With a reputation for delectable frozen novelties honed over 70 years, regional frozen dessert maker Ellsworth Ice Cream, Saratoga Springs, NY, found itself getting the cold shoulder from distributors when it attempted to break into the single-serve stick market with ice-cream items wrapped in paper packaging. This attitude, coupled with requests from private-label customers of its ice cream multipacks to move to film wraps prompted Ellsworth to switch to an oriented polypropylene wrapper from ExxonMobil Chemical.
They all scream for ice cream...in film
Brothers Ralph and Floyd Ellsworth founded their ice cream company in 1933, selling 5-gal cans of ice cream and hand-dipped, chocolate-coated ice cream bars to grocery and drug stores in the Saratoga Springs area. Today, the Ellsworth organization produces tractor-trailer loads of novelty ice cream and water ice products earmarked for distributors and direct-sale customers from Maine to Florida.
Ellsworth does the bulk of its business in the private-label arena, supplying grocery stores with ice cream novelty items in multipacks. Tabor Ellsworth, president of the company, says that feedback from these customers on the dessert packaging helped induce the switch from paper to film. "There is growing sentiment in the frozen dessert market that film is superior to paper in terms of appearance, production efficiency and moisture-resistance," he says. "Our customers were basically demanding a switch to film. So nine months ago, we chose to partner with ExxonMobil Chemical because they understand the industry and make films specifically for ice cream."
ExxonMobil offers five OPP films designed expressly for frozen novelty packaging applications that provide products with increased shelf appeal, added protection from moisture and a platform for improved graphics, says the company. After consultation with ExxonMobil, Ellsworth chose OPPalyte® 278 WOS-2, a one-side-treated, one-side-sealable, 1.8-mil opaque-white film with a proprietary cavitated core. Ellsworth determined that the film exhibited the desired stiffness, a low and consistent coefficient of friction for excellent slip characteristics, and a broad seal range of approximately 120 deg F for outstanding performance on multilane equipment.
According to Ellsworth, since the switch, customers of the ice cream company have commented that they appreciate the ease with which the new film packaging tears and the added moisture barrier it provides. "OPPalyte film is very easy to peel, and it doesn't stick to ice cream bars or water ice products like paper can," he says. "Our private-label customers appreciate and expect their vendors to supply products that come in easy-to-use packaging. You don't want packaging that detracts from the consumer's enjoyment."
"Replacing our paper wrapper with film has been very well received by our customers. The private-label market is extremely competitive, and we're always seeking a way to separate ourselves from other brands. With the film, our image is enhanced as a quality supplier that's committed to improving products and processes. The new packaging sets us apart from the competition, which is hard to do today."
Switch melts customers' resistance
While Ellsworth's decision to replace paper with film packaging appealed to private-label customers, it also helped the company pursue an equally lucrative market: single-serve novelties.
The single-serve frozen novelty market is constantly growing, primarily due to the strength of sales at convenience stores, kiosks, vending machines, stadiums and amusement parks–the impulse markets–where consumers seek an on-the-go treat. In these outlets, both stick and nonstick frozen novelties compete with snackfood and confectionary items that have long been packaged in film with eye-grabbing graphics.
Two years ago, Ellsworth recognized the opportunity that the single-serve market presented and invested in new filling equipment (from an unnamed supplier) to extend its ice cream line. Initial results were mixed, with potential customers showing interest in the Ellsworth's product but ultimately shying away from buying anything.
"When we first made the move into the single-serve market, we were competitive on price and product, but no one wanted to do business with us because we still wrapped our products in paper," recalls Ellsworth.
Gregg Ockun, OPPalyte product manager at ExxonMobil, explains the film's appeal to the frozen dessert market: "Appearance is a key differentiating factor in the competitive point-of-purchase market, and ice cream novelties packaged in film have a much better chance of attracting the consumer's attention and increasing sales. The winners in this market are products packaged with bright, glossy, eye-catching graphics."
Once armed with a new film wrapper, the Ellsworth line of single-serve novelty items experienced significant success selling into the institutional market–schools and nursing homes, for example–and into small to mid-sized convenience stores.
"We're trying to break into this market, and we're having good success competing with national brands," relates Ellsworth. "The competition was in film, so we needed to be in it too. The film helped us capitalize on an opportunity that we knew was there."
In addition to providing an improved appearance and feel, and greater moisture protection to the ice cream products, Oppalyte 278 WOS-2 also delivers impressive machining advantages over paper, ExxonMobil notes. OPP film is water-resistant and less prone to moisture damage than paper, which reduces downtime and waste on packaging lines. "With Oppalyte 278 WOS-2, we are more productive through the packaging process," Ellsworth concurs. "By switching to film, we reduced breakage in our wrapping equipment by sixty-six percent. At the end of the day, that translates into more product in the freezer and on the trucks to our customers."
Company gets just 'desserts'
For a regional company like Ellsworth Ice Cream, being able to compete with the national players while increasing productivity makes the switch from paper to film a very smart decision. Ellsworth agrees: "We're experiencing a significant return on investment from our decision to go with film packaging."
ExxonMobil's Ockun says he enjoys seeing companies prosper from a simple switch in packaging material. "For several years now, major marketers have used OPP film to improve shelf appeal and freezer endurance of their products," he says. "We're seeing a significant number of small to mid-sized regional companies like Ellsworth change their packaging materials from paper to film with impressive results. It's great to see Ellsworth doing so well."
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