Tray-pack for fishing product does double duty 182

Lauren R. Hartman

January 29, 2014

10 Min Read
Tray-pack for fishing product does double duty

Trolling for and outsmarting fish has become more of a science than a sport these days with a barrage of electronic devices, components and instruments available.

Minn Kota Operations, a $100-million, global division of Johnson Outdoors Marine Electronics LLC, an S.C. Johnson company, manufactures electric trolling motors. With durability and quality, the Mankato, MN-based company produces motors designed to withstand the most demanding conditions. Offering a complete line of electric trolling motors, battery chargers, marine accessories and more, Minn Kota products include the Minn Kota® AutoPilot™, a patented, plug-in navigation module that keeps boaters headed in the right direction by intelligently and automatically helping to “steer” the boat. Available for salt water and fresh water, the module has a compass that locks onto a heading to keep boaters on track, through wind, waves and current, so they can concentrate on their goal: Catching fish.

With AutoPilot, fishing enthusiasts can troll along a current line or over a shelf or a ledge, hover in place over schooling fish, troll parallel to the shoreline or repeat a productive angling maneuver with a hook and a line through the water. The instrument and its attached network cable snaps onto a trolling boat motor to assist with global positioning system (GPS) navigation. The plug-in module for both Minn Kota's Terrova and Riptide ST modules is now packaged in a thermoformed tray that makes installation of the boat motor accessory quick and easy. Securing the device, the clear tray is inserted into a printed outer carton with an automatic bottom. Both the tray and the carton are produced by Grand Rapids, MI converter, Display Pack (

Winning a 2008/2009 AmeriStar award in the electronics category for the package from the Institute of Packaging Professionals (, and an AmeriStar award in 2007 for its unusual six-sided carton for Mary Beth's Apple Pie Co. (see PD, July '07, p.34 ), Display Pack says it offers comprehensive converting services, such as design, tooling, warehousing and logistics.

Stay the course

Developed as an aftermarket accessory, the module and network cable are connected and the tray can be removed. The component is then ready to operate, Bartelt explains.

The plug-in module automatically maintains a course setting without the use of a foot pedal or a hand-held remote control device.

The product can be installed in a quick, four-step method. First, the user removes the control head cover on the boat motor, positioning its clear tray over the exposed control head and locking it into place.

In addition to the tray, the durable yet slim outer carton includes an eight-page user's manual including finely detailed instructions and product details, warranty information and more.

Familiar with Display Pack from past projects, S.C. Johnson Outdoors Inc./Minn Kota began working with Display Pack in April 2007 on the packaging project, says Debra Bartelt, senior commodity buyer at Minn Kota Operations. “We liked the package design Display Pack had done for a Johnson Outdoors sister company. This application is a new product in a new package.”

Adds Dan Peplinski, CPP, Display Pack's sales representative, “This was our first packaging design project together, and we have been working with Minn Kota on multiple packaging design projects ever since.”

Product protection is a must. The motor components do not come cheap, and are retail priced at about $250, says Bartelt. Minn Kota's other objectives called for a package that's completely recyclable, sustainable and stackable, and could stand on its own or be hung on a rack in stores. It also had to be sealed effectively to prevent pilferage.

The packaging would also have to contain the module securely, to prevent damage during shipping, and act as a secondary installation device that could allow consumers to install the module easily, with little risk of damage to the delicate ribbon cables and electronics.

And the company required that two of the packages fit into a master shipping case. Minn Kota loads the product into the thermoformed trays by hand. The trays are also placed into the secondary cartons by production personnel.

Display Pack's full-service mix of offerings include a creative services department, which immediately got involved by choosing a team of designers, CAD and tooling specialists, manufacturing experts and other individuals with specific knowledge of the processes.

Display Pack's thermoforming division in Grand Rapids, MI, also got involved. The department created rough sketches showing the orientation and geometry of its brainstorming ideas.

After Minn Kota selected some of the designs that could move forward, full-color renderings were produced by Display Pack's in-house packaging design team, which worked with manufacturing engineers to create design concepts that were quickly transformed into actual, manufacturable packages.

Hooking the fishermen

“Our typical accessory packaging has a two-color label,” explains Bartelt. “This is an exciting new product, so we wanted a package with strong consumer appeal and real stopping power at the store level.”

After receiving its guidelines, the Display Pack team gathered six departments within its home office and in California, and also gathered fishing enthusiasts from the production plant to get involved with packaging design and brainstorm package ideas geared toward the consumer. The designs were rendered in full color with an Adobe Creative Suite of software (the team has since moved to Strata 3D software, providing photo-realistic renderings).

Display Pack's paperboard group created a simple yet effective carton that holds the thermoformed insert snugly and also uses extensions from the tuck flaps to help position and hold the insert tray in place.

For the tray-as-installation-vehicle, Display Pack's design team engaged CAD engineers and the thermoforming group to make the concept possible. Adds Bartelt, “We were all brainstorming on how we could make the packaging an installation tool for the customer and yet protect the internal contents at the same time. We knew the general consumer could be nervous handling a bare-potted circuit board, so we thought of housing the circuit board for installation.”

A prototype evolved in May 2007 for Minn Kota to test, Peplinski remembers. “There were four revisions for both fit and function. Minor changes were made to adjust the tray to accommodate the compass part, the locking mechanism to the part and the overall tray size to the carton so our design department played a big part in the project.”

A more aggressive snap fit was made for the cavity holding the compass and board assembly, Bartelt recalls. Measuring approximately 11 in. long, 3¾ in. wide and 2½ in. deep at its deepest point, the custom insert tray is shaped like a sleigh. Display Pack uses a Sencorp ( 2200 thermoformer with a drape assist to produce the clear tray of 18-mil recycled PET sheet from Klöckner Pentaplast ( The transparency of the RPET shows off the device to its best advantage while the crisply printed carton catches the eye on crowded displays at sporting goods stores, where differentiation is critical. A narrow inner tray within the thermoformed structure has a long center cavity that secures the plug-in module's control board assembly (at the front of the package) and magnetic compass (at the other end).

Both product devices are covered with white adhesive tape printed with a cautionary statement of, “Do Not Remove, Follow Installation Instructions.”

Inside the middle valley of the tray is a folded plastic film bag containing four stainless-steel BT Phillips head screws for the control board and room for the plug connector. The same tray footprint is used for the Riptide ST motor unit as for the Terrova unit.

Seaworthy carton graphics

The resulting tuck-top folding carton structure is made of a sturdy .024 recycled SBS board (from multiple sources) that maintains Minn Kota's sustainable materials usage efforts. “To that end, we used the full front panel as a lifestyle platform to draw consumer attention,” Bartelt explains. “The back panel conveys the application and features.”

Display Pack offset-prints the carton stock in five colors using enviro-friendly vegetable-based inks and aqueous coatings and a Komori ( six-over-one-station, 44.5-in.-wide sheetfed press equipped with two coating stations. The carton is finished on a Bobst ( die-cutter and gluer, using custom dies produced by Display Pack.

Graphics, created by S.C. Johnson Outdoors with assistance from Swanson Russell (, incorporate descriptive product capabilities and help communicate the use of the inner tray in the installation process.

For the Terrova fresh-water module, the design is executed mostly in black and white with accents of gold and gray. The elements are slightly different for the ST module and appear in brown, white and green.

The dramatic front panel features a crisp black-and-white photograph of a boating vignette, with two fishermen casting off atop their boat. The motor is pictured in the center, above the AutoPilot name in large, bold white type. Instructions are illustrated on the outer main panels and present benefits printed in French and English. The top of each carton is die-cut with a hanger hole, so that it can be rack-merchandised.

A prize catch

The final packaging structure took six weeks to come together. Fishing enthusiasts took the bait when the products went into the market in late 2007. They're available in various sporting goods outlets including Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's and Gander Mountain. “We're very pleased with the package,” concludes Bartelt.

“It's a marked departure for us,” she says, “and the response to the package has been favorable. Consumers and our trade-channel customers have had very positive feedback on the look and versatility of the new package.”

More information is available:

Display Pack, 616/451-3061.

Bobst Group North America, 973/226-8000.

Institute of Packaging Professionals, 630/544-5050.

Klöckner Pentaplast, 540/832-3600.

Komori America Corp., 847/806-9000.

Sencorp Inc., 508/771-9400.

Swanson Russell, 402/437-6400.

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