Dr. Thornley’s Hay Balancer from Equine Health Sciences repackages from a 50-lb "no frills" woven feed bag to a 20-lb netweight stand-up “box pouch” that aims to corral the horse feed market in the West.
As I roamed the aisles of Pack Expo East in February, I stopped by the booth of flexible packaging supplier Flex-Pack. When I asked the obvious question “what’s new?,” Mark Coleman, the company’s sales manager, pointed me to a 20-lb “box pouch” of Dr. Thornley’s Hay Balancer from Equine Health Sciences (EHS), Salt Lake City. It’s basically a nutritional supplement for horses.
Once comfortably back in the saddle again in Illinois, I roped in Todd Christensen, EHS president, who answered my questions starting with the basic background of the company and the product.
“We acquired the license rights to a product that, for the last 20 years, has been sold almost solely by word of mouth in a few retail outlets in the Intermountain West,” he relates. “We started Equine Health Sciences in 2014 specifically to rebrand and repackage the product, and begin selling it nationally via retail outlets and online.”
According to Christensen, the original packaging was a 50-lb poly-woven feed bag that was filled and sown-closed at the pelleting plant. He says that the bag was not water-resistant, was hard to open and store and included a sewn-on paper label with only the legally required information.
“It was quite unwieldy for our target consumer,” he says.
Not so the new box pouch; in all respects, it is like a thoroughbred compared to an old mare of a package.
Off and running in early 2015
With the repackage portion of his above directive realized in early 2015, Christensen and EHS have been off to the races.
“We formally launched the product online at HayBalancer.com and in four existing retailers in February,” Christensen continues. “We expanded starting in March to approximately 16 retail outlets, all of them ‘feed stores’ or ‘farm stores’ in the Intermountain West, including Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Nevada. I hope to continue this pace throughout 2015, with a goal of having product in several hundred retail outlets by the end of the year.”
The product comes in two versions, one for grass and one to be mixed with alfalfa, at an SRP of about $37.95 per bag. The product is a unique equine supplement designed specifically to balance the nutritional deficiencies of the hay diet using appropriate levels of critical minerals, essential amino acids, vitamins and probiotics. It is a product that is fed in small amounts along with the normal hay ration. The bag includes a color-coordinated feed scoop.
What Christensen lists as his minimum criteria for the product’s packaging is that it needed to be:
- Easy to carry (weight was a key issue), but strong enough to hold 20 pounds of product;
- Water-resistant and recloseable/resealable to protect the product, since this would be stored and used mostly in barns and sheds;
- Allow for plenty of marketing and information space on the package;
- Displayed on shelves in the store – not in “feed bags” in the warehouse;
- Upright so that it could “stand” on the shelf and not be stacked;
- Eye-catching and different than other similar products, which are generally packaged in plastic buckets.
“We specified a clear window in the front of the bag,” Christensen says. “Making the product visible to the consumer is very uncommon in this market. The printing also includes high-contrast gloss and [in-register] matte finishes for an expensive, classic look. The 5-panel box pouch format allows the bags to be stocked on store shelves in a standing position for a better merchandising presence.”
Christensen says a major goal for the packaging graphics design was for a vintage look and feel. “We wanted to have an appropriate amount of information/education on the package itself, while updating the packaging. After closely analyzing, testing and reviewing many packaging options and samples, including plastic pails, boxes, poly-woven bags, plastic pouches, paper bags and many others, we settled on the box pouch as the preferred format to accomplish all this.”
The box pouch is manufactured using four webs and is provided preformed to EHS.
Printed rotogravure in four colors, the 40-ga PET/4.5-mil polyethylene box pouch has a tear-away top and a zipper reseal. Flex-Pack’s Coleman points out that the packaging uses a higher-strength, special grade PE to withstand a fill drop height of up to 10 feet for the product’s 20-pound net weight.
“It also stands straight on a shelf, which is not easy for a large flexible package like this,” Coleman adds. “That allows more retail facings on the shelf.
“Walmart loves the box pouch format because it’s a very efficient package—it holds the highest volume of product per square inch of packaging material.”
Weighty matters of convenience
Christensen says the 20-lb weight was selected because it constitutes a 30-day supply for most horses. “This makes the package easier for our key demographic–-40-65 year-old women horse owners—to handle, and it drives them back into the retailer more often than would a larger package,” he explains. “Finding a manufacturer that could meet our technical specs and at the same time make the bag economical for us in relatively low quantities was a challenge.”
That hurdle was jumped during the previous Pack Expo just 4 months earlier, in Chicago in November 2014, where Christensen had connected with Flex-Pack. He attended that show specifically to find a bag manufacture who could meet his needs.
“Flex-Pack was not only able to meet our technical requirements, but they were able to meet our needs for an economical bag in relatively low quantities for our first runs,” says Christensen. “We were also delighted when we were told that the bags would be manufactured domestically and not overseas.”
The product is packaged on a semi-automated line in the company’s Salt Lake City facility that includes manual filling and automated sealing using equipment from Accu-Seal Corp.
“We are still relatively low volume, but will institute fully-automated packaging once volume warrants it,” says Christensen.
He tells Packaging Digest that the product in the new packaging “has been very well received so far. We are working to aggressively expand our retail presence by pursuing the feed and farm store chains in the U.S. with approximately 10 stores or more. The unique, practical and beautiful packaging is one of the marketing features that will make it appealing to retailers. We are also advertising and marketing the product nationwide in major horse publications and at many of the major horse expos and shows held in the U.S.”
I think that it’s a safe bet that, with the new packaging, Christensen has picked a sure-fire winner.