Building a better bean package
The legume lovers at The Better Bean Co. harnessed innovative lid and labeling technologies to improve shelf presence and packaging efficiency.
Jenni Spinner, Senior Editor -- Packaging Digest, 7/1/2012 6:02:00 PM
The Better Bean Co. offers a range of gourmet refrigerated beans and dips, lovingly crafted from decades-old family recipes. However, while the company holds beans in high esteem, Better Bean founder and owner Keith Kulberg felt its outdated, blah packaging kept consumers from taking the beans seriously, too.
"Our previous packaging got completely lost on the shelf and did not convey the amazing flavor and texture of our beans," Kulberg says.
The first container (a round PP tub with a thin decorative adhesive label) didn't match the "zing" of the beans themselves, which are carefully crafted with sautéed beans, safflower oil, serrano peppers spices and other fresh, premium ingredients. Adding to the challenges faced by the burgeoning bean brand: The flavorful vegan beans are refrigerated to help maintain the flavor, and refrigerated cases aren't the locale shoppers are used to visiting to buy beans. Going boldly where no bean had gone before meant the packaging had to stand out to succeed on the shelf.
"Because we are a new category, and people are not used to buying beans in the refrigerated aisle, we needed a package that would really pop on the shelf," Kulberg says.
Forming a partnership
Last October, Kulberg set out to Las Vegas for PACK EXPO 2011, seeking new packaging materials and solutions that might benefit his beans business. He had some ideas, but needed packaging partners that effect solutions to elevate the brand.
"We decided we wanted to go with rectangular tubs with brightly colored inmold labeling, to create a billboard so people would really notice us," Kulberg says. When he arrived at the Spartech Corp. booth, Kulberg encountered the company's new 1-Seal lid technology. Developed in Sweden by one of the firm's European technology partners, the packaging technology uses in-mold labeling (IML), and it caps and seals a package in a single step by leaving a portion of the label surface exposed inside the lid. The technology provides an air- and water-tight seal while eliminating the need to produce and place a separate film or foil seal.
"We asked Keith how he thought the technology could impact his business-he saw it, fell in love with it and told us, ‘I want to have this container'," says Jeffrey Best, director of marketing for the company's Spartech Packaging Technologies division.
Additionally, the IML integrated directly into the tray during production enables CPGs like Better Bean to impart their packages with large, vibrant graphics that are not prone to degradation due to exposure to aqueous products. Label and lid are made of a single thermoplastic, which means the entire package can be recycled in any system accepting polypropylene.
"We had considered a number of rectangular IML options," Kulberg says. "Most have the conventional peel-off film seal with overcap. The problem with the film seal/overcap configuration is you have to apply the film seal first. Since we do a hot fill (above 160 deg F), there is a lot of steam inside the container that can push the film seal up and make it difficult to apply the overcap. That means it can be necessary to cool down the product before applying the overcap. We did not want that complexity and extra production step."
Kulberg adds that, in addition to standing up to the high production temperatures, the package needed to be able to withstand microwaving in home kitchens, for which the 1-Seal package was capable.
"It is a functional package that is very easy for consumers to use," Best says.
Jumping into action
After opting to put its beans into the 1-Seal packaging, Better Bean's next step was to locate a packaging equipment company that could provide equipment to produce the technology. The machines handling the packaging had to be able to effectively manipulate the package, and seal it properly. Kulberg and his team connected with manufacturer Pack Line Ltd., who worked with both Spartech and Better Bean to come up with a line that fit the technology, and the food firm's packaging needs.
"Spartech was quite helpful and supportive in our evaluation efforts to confirm the 1-Seal packaging worked," Kulberg says. "They produced a number of test runs we were able to do vacuum-chamber testing on to verify seal integrity."
In addition to helping Better Bean put its product in more sustainable, better-performing packaging, Spartech benefitted from the process by getting the opportunity to put its new technology to the test with an existing product.
"Something this new, you have a wide range of logistical issues to wrestle with," Best says. "From that perspective, working with The Better Bean Co. gave Spartech a very good opportunity-it pushed us to work on the fast track to drive this packaging forward in the market."
The Better Bean Co.'s new packaging is strikingly different from its original containers. While the original squat tubs were fairly low-key and unassuming, the new design is as unique as the updated configuration. The Better Bean rebranding effort, assisted by brand consultants from 14 Hands Agency, now is adorned with eye-popping color and graphics (the packaging art was executed by Imagina Creative LLC), including illustrations of beans, product photography and the company's history. Each variety of bean is distinguished by a different bright color. The label also touts the wholesomeness of the beans, boasting of their vegan, gluten-free and GMOfree formulations. Instead of wrapping the label completely around the container, Kulberg opted to place labels on the faces so that the high-quality beans inside were visible through the clear PP container. Spartech produces the packages and ships them to Better Bean's manufacturing facility in Oregon, where they are filled on the Pack Line equipment.
When the rebranded packaging was ready to make its debut, team members at both Better Bean and Spartech were anxious to see if the new packaging design and construction would meet with consumer approval. The rebranded product had its official launch in March at Natural Products Expo West 2012, a trade show dedicated to showcasing organic, sustainable consumer products.
"The response has been tremendous-there's been a great deal of interest in the product and the packaging," Best says. "You look at the refrigerated section, where there's a gazillion types of containers, this one stands out on the shelf and makes a difference."
The Better Bean line was named a top pick among the vegan products at Expo West 2012. The product currently is carried in select retailers in the western U.S. and will be coming east to Whole Foods, New Seasons Market, PCC and Wegman's later this year.
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