Zippered sugar pouch sweetens sales

January 29, 2014

6 Min Read
Zippered sugar pouch sweetens sales

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Just as they are everywhere else, consumers in Mexico are becoming increasingly selective in their retail food purchases–a trend that has resulted in greater competition among consumer goods manufacturers to gain brand preference, even for commodity items. To succeed, some companies that produce items such as sugar, rice or flour are trying to differentiate their products without succumbing to price wars. One example is sugar, one of the highest-volume products sold in Mexico. Grupo Embolsador S.A. de C.V., a leading producer and packager of private-label sugar based in Mexico City, recently found itself facing tough competition from smaller sugar manufacturers that fought solely on price. But, rather than follow suit, the company made the decision to distinguish itself and increase brand preference by using unique packaging for its new La Reina brand of sugar.

Last August, Grupo Embolsador introduced La Reina sugar under its own name in an innovative flexible standup pouch with bright, eye-catching graphics. With the addition of a user-friendly zipper feature from Zip-Pak, the 1- and 2-kg bags have been met with an "overwhelmingly positive" response from consumers, says the company.

"Competition within the sugar industry in Mexico is not all that sweet," says Leopoldo Buchanan, plant manager at Grupo Embolsador. "Our new look and user-friendly packaging offer an added utility to a high-quality product that other brands do not provide."

Raw innovation
Grupo Embolsador was formed in 1989, at a time when the quality of sugar produced in Mexico varied greatly. The company bought several small mills from the government and immediately established new business and manufacturing processes to ensure consistently high product quality and plant cleanliness. Today, Grupo Embolsador is one of the largest sugar manufacturing and processing companies in Mexico, with all of its plants ISO-9001-certified for quality management.

But being a leader invites competition. In recent years, Grupo Embolsador began seeing smaller, low-cost, low-volume sugar-processing operations emerging that were eating into its market share by competing solely on price. Grupo Embolsador responded with the new product packaging to differentiate its brand from the myriad of pillow-packed plastic packages of sugar stacked on retail shelves.

"Like most commodities, sugar is sugar," says Buchanan. "We couldn't differentiate by changing its look, feel or taste, so we decided that a new package design was the answer."

During extensive market research, Grupo Embolsador observed the growing trend toward standup resealable pouches for packaging applications that varied from candies and cookies, to dog food. "With the humid weather here in Mexico, consumers value resealable pouches that will keep moisture from their food products," Buchanan notes.

Through conversations with Zip-Pak, Grupo Embolsador decided upon the E-273 zipper feature for its new package. "They brought us three or four types [of zippers]," recalls Buchanan. "Because the sugar market is very large here in Mexico and the margins are very small, we couldn't go with a very expensive zipper. So, for starters, we needed one that would be economical. But we also needed a zipper that could handle powders, like sugar. The E-273 is the one that Zip-Pak advised us would best meet our needs."

The zipper incorporates value-added Grip Strips for easier opening and offers coextruded sealant layers for lower-temperature bonding to the film structure.

Pioneer packaging
In preparation for the launch of its La Reina brand in a standup, resealable pouch, in 2001 Grupo Embolsador began construction on a completely new $5 million plant, fully equipped with standup vertical form/fill/seal machinery that could apply the zipper feature in-line.

All operators coming in contact with the sugar at Grupo Embolsador must wear protective suits with hoods and booties, left. The production area, right, is encased in tempered glass and has filtered air injection and forced air extraction for maximum sanitary conditions.

The new 2,000-sq-m (21,500-sq-ft) facility in Mexico City presently houses four vf/f/s machines from an unnamed supplier, with two more units scheduled for delivery and another two in the midst of construction. According to Buchanan, when all eight machines are in operation, the plant will be able to produce 500 metric tons/day, or 492 tons (long)/day.

Manufacturing in the new plant started in May 2003, with Zip-Pak personnel on-hand to provide technical support to facilitate smooth production, Buchanan relates.

The final packaging consists of 1- and 2-kg bottom-gusseted pouches made from a biaxially oriented polypropylene/polyethylene laminate from film converter Novacel, S.A. de C.V. (purchased in August 2003 by Pechiney Plastic Packaging, Inc.) The film construction, Buchanan notes, was chosen for similar reasons as the zipper "model": economy and functionality. "The standup pouch required forty-percent more film than the pillow-packs we were previously using," he explains. "Along with the increase in cost from the additional film, the laminate structure cost about twice what we had previously been spending per bag. We tried to find a compromise between a good-caliber film that wouldn't break or tear, and something that wouldn't be too expensive."

Graphics, consisting of a woodcut-style illustration of workers gathering sugar cane in red, for the Az?car Est?ndar (standard sugar) variety, and green, for the Az?car Refinada (refined sugar) grade, were done by an outside design firm. A clear window in the front of the pouch provides a view of the product inside. A yellow border at the top of the pouch, printed with the Zip-Pak logo and the phrase "Empaque Resellable" or "Resealable Packaging" clearly highlights the bag's zipper closure feature. Bag sizes, Buchanan says, were determined based on the capacity of Grupo Embolsador's vf/f/s equipment.

The versatile, display-ready pouches can be laid flat in cartons for compact distribution. They also enable easy handling, straight from cartons to store shelves, saving time and providing convenience for retailers and consumers alike.

"Our first promotional campaign went extremely well," says Buchanan. "Retail store owners who had previously overlooked our product and made purchases based on price now want to start contracts for the newly packaged La Reina brand as soon as possible."

Sweet success
Grupo Embolsador is also quickly driving brand preference with end users. Consumers recognize La Reina as the first sugar brand offered in a resealable standup pouch. "The concept of storing sugar with a single step in original packaging without dumping unused contents into a separate container has instantly caught on," Buchanan remarks. "Consumers are asking where our zippered pouch has been all this time. "We have also found that if the packaging is of high quality, consumers here will clean and reuse it, which extends the investment we have made in packaging graphics and brand messaging."

Product sales for La Reina have been higher than projected, and Grupo Embolsador is confident of reaching its goals to export the sugar brand in the new packaging. "Revamping our package design was a big decision, but it made sense," says Buchanan. "And it's already paying off because people recognize the zippered standup pouch exclusively as brand elements of La Reina."

More information is available:

Zipper: ZIP-PAK®, A div. of ITW, 800/488-6973. www.zippak.com. Circle No. 201.

Film converter: Pechiney Plastic Packaging, Inc., 800/558-6420. www.pechineyplasticpackaging.com. Circle No. 202.

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