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Gourmet, mail-order apple pie gets a unique, six-sided folding carton

Two years ago, soap-opera star Mary Beth Evans took a pie-in-the-sky idea from inspiration to, literally, pie in the sky. The actress, who appears in the daytime drama "Days of Our Lives," says that for years, she had prepared luscious, homemade apple pies based on a family recipe for use as gifts. In more recent years, Evans had begun presenting the pies uncooked. "The kids and I thought it would be much more fun for our friends and family to get the pies frozen and uncooked, so that they could enjoy the beautiful smells in their own homes when they baked them."

Catalyzed in 2005 by a newspaper article that compared the merits of various available mail-order apple-pie products, Evans decided to launch her own rendition—a 4.5-lb dessert made in her Pasadena, CA, kitchen. With some marketing help from friends and from soap-opera media, Evans' fledgling cottage industry, known as Mary Beth's Apple Pie Co., quickly caught the attention of specialty food consumers, and in 2006, she hand-made, wrapped and shipped nearly 1,000 pies.

In April, Evans introduced packaging for her pies that replaced a simple cellophane and ribbon wrap. The unique, hexagon-shaped folding carton was designed by Grand Rapids, MI-based converter Display Pack (www.displaypack.com) to provide the support required for transporting the hefty pie, while using six panels to tell Evan's "I'll make it, you bake it"(TM) story.

Until January, Mary Beth's Apple Pie Co. had relied on direct-mail postcards, a company website (http://marybethsapplepie.com-) and mentions in soap-opera magazines to promote its mail-order pies. Early this year, Evans brought her company to a broader audience when she exhibited at the Winter Fancy Foods Show in San Francisco, sponsored by the National Assn. for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (www.specialtyfood.com). It was here that she met with Display Pack sales representative Dan Peplinski, who exposed her to some unique sample cartons designed by the converter.

A sturdy, six-sided folding carton with an automatic bottom and an automatic top in a rosette-style pattern is used to convey 4.5-lb apple pies.

One sample in particular caught Evans' eye: a six-sided folding carton with an automatic top designed in a rosette pattern. "The box was so fun and different," she recalls. Furthermore, she adds, she was excited about the possibility of using a more sophisticated package for her product that was easier-to-assemble and provided more protection than her existing wrapping method.

"I was packaging my pie the same way I had when I made it for my kids' teachers, which was always a cellophane overwrap tied with shocking-pink raffia ribbons and chartreuse-green letterpress tags," she says. "Everybody loved that packaging; it looked very homemade, and you could see the pie inside. But it was really costly to have someone wrap each pie like that, and it didn't really provide enough protection for shipping."

After the initial meeting, Peplinski returned to Grand Rapids with a Mary Beth's Apple Pie Co. brochure, which Display Pack's Creative Services department used as a springboard to merge the pie company's homespun brand identity with a creative folding carton design that could meet Evans' packaging requirements.

Mary Beth Evans, Mary Beth's Apple Pie Co.

Display Pack, a 500-employee, family-owned business established in 1967 by Roger Hansen as a skin-board packaging provider, today offers thermoforming, printing and contract-packaging services and claims to be the world's top supplier of in-mold thermoforming for automotive applications. With a full complement of services—including creative design, tooling, and warehousing and logistics—Display Pack says it differentiates itself from its competitors by being a single-source provider to customers in a diverse range of industries, including consumer goods, food, health and beauty, cosmetics, hardware, electronics and others.

"We are uniquely differentiated in the packaging industry," relates Marty Tidball, Display Pack's director of sales and marketing. "We are one of the few suppliers that can create a conceptual design and then take that design all the way through the tooling process and then print, thermoform and contract-package, all in-house. We offer stocking and distribution programs as well, so in effect, our customers are only working with one supplier from design to distribution, which reduces their costs and eliminates some of the hassles that a traditional supply chain can create."

In 2005, under the direction of Roger Hansen's son, Victor, who was named president in 2004, Display Pack formed its Creative Services department. Explains Kristie Vos, graphic arts manager at Display Pack, the department was developed not only to help customers create attractive graphic designs, but it was also established to provide them with innovative yet functional package designs that run quickly and efficiently both on converting and packaging equipment.

"In our department, we have the luxury of working with 500 manufacturing experts," Vos says. "We've seen our customers struggling because they don't have these huge staffs of packaging engineers. We have the expertise on staff to understand the manufacturing process of the package that we are going to be creating for a customer."

The Creative Services department comprises six dedicated staff members. When new projects are brought to Display Pack, the department custom-builds teams that include designers, CAD and tooling specialists, manufacturing experts and other individuals with specific knowledge of the process to be used. For example, for the Mary Beth's Apple Pie Co. carton, the Creative Services department selected a die-cutting expert, as well as representatives from Display Pack's paperboard division to work on the project.

Shown here is a sketch produced by a member of the Creative Services team during a brainstorming session for the pie carton.

The first step for the Creative Services team when working on a new project is to have a meeting or a conference call with the customer to determine the parameters for the package. With the Mary Beth's Apple Pie Co. carton, Evans had settled on the structural design from the six-sided sample she had seen; the challenge for Display Pack was to make it sturdy enough to hold the 4.5-lb, 9-in.-dia frozen pie.

Says Elliott Eckert, Display Pack Creative Services structural designer, "The main challenge was the weight distribution on the bottom of this carton. With the pie being so heavy, the original panels needed some reinforcement, so that the pie wouldn't fall through."

The final structure, made from .024 SBS paperboard supplied by Smurfit-Stone (www.smurfit.com), uses four, interlocking reinforcement flaps on the bottom of the carton that distribute the weight throughout the structure's six side panels. Bottom flaps are clearly numbered to make manual assembly quick and easy. The six top panels combine to create a unique appearance that tightly secures the carton top when manual pressure is applied.

The carton, Eckert says, was tested to withstand 5 lb, while using the lightest-weight board possible to both save money and be environmentally conscious. The bright, clean board also results in high-quality offset printing, he adds.

The carton is printer one-up in five colors using a sheetfed offset press. With its innovative technology, the press has replaced five of Display Pack's older models.

When it came to the package graphics, the Creative Services team utilized all six side panels as well as the rosette-style top to communicate the Mary Beth's Apple Pie Co. story. Graphics include photos of the sumptuous pie after baking, a rustic woodcut of a young woman carting apples in a wheelbarrow and Evans in her kitchen wielding a rolling pin and pie dough. Complementary text includes Evans' story, baking instructions, nutrition information and a "philosophical" quote from Jane Austen that reads, "Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." The carton's background colors, two "green apple" shades, are based on Evans' original chartreuse letterpress tags.

Says Evans, "The Creative Services team at Display Pack was incredible. Anything I wanted—a different photo here, a different saying there—they changed quickly and easily."

Adds Eckert, "There was a lot of fine-tuning of the graphics with Evans. We wanted to make sure they were exactly what she wanted and that they portrayed the right message."

During the converting process, the cartons are offset-printed one-up on a Lithrone 44 press from Komori (www.komori-america.us) in five colors. The 44-in.-wide press is one of two sheetfed presses at the facility; the other is a Planeta press from KBA (www.kba-northamerica.com-). Finishing is accomplished on Bobst (www.bobst.com) die-cutters and gluers, using custom tooling produced in-house at Display Pack.

As Evans' business has grown, she has moved out of her kitchen and into a commercial bakery, where she assists in the preparation of her apple-pie creations. Likewise, her pies are now packed in a more professional manner, with the generous desserts receiving a paperboard collar before being shrink-wrapped and placed in the new, gourmet carton. For shipping, pie packages are placed in a 1.5-in. thick polystyrene box with dry ice that is then packed in a corrugated case.

While Evans reflects sentimentally on her early hand-made packaging days, she says she is thrilled with the new carton from Display Pack. "I'm sentimental about my cellophane because that's how it started with my kids, but the new carton certainly makes me look more professional.

"I love the box," she concludes, "and everyone I show it to thinks that it's great."

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