Untidy shelf displays are a turn off for consumers. A new take on Retail-Ready Packaging is the Package Pillar, a yet-to-be-commercial concept that promises to straighten out the messiness that often accompanies bagged retail packages to keep shelf displays tidy for consumers, brand owners and retailers.
Messy displays of bagged products, such as candy and cereal, can be a thing of the past with a new product revealed in a recent patent application. The Package Pillar is a device with a mild, reusable adhesive that holds bagged products neatly as each bag is selected from a stack and can also reduce the labor needed to replenish the shelves.
“I was inspired to make this device when I saw a store clerk struggle to create a neat stack of slick bags of candy, one stack next to the other,” says inventor Steve Maginas. “The store wanted its bagged candies to fill their shelves both horizontally and vertically, so the customers would see a wall of bright colors. But whenever customers pulled bags off the shelf the stack would be pushed a little out of line, eventually needing to be straightened up again.”
On a shelf only a little force is needed to keep the bags from sliding off of the stack, since gravity does most of the work of keeping them in place. Also, there’s a need to keep the shelves attractive even when some products are depleted.
The Package Pillar has just enough adhesive to keep slick bags in place. Even after the bags are purchased, the vertical portion displays the product logo until staff can replenish it. Brand owners are not left with empty gaps on shelves when staff is too busy to restock.
“Since only minimal lateral support is needed for packages to be kept in a neat stack, the Package Pillar can be made of thin, yet rigid PET or other thermoplastic," Maginas says. "The adhesive surfaces have to be strong enough to hold the bags in place, but not so strong as to damage printing on the package surface. This can be done with commercially available repositionable spray adhesives, placed so as to provide increasing adhesion for the bags higher in the stack.”
The entire stack of bagged foods needs to stay in place when a bag is selected to keep the display uniformly neat. That is achieved by adhesive on the bottom of the device, which is exposed by removal of non-stick backing papers when the device is first placed on the shelf. The adhesive on the bottom is stronger than that holding bags in place, so when the final bag is removed the device remains in place.
“The Package Pillar can replace the corrugated case for shipping as well as for display,” Maginas claims, “to reduce shipping costs and making the product more sustainable.” Bagged products can be placed in the Package Pillar at the factory, each unit shrink-wrapped, and the shrink-wrapped units sent to retailers in flexible, reusable fiber-reinforced paper bags, made of materials such as Tyvek. “The rigidity of the device would sufficiently protect the product and perform double duty as the display support as soon as the wrapping is removed by the retailer,” Maginas notes.
Costs and options
Maginas says that the cost of this device depends on the size of the packages to be held. “For packages that hold about 8oz of candy, for example, I estimate the cost is from $0.15 to $0.25 per unit. "
He says the innovation can be manufactured using available machinery to print, fold the material and apply an adhesive. For cost estimation, he went to Alibaba.com and found bulk quotes for packaging products that did include those elements. His estimated cost of $0.15 to $0.25 per 8 inch X 8 inch unit is based on prices at that website. “The device is reusable since the adhesive is long-lasting and does not dry out quickly,” he adds.
While he developed it for candy packaging in mind, this device can be scaled up to hold and display larger packages, Maginas reports. To do so would require the device to have a thicker structure and perhaps a stronger adhesive. The prototype at the website is about 14 mils (0.36 mm) thick. For example, a larger device can hold cereal bags vertically stacked, or if placed sideways it can hold potato chip bags standing vertically.
Further improvements in inventory control can be made by adding a light-sensitive RFID sensor. That can be activated by removal of the bags, signaling the retailer or manufacturer to replenish the shelf and transmitting immediate data of the sales.
The non-provisional patent application number is #14023492. It is published and available at the USPTO website, including the drawings. A prototype can be seen at the www.packagepillar.com website, which is the easiest way to gain access to the application.
After completing the non-provisional patent application and the website, he submitted the invention to candy and cereal manufacturers. To prepare for those submissions, he toured retail candy stores in the Chicago area, which he reports was “was fun and eye-opening. They make extensive use of inexpensive flexible packaging, and the stores demonstrate a desire for tidy displays. A lot of effort is put into aligning their candies and making their displays attractive. Potato chip makers have their delivery people keep the displayed bags in neat alignment, but I suspect the method of distribution and profit margins on candy don’t make that a feasible approach.”
Several of those manufacturers have asked for further information to be submitted, and some have responded that they are not interested. His next step is to approach larger retailers, and then manufacturers of retail displays, consumer packaged goods, and shipping products.
“I will be submitting this device for licensing to retailers and others,” he says. “It takes on average about two years for a patent to be granted. If no strong interest is expressed by those entities, I plan to prepare numerous prototypes and ask local retailers to try them on their shelves as a field test of the product. At the same time I will be improving my website since communications on this device will then be made to a broader audience.”
Lessons learned and advice to others
What’s his biggest hurdle to commercialization? “I only know what I can read about the packaging industry, and I am not working with the support of any organization,” he responds.
We asked him what lessons learned he can share.
“This is my second patent application,” he states. “I’ve found that the greatest benefit of the patent process is that the online USPTO.gov website is a treasure-trove of ideas. Ideas for products on that site include not just current patents but also rejected applications and expired patents.
“However, while in the past they may have not seemed worth developing, now due to new technologies some of those ideas may be newly feasible and useful to the industry. Most patent applications are from persons with expertise in particular industries, so reviewing that website helps you see further by standing on the shoulders of experts. The USPTO process is online for searches and applications, so that the usual glitches of using online resources are present. But overall, with a little patience the value of the patent information is much greater than the drawbacks.
“It seems that companies who provide a channel to submit new product ideas are more comfortable when a patent application has been made, so the scope of the idea is clearly defined. Of course, even apart from the costs involved, not every new product would benefit from having a patent granted, especially if making the product involves proprietary information that you would not want to reveal to the world. The Package Pillar is the opposite and would benefit from a patent, since it is a device with parts that are obvious but where those parts are made to work together in an unexpected fashion.
“This innovation is, in summary, an inexpensive replacement for cartons and other disorganized containers for products in flexible packaging. Together with shrink wrapping, it can also provide security for shipping the product as well as a display format that enhances already developed product packaging.”