Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
We’ve got one of our new experts on the platform, Apurva Batra from FlexiblePouches. He’s been on once before. Tracy had him on and they had a good general session to get you acquainted with our new expert here. He’s going to take us on a little different journey talking about a few things from his personal business experience, not only about packaging, which is an area that a lot of you would be interested in but also potentially some other general entrepreneurial and business-related subjects. Thank you for joining us again.
Thanks for having me, Tom. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Apurva Batra. I am the Founder and CEO of FlexiblePouches. We are a company that aims to level the playing field for entrepreneurs and small businesses, level the playing field with the big boys because product packaging is one of those things that makes or breaks your product here. Historically, custom branded packaging, fully printed, custom branded, customized packaging was afforded only to the larger players. What FlexiblePouches aims to do is empower those entrepreneurs and small business owners so that they can compete at the retail shelves because, at the end of the day, that’s where consumers interact with their brand and that’s their first interaction with your product. You can have the best product in the world, but if competitor packages are better, it doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day. That’s where we come from. FlexiblePouches, about us, in order to help out the smaller companies and entrepreneurs, we had the lowest minimums in the industry, the fastest turnarounds for custom printed, flexible packaging.
We work with brands such as Trader Joe’s, General Mills, all the way to mom and pops here. A couple of examples of some of the stuff that we’ve got here is some stuff for my client, Trader Joe’s. You can go to any national major grocery store in the country and find a product where the packaging has been designed and produced by us. I started on this journey a few years ago here. I’ve got an engineering background. I worked a job in mechanical engineering in the oil and gas industry. It’s the transition 180 and went cold into the entrepreneurial world here. I fell into flexible packaging. I learned a great deal. Going back a few years, the packaging is one of those things where I feel that entrepreneurs when they start off when they’ve got that brand-new idea, they’re very enthusiastic about it and they’re very into it. Sometimes that enthusiasm can unfortunately blind them in terms of what they need to do from a business standpoint to ensure that they can reach the sales that they need to get. I started on this. We reverse-engineered the problem. We said, “What makes a new product sell at the retail shelves?”
We looked through all these studies that said consumer spend an average of seven seconds at the retail store shelf. Since we’re mostly doing flexible packaging, we’re primarily in the food industry but we’re doing everything from pharmaceuticals to marijuana, cannabis, you name it here. Customers go to the retail store shelves and they spend seven seconds before they make a decision. There are so many competing products here. We realized that brand awareness is one of the single biggest keys in terms of establishing yourself as a product, establishing a new product especially. Doing well in that. A surprising number of companies, particularly small and growing businesses, struggle with the relationship between effective product packaging and long-term viability of that product and subsequently the brand. Most of the time we found that the relationship between those product packaging and how well it does it affects businesses of all sizes. It’s because disproportionate amount of resources are dedicated to new product perfection. Under the false pretense that if my product is perfect, it will sell without any effort or it will sell maybe not any effort, but it will sell.
You look at historically across a business that it isn’t always the case obviously. It’s a combination of various things. I’m not discounting the importance of having an effective or excellent product because without the product obviously there’s no value proposition. The two sides to the branding equation include the perfect product as well as being able to get the customer’s attention. That’s where product packaging comes into play. The second reason a lot of entrepreneurs fail to realize or give enough importance to the product packaging is the failure to recognize how stiff the competition is. This is particularly true in markets where the quality rating is undeniably more subjective such as food. When a consumer goes to the retail shelf and they’ve got dozens of options to choose from, you’ve got to realize that a lot of the competitors out there, they may not be spending all the resources necessary to perfect their product. They may be spending a disproportionate amount on alluring the customer to their product so that their product wins a sale. It’s a game there.
Finally, the bigger picture in terms of packaging, it’s entire customer experience. Entrepreneurs need to realize when they are designing a new product when they’re launching a new brand, especially, there should be a focus on the entire consumer experience. That includes obviously the unboxing, especially the opening experience, but also throughout the life of the product. It doesn’t matter what the product is if your packaging breaks on your way home from the store or in transit from Amazon to you. The consumers are significantly less likely to have a positive experience with that brand. Therefore, it’s a big red flag there. Oftentimes the brands themselves haven’t built an identity or a loyal customer base because of that. I think that for the small companies maintaining a focus on that customer experience becomes even more important. We started this off. We’ve been working since 2014 on Flexible packaging here. We worked with a number of companies out there. Looking back on it, I myself went through some of the same struggles that every entrepreneur has.
Starting off, we were chasing some of these bigger customers. Some of these more established brands that may not be the General Mills landscape but maybe the mid-sized brands. That’s how we initially started getting our initial client base. I realized one of the most important things to focus on when you’re starting a new business is think long-term. Being able to get a sale here, being able to win a contract there without regard for the longer-term viability of the business or how does that play into your longer-term business plan? How does it play into scalability? It’s something that when you do start to grow, when you do start to do well down the line, you’ll realize that, “This isn’t synched up or there’s a lot of inconsistency.” There’s a lot of confusion in terms of organization. Once you get traction on a new business, once you’ve got your packaging design, once you’ve got everything ready to go, the growth phase of it, they say starting a business is one of the hardest things. That’s true. I come to learn that even harder is the scaling part, the second step so scalability.
We started off in 2014. Now here we are. We do three million to four million units a month in terms of flexible pouches, stand-up pouches, three-sided seal bags, bottom gusseted bags, side gusseted bags. What got us there was the ability to scale. How we did that was standardization of processes. There’s nothing necessarily unique about going out there and buying a flexible pouch. There are suppliers but we focused again from our standpoint on the customer experience there. Keeping those minimums to a low ensuring some of the faster lead times and then also making sure things are standardized. Customers like standardized things. They like things they can recognize. In order to do that, we had to consolidate. We’ve got the standard size table that we use for a lot of our custom print jobs. Then at the end of the day, we also have the capability to run everything custom. That allows a little bit of consistency within our business.One of the most important things to focus on when you're starting a new business is thinking long-term. Click To Tweet
Secondly, we’re in a growing phase now. We’ve learned that customers want an instant online experience as well. One of the big pitfalls especially in our industry is there’s a longer sales cycle in terms of if you’re out there trying to order some pouches and packaging. You have to email somebody. You have to wait two days for a quote. You have to get back and forth. That ends up taking up a lot more time rather than being able to go online, pick from something standard, select your options, go in and then buy the product. Place your order. That’s an experience that we focused on. Keeping in mind the customer experience will go a very long way in your business regardless of what you’re doing here. That’s what gets us to be able to go from starting a business, getting those initial clients and then scaling to being a large company. Item number three, you realize that at a certain point when you grow, there’s a sweet spot in terms of growth as well. There is a thing as growing too fast, being able to handle a lot of that business.
If you’re playing your cards right, if things are working out right, when that happens it creeps up on you. It happens faster than you think. You realize, “We’re behind on tasks A, B, and C,” or standardizing this procedure or making sure that we have more of a robust process for invoicing and making sure everything is up to date. Getting started on those tasks up front in terms of standardizing your process, standardizing your procedures and making sure the internals are in check is also pretty important. Generally speaking, product packaging, customer experience, focus on congruency, consistency, and organization are the key principles in order to step up and grow a business from the ground up and scale. It’s a little bit about us. We started off with some of those larger companies. We’re based out of Houston, Texas. We have a distribution center in Houston. One of the things that make us unique is that a lot of companies that want just in time packaging deliveries, custom producing packaging, whether it’s flexible packaging, whether it’s box packaging, whatever you’re doing, custom producing anything there is a certain lead time associated with that.
We have a unique business model by which we will produce a certain batch, keep that in our inventory, and then allow customers to draw from it when it drops to a certain level, put another batch into production. It’s all part of the customer experience. Flexible packaging, some of you guys out there may be pretty interested in learning about the actual technical in terms of packaging, what’s involved. There’s a lot of a nomenclature out there. There are a lot of terminologies that can be pretty confusing. I’ll start with some of the basics there. There are two primary types of prints for custom printed bags such as this. These are flexible pouches, stand up pouches, three sides seal bags. The number one is the offset printing. That is your rotogravure or your flexographic printing. These types of printings require printing plates or cylinders. That is historically what the packaging industry has been. That’s one of the reasons why the minimum has been so high because these are much larger presses. These are machines that require a certain web rewind. You’re talking a minimum of 10,000-plus on offset printing.
It is however cost-effective. If you are at the level where you do 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, you do want to go with an offset printing style because that’s what gets your costs down, your unit costs down. A lot of our medium to large-sized clients, that’s the technology we use to print their stuff. In the last two to three years, another technology called digital printing has come about. It’s been around for several years, but only in the last three to four years has it taken off. Digital printing is for very small runs. It runs as small as 1,000 units. That’s where we cater to those small mom and pop’s entrepreneurs that are starting off, getting a lay of the land. Digital printing is a much faster turnaround. There are no printing plates, no printing cylinders. Imagine a color laser printer for your computer, industrial sized suited up for being able to print on flexible films. We’re noticing significant traction in that. There was a statistic that in 2013, 99% of all the flexible packaging in the world was printed with offset only about 1%. That number has fallen about 93% or 94% so about a six-fold increase in the last few years.
We project that trend will only increase. A lot of that will cater only to these smaller run, smaller companies, mom and pops. When you get to a certain point that will transition over to the offset, flexographic printing or rotogravure printing. The other thing I wanted to talk about was in terms of the film usage here. A lot of companies, depending on what their packaging, they will come to us and say, “Can you give us a recommendation as far as what materials do we need?” Materials that are used in flexible film base bags. Generally, there are a couple of standardized materials. Primarily, there are polyester, polyethylene, and metalized films. These are your three primary film types to play with. A lot of people will confuse foil for the metalized film. There’s metalized film. It’s a sheet of plastic with a vacuum deposit of metal on it. To the undiscerning eye, it looks like aluminum foil, but it’s not. Depending on what your shelf life requirements are, we can guide you and help you out with that. Generally speaking, we will print your artwork onto the outer layer. It’s a reverse print, which means it’s on the inside of the first layer. That’s generally a polyester or polypropylene film.
That is laminated onto a metalized film if that’s what calls for metalized film or aluminum. On the inside, there will always be a polyethylene there. That’s the heat-sealers. When you package your products and you fill it up, the top is heat sealable. It went through a heat seal and polyethylene on there to bond to the other side, and it will be a perfect film. These are the two or three primary standardized materials that are used. We do have the capability to custom run. If you need certain thickness for your overall bag if you have certain shelf life requirements that call for an aluminum foil. Maybe you don’t need a foil, maybe you have a slightly more stringent shelf life requirements we put a metalized film in there. Based on that, that’s the film structure that we’ll put into place but everything is first printed then laminated and then formed into the pouches. Finally, if anybody’s got any questions, feel free to shoot me an email. Our website is www.FlexiblePouches.com. You can email me directly at Apurva@FlexiblePouches.com. We’re here to help new brands out. Even if you know flexible packaging is not your mode or style of packaging that you need, we can at least guide you through some of the ins and outs of what goes into new product packaging design and considerations for having a successful product at the end of the day.
I do have a question I’d like to contribute here which is the service that you’re offering not only for food packaging but even as you said at the end there, packaging in general for brands. This is an underrated aspect of your brand representation to the world especially as an Amazon seller or a private labeler of some kind. To the world, this packaging is going to appear like you manufacture the product that you’re selling. The brand is such a critical component of this. It’s one of the most important assets of a growing company. Would you agree?
That’s the number one most critical ingredient. Before you even thought about your packaging, before you talk about designing a product even, you want to make sure that the branding is there. That goes in line with what I was talking about the consumer experience. You yourself can recognize your favorite brands in any category. It doesn’t include anything you go to the store, you resonate. A lot of times, when you look at it, it’s like logical. You’re connecting with the logos, the color or the brand that the company has established. People underestimate the value of that. People underestimate the value of, once you have that, you have the capability to take your business to the next level. I fully agree with that.The customer experience will go a very long way in your business regardless of what you're doing. Click To Tweet
Especially if your goal is to grow your brand to a point until you can get it acquired by somebody, that brand value is going to be a multiplier of whatever the real value of your company might be. This is earlier in my career, I was in Michigan at the time. Gerber baby products were there. I forget who bought them or the company I was talking to sold it to the Swiss company. I know this is an extreme example because it’s a huge company. They had estimated they got an extra $1 billion above the real value for the product lines they were selling because of the value of that brand of the baby.
That’s what it is at the end of the day. The last time I was on here talking with Tracy, she referenced an article she wrote, which was about million-dollar companies don’t buy $9.99 logos or something like that. There’s value in that idea. When you’re starting off, you don’t want to cut corners when it comes to establishing your brand identity, when it comes to establishing yourself, because that people don’t realize what that will transform into if you do work on your business and grow to a certain level because that’s what customers will experience. That’s not something to be taken lightly.
Related to that, is there anything that you’ve seen a lot of companies make that you would call a rookie error or a common early mistake with regard to their brand?
We used to have one side of our business, which we’re phasing out now because we don’t think it’s in line with entrepreneurs. We do unprinted packaging as well. We’ve got stock size bags for generic packaging, unprinted bags. We’ve got those at our warehouse. You can order them online. One of the things we saw a big pitfall for customers was that a lot of times they would cut corners and say, “I don’t have time to design an entire bag. I don’t have time to get artwork. I don’t have time to do all of that,” or maybe, “I don’t want to spend the money up front for too many bags.” We’ll get a case of 500. We’ll tack on some labels. We’ll go from there. I think that is shooting yourself in the foot to start with. Maybe for samples at a trade show, that’s primarily what we advocated for at this point. That’s the way to go. At the end of the day, if you are looking to get into a major big box distributor retailer, you don’t want off the shelf packaging. You don’t want off the shelf stuff with your sticker on it especially if that’s going to be your image on the store shelf.
We’ve had a lot of customers that come to us that are maybe a little bit on the smaller side that will say, “Should we go with the digital print route?” Remember a few years ago that wasn’t even a thing. Now it’s blown up. I would say that’s about half our business now. It’s allowed customers to get up there and compete with the brands and the likes of Gerber at the end of the day. When we see customers approach us and say, “We’ll get a case of 500. It will ship out the same day. We’ll have it next week. We’ll print some labels and go on there.” We find, not surprisingly, that many times those are the brands that aren’t coming back at the end of the day for larger custom printed because that kills your brand right there in our opinion.
Those are words to the wise. If you think you can’t afford to create the right brand, you may be right. You can’t afford it because you’re not going to be in business much longer. They say if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. It’s the mindset.
One more thing I did want to touch on the flexible packaging here is that, as an example, when you go out there, I’m mentioning these plastic films, poly films that are used in the construction here. Polyethylene, it’s a heat sealer. I don’t want people to go out there and think that this is the same plastic that’s in your grocery store bag. You’re going to Walmart or a grocery store and you come back with a plastic bag. That’s also low-density polyethylene, technically the same polymer that’s used on the heat sealer. The difference here with FlexiblePouches, a lot of folks may know this, but these are engineered barrier films. These are films necessarily that are something we call biaxially oriented. Sheets of film that are oriented and stretched in both directions, the horizontal direction and transverse and the machine direction is what it’s called. What that does is it gives very strong mechanical properties so that you don’t have issues such as breakage or tearing while your product is in there or while you’re shipping it.
More importantly, it gives it the barrier properties that is the single most governing thing, at least for food but also other things as well. A lot of products out there, depending on what materials are used to construct the product, as an example, copper or steel, plastic. If you have a certain oxygen transmission rate through your packaging over time, depending on how long it’s on the shelf, things can start to go bad in there. Food is significantly more sensitive to that. It applies to that a little more. These films are designed with very specific barrier transmission characteristics in terms of limiting the amount of oxygen that can go in, limiting the amount of moisture. These are technical values that we publish on our website. You can go and look those up. There’s an entire science behind the packaging. The point is it’s not your typical plastic that you’ll see in a grocery store bag or anywhere else. These are barrier films that are used to construct these bags.
I’m glad you brought that up because that was something I was going to make sure to let our audience know is that it is a highly technical field packaging and all the food requirements and all of the different properties of different materials. The good thing is if you’re reading this and you have a product or a food item that you need to come up with packaging for, you do not need to become an expert in packaging because you have an expert here who knows all of that. His team, his company knows these things. You can seek the help of an expert and to come to Apurva with, “Here’s the product that we want to sell.”
We have a lot of customers that say, “This is my startup idea. This is what we’re packaging. We’ve got the product perfected down.” I keep talking about food because that’s is a good chunk of our business although we’re doing stuff like hygiene products, pharmaceuticals. We were working on a project with Oral B doing some mouth guards. The scope is unlimited. They come to us and say, “This is our product. This is what we’ve got. We’ve got all the business side of the product development under the wraps but how do I package it? What do I need?” We’ll give you guys some reading material if you so choose if you want to go through it. The goal is not for every brand owner to become an expert on technical of the product packaging. You have a business to run. The goal is to let us help you guys out. Hold your hand and walk you through the process, advise you, answer any questions you may have in terms of why we’re suggesting what we’re suggesting. Taking charge from there. That’s the idea.If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right. Click To Tweet
There is maybe a market for it at a trade show or a local farmer’s market or packaging home goods. The goal is for our end, this is our brand because we’re doing the same thing. We’re also a small growing company. We want to make sure that since we’re catering to some of the small businesses, we don’t want to give the message off that this is what we’re recommending. Maybe it was appropriate a few years ago when that was the better alternative. There are even better alternatives now to get your brand out there. In part that’s the reason. That is a chunk of lost revenue. We think we’ll make it up in other ways. At the end of the day, the goal is to make sure we’re out there helping brands realize their true potential through effective product packaging.
The other reality probably is how much time and energy do your employees have to spend dealing with those very small orders? From an overhead and profitability and efficiency standpoint, it probably is not the business you want to be in.
We’re on the custom producing business, the custom manufacturing business. We’ve standardized that like I was talking about. That’s our route forward in how we plan to grow. Another point to bring up, and this is important, flexible packaging is making wins. You go to the store, you see soup these days packaged in flexible bags, whereas it was all exclusively in cans before. That being said, flexible packaging may not be the most appropriate form for everybody. There’s a huge class of products outside of food, but even in food that a can or a rigid or a glass or certain other types of packaging style is more appropriate and that consideration that you want to have as well when you’re looking at it. However, the trends, if you look at the numbers, there is an undeniable trend in the rigid to flexible packaging transition and how brands are going with that. There are reasons for it.
There are pros and cons. Some of the pros, obviously we would list include the efficient volume and weight considerations. We’ve got a page on our website that has a rough comparison if both will work and which way do we go? It talks about when you are, for example, buying empty packaging to transfer to your co-pack or whoever you’re filling your product. An empty standup pouch, flattened, transported, you will have 30 times significantly less volume utilization to transport that than you would glass jars. It’s stuff like that there are considerations, saving costs, saving the environment, and so forth. Increased branding, you have more real estate for putting your brand on there, typically find printed bags that have edged as brands. It’s an opportunity. These are all the things you want to keep into consideration. It’s not if you’re getting a flexible pouch. In general, when you are going back to designing that brand identity to have a fantastic consumer experience, you want to be able to understand what your limitations are depending on what you go with.
Apurva, I can’t thank you enough for coming on again and sharing your wisdom with our audience. I’m sure that a lot of people reading this episode will be reaching out as they should for not only their packaging needs, but I think also even some of the other things that you’ve offered as well. Thank you so much. I learned something. That’s great too. We’ll look forward to having you again on a future session here at Product Launch Hazzards. We’ll talk to you next time.
- Apurva Batra – previous episode
- Tracy Hazzard’s Inc article
About Apurva Batra
Flexible Pouches aims to level the playing field for retail brands that compete in the hyper-competitive retail consumer product goods landscape. By offering the lowest minimums in the industry, they’re disrupting the $200+ Billion global flexible packaging space so that all businesses regardless of size have an opportunity to convey their message on store shelves. Additionally, they consult entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized companies on brand awareness and the importance of effective product packaging.