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Easy Gardener changes its packaging landscape

Improved graphics and a tighter wrap provide stronger shelf presence for rolls of Easy Gardener's landscaping products that are packaged on new wrappers and shrink tunnels.

New wrappers and shrink tunnels produce a variety of ?premium? landscaping products (right) sold in a shrink-wrapped pack. Eas
New wrappers and shrink tunnels produce a variety of ?premium? landscaping products (right) sold in a shrink-wrapped pack. Eas

Now that spring has sprung, many outdoor enthusiasts will be looking to spruce up their yards and gardens. Consumers are sure to notice more colorful, informative packaging on rolls of landscape fabric products sold by Easy Gardener. These fabrics aim to prevent weed growth in gardens, patios, sidewalks and decks.

The Waco, TX-based company has made packaging an integral part of its effort to market its lawn-and-garden products. Last year, for example, Easy Gardener introduced attractive, water-resistant flexible pouches for its Jobe's® brand of plant foods sold outdoors (see Packaging World, Nov. '98, p. 42, or Last month, those packs won the President's Award as the top package of the year in the 1998 Flexible Packaging Assn. awards competition.

This January, Easy Gardener began shipping the fabrics in a new shrink-wrap package to its top 100 lawn-and-garden retailers in the country. For the launch, the company purchased new machinery: two Model F-5 FloWrap machines from Shanklin (Ayer, MA) and two Model ETTH-20 shrink tunnels from Eastey Enterprises (Rogers, MN). Easy Gardener purchased the machines through distributor Unisource Packaging Systems (Dallas, TX). The equipment began running at Easy Gardener's Waco plant last November.

The shrink package is used for three premium Weed Block® products. "We felt that the shrink package gave these products a more premium look," says Clemente Conde, the company's national marketing manager. These packs have replaced bags for two landscape fabric products; the pack is also used for another product introduced this year. Each of these three products is wound onto an inner paperboard core.

The 45-ga film structure for these packs is made by Syfan (Saad, Israel), but purchased through Packaging Options (Alamo, CA). The cross-linked polyolefin film includes polyethylene and polypropylene, though Packaging Options wouldn't provide more specific details other than to say it's a food-grade material that gains strength due to the cross-linking of molecules during manufacturing. This also makes the film more machinable, according to Packaging Options.

In addition to strength, the film provides clarity, which allows consumers to see the paper insert that's manually added along with each premium product roll as it's placed on the infeed section of the Shanklin machine. Also supplied by Packaging Options, the 80# glossy paper is offset-printed in five colors plus an aqueous coating. The insert includes installation instructions augmented by colorful images.

Easy Gardener has also redesigned graphics and reduced the amount of film used for six other landscape fabric varieties. As is true with the three premium products, each of these six bagged packages contains different roll sizes. Unlike the premium offerings packed on the Shanklin machines, these six are manually packed in a plastic bag that's closed with pressure-sensitive tape. For these products, Easy Gardener uses wicketed, gusseted bags made from 1.5-mil low-density PE that's flexo-printed in six colors by Zim's Bagging (Prichard, WV). Zim's prefers not to identify film vendors.

Tracking the process

The packing process for the three premium Weed Block products begins at the Waco plant as large rolls of landscaping fabric are automatically cut into the smaller rolls sold at retail, usually 3' wide. Rolls are placed into metal racks that are delivered by lift trucks to the Shanklin machines.

An operator places the paper insert onto the 8'-long infeed conveyor section of the straight-line machine. The landscape fabric roll is then placed on the insert. Side rails on the flighted lug conveyor prevent the paper or fabric from unrolling. Easy Gardener operators can manually move lugs on the infeed section to match the length of the product roll.

As the flat film unwinds from a stand, a Shanklin centerfolder folds the film and feeds it to an adjustable inverting head made up of two aluminum plates that measure roughly 16"Lx3"W. They act as a web guide. The film goes around these plates and is formed into a tube into which the product is inserted.

The film-wrapped product is conveyed past a thermal side-sealer that heat-seals the two unsealed film edges along the entire length of the pack. The seal resembles a seam in the final package. A hot wire cuts off the film along this seal area. Scrap material is rewound much like a skeletal web.

After side sealing, the pack is conveyed to a jaw sealer that uses heat to seal the leading edge of the pack. As this pack continues through the machine, it pulls the film. When the trailing edge is sealed with the leading end of the following pack, a hot knife cuts between the seals. Now separated from the film web, the leading pack is conveyed directly into the Eastey ETTH-20 shrink tunnel. The film adheres tightly to the landscape fabric after it passes through the tunnel, which is set at 320F for this application.

According to Easy Gardener's plant engineer, Tony Pustejovsky, "On this machine we run about 12 rolls per minute on average, though it can go faster depending on the product. When we manually bagged these products, we could do about eight a minute." The company did not track any labor savings for this efficiency increase.

Once the pack exits the shrink tunnel, a pressure-sensitive label is manually applied to one end of the roll. The semi-gloss paper label is flexo-printed in four colors by Packaging Options. The label contains product name and promotional copy.

Easy Gardener uses a colorful display case for many of its landscape fabric packs. Supplied by Englander Container (Waco, TX), the four-to-five-color flexo-printed cases are made from 200#-test, B-flute corrugated, clay-coated on one side.

Stronger graphics

Before this year, all of Easy Gardener's landscape fabrics were sold in bags. "The bags were loose-fitting, so we re-sized the material so that the bags don't look so sloppy," Conde comments. He says the bags use about 5% less material than their predecessors, but he says it's the graphics that provide the most sales appeal.

"They have better shelf impact," says Conde. "We've redone the graphics for all the bags so that the information describing the product and its use is clearer. Our graphics now focus on the product's benefits. The bags are more colorful and provide a stronger shelf presentation." Easy Gardener worked with The Phillips Agency (Houston, TX) to design graphics for all of its new packaging.

"The driving force behind the change in packaging for our landscape fabrics was marketing," he says. "We were in need of a new look that would better communicate our product to consumers. The new graphics and the shrink-wrapped packs do that for us, and the packaging machinery we purchased was necessary for us to meet our marketing goals."

Conde says that the Shanklin machine is used for 16 stockkeeping units, with suggested retail prices ranging from $9.49 to $107.59, depending on roll length. The 15 bagged SKUs sell for $5.69 to $111.99. Conde says it's too early to determine additional sales as a result of the new packaging, but he points out that the new package graphics and smaller bags "have been extremely well-received by our customers."

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