This worse-than-usual winter has proven a boon for marketers of snow-related products. Among them is Earth Innovations, Ottawa, ON, Canada, maker of EcoTraction, “the world’s safest and most effective traction agent to prevent winter slips and falls on icy surfaces.”
EcoTraction is a green-colored, all-natural volcanic mineral that is completely safe to the touch or if accidentally ingested by children, pets, or wildlife. From the time of its debut in January 2006 and its subsequent acceptance in fall 2007 at Home Depot nationally in Canada until October 2008, EcoTraction was available only in a 22-lb bag. Last fall, Earth Innovations introduced a 5-lb bag, developed on a fast-track pace just in time for the 2008-2009 winter selling season. Rather than being simply a straightforward downsizing of the larger bag, the stand-up bag offers a carrying handle and a pour spout.
“We really had interest only in the 22-pound size up until last summer,” says Earth Innovations vp of operations Marc Appleby. “That’s when we had interest from retailers in a smaller bag better suited for their retail space.” These included convenience stores, gas stations, and specialty stores. “Retailers would tell us, ‘We’d carry [EcoTraction], but only if you had a smaller bag,’” he notes.
It was mid-July before the company even decided to proceed with developing a small bag. That presented a tight-turnaround time frame ahead of a selling season that begins in-store in October, Appleby says.
“Given the requirements of design, printing, and filling, a two and a half month lead time pushed us to the limits,” he adds. “But by working with great partners, we managed to have everything fall into place.”
One of those partners was Peel Plastic Products (www.peelplastics.com) of Toronto, which supplies the premade bags, constructed of 48-ga PET reverse flexo-printed in eight colors and laminated to 5-mil linear low-density polyethylene. EcoTraction’s requirements include moisture-resistance, UV protection, and the durability to withstand a Canadian winter.
The 21-mm dia PE spout and polypropylene cap are from Menshen Packaging USA (www.menshen.com). The bag front mimics the company’s 22-lb size, a strategy that helped keep the project on track. “It was basically about fitting the existing artwork into the new shape and design of the smaller bag,” Appleby says. “The timetable meant everybody worked very quickly, and we managed to pull it off by following a path of least resistance.”
A flexible jug
A co-packer led them to Peel. “Their team is more than impressive,” Appleby explains. “They are a great bunch of guys with high standards. The quality of their work is fantastic, so I decided to move forward with them. It’s a top-notch organization that really stepped up to the plate. I’m glad to be working with them now and, no doubt, into the future.”
Appleby also credits Peel with bringing the spout to his attention; “They had developed handled bags and spouted bags before, but not a combination of the two to create a kind of ‘flexible-jug’ effect.”
Appleby says consumers have reacted warmly to the spout. “People love the spout because it’s easy to pour,” he says. “There’s no touching of the product, it’s easy to close, and it’s self contained.”
The majority of the co-packing is done by Enable Industries (www.enableindustries.com) in Salt Lake City, a first-time partner for Earth Industries.
Appleby says the co-packer had to design a system of hoppers and levers to fill the bags as part of what’s a manually intensive operation. The bags are filled through a 5- to 6-in.-wide opening at the top of the pouch. In the bag’s next iteration, a half-inch will be added in that area to facilitate sealing, which is done manually.
He declines to discuss packaging rates.
“Enable Industries employs mentally and physically challenged people to fill the bags,” he says. “This has been a great relationship—they’ve been a great partner, and we’ll use them going forward.”
The product is priced between $6.95 to $7.95, depending on the retailer. Stores carrying the product include Staples and Mac’s Convenience Stores in Canada, plus Husky gas stations and Rexall Drugstores. In the U.S., Kroger is Earth Innovation’s largest customer for the 5-lb size.
Every challenge associated with the project stemmed from the fast time line, Appleby says: “We didn’t have time to compare quotes or talk to every different partner out there. In the end, you need to find quality partners that are responsive and get the job done.”
Appleby says that they hope to make the bags refillable in the future. “Right now, that can be done using a funnel through the spout,” he explains. “We may find a more convenient mechanism in the future, perhaps using our larger bag.”
The product’s fortuitous introduction into a rougher-than-usual winter has helped the company grow exponentially. “The winter has been great,” Appleby says. “The compact, easier-to-carry bags really opened up different markets. It’s a perfect product—the handle initiates consumers to grab it easily right from the shelf. They can keep a finger in the handle and still carry groceries. Seniors and women in particular have appreciated that versatility and ease of use. I know of people who bought out supplies of the small bags to give as Christmas presents. I’ve been pleased with the response and how happy people have been with the functionality, as well as the performance, of the product.”