-bottle label copy includes usage instructions, precautions, first aid, and a boxed set of details regarding storage and disposal. Brunner explains, “The main reason the Earth-tone products are environmentally friendly is that they dissipate quickly into inert compounds once sprayed and thereby don’t present a threat to people and pets who walk on the lawn or garden after application.”

Espoma’s environmental concerns go beyond its plant food and control products. Brunner says, “We have been a natural plant-food company for years. We’ve seen accelerated growth in natural, environmentally friendly products and we see ourselves in a leadership role as far as the retail lawn-and-garden market. That’s why when we launched the Earth-tone control/pesticides, we wanted to use natural ingredients, not chemicals.

“We tried to use environmentally friendly packaging for the Earth-tone line, and we looked into corn-based PLA for labels,” Brunner continues. “But we understood that developing a shrink label on our type of bottle would be very difficult since most shrink-sleeve labels are applied to a symmetrical bottle. Our trigger-spray bottle has finger grips and a wide waist that tapers to a narrow neck. That makes it difficult to shrink the label. We weren’t comfortable using the PLA at the time we introduced the Earth-tone varieties. But as advances are made in those types of materials, we would look at using them for our labels in the future.” Seal-It/Printpack also supplies PLA-based labels. “The other thing is that next year we can get a bottle made with 25-percent post-consumer resin,” he adds.

Complicated packaging process

Brunner admits the actual packaging process “is rather complicated,” but it makes sense given that Espoma’s facility houses bag erecting and filling lines. Packaging the newly introduced bottles would have required a considerable financial investment.

Espoma purchases bottles from distributor All American Containers (www.americancontainers.com). A reheat-and-blow method is used to make bottles, Brunner explains. Bottles are molded by Novapak Corp. (www.pvcc.com). Distributors send bottles to Mavpac for manual application of the Seal-It/Printpack cut-and-stacked and sealed labels. The labeled bottles then proceed through a shrink tunnel. Mavpac then sends sleeve-labeled bottles to a co-packer for filling. Brunner prefers not to divulge the co-packer’s name. That company applies the trigger sprayer closure.

After case-packing, palletizing, and stretch-wrapping functions, the co-packer sends product to Espoma for distribution.
“Earth-tone control products became available nationwide in the spring of 2007,” says Brunner, although “the heart of our business is in the eastern United States.” The $6.99 suggested retail price for each bottle, he says, “is priced competitively with conventional pesticide products.” So far, he says, “we have exceeded our first-year goals and have landed new distribution for the products in 2008.”

For 2008, Espoma plans to go from three to eight Earth-tone SKUs in this package, adding a fourth variety, then introducing all four in a 16-oz concentrated version that a larger-volume user could mix with water. He says TricorBraun (www.tricorbraun) will be the distributor of the 16-oz HDPE bottles, which will also be decorated with the Seal-It/Printpack sleeve labels.

“That will give us a new family of products,” says Brunner. “We’ll employ an off-shelf display rack where a garden center retailer can display all these products. When you see them all together, it just blows you away by how beautiful it looks!” With the new products and the shrink-sleeve labels, Espoma has been able to redefine itself as not just a plant food producer, but as a more complete natural gardening product manufacturer.

Related articles:
Espoma grows new bag line, packworld.com/view-17360
Sleeve labels deliver ‘Black Magic’, packworld.com/view-15798
For more, see packworld.com/lawncare

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