The key to success in our market place is the ability to be flexible, timely and creative in delivering the right design to satisfy customers’ needs,” notes Anna Frolova-Levi, marketing director for the Weatherchem Corporation of Twinsburg, Ohio. “Our first big success was the two-door dispensing closure, the Flapper®, which for over 25 years has been a closure standard in convenience and ease-of-use in several segments of the food market.”
Weatherchem was originally known as the Ankeny Company until it was purchased in 1971 by Albert J. Weatherhead. In 1983, it introduced the first dual-flap Flapper dispensing closure, sold to the spice and seasonings market. The dual-dispensing option permits, spooning out of large quantities and a more controlled sprinkling of smaller amounts, all in the same package. This design is particularly convenient for users who purchase large containers and use them many times over a long period of time. Spices and seasonings, chemicals, nutritional supplements and vitamins, pet food and care are a few examples of products sold today with a Flapper closure on top.
But you can only rest on your laurels for so long, and in 2004, a new Weatherchem management team decided it needed to implement a new business strategy. “Over the last four years, we took a hard look at new trends in the market place and new needs of our customers. The result was the investment in a new set of dispensing closures that still deliver the value of controlled convenient dispensing, but with a modern twist.”
Across all markets, brand owners are moving packaging into the convenience category, whether it is a single-dose package for the on-the-go consumer or easy to use packages for larger product volumes used every day at home. Convenient dispensing has become a large part of what brand owners can offer to their customers to gain loyalty and new product trials. “Our consumer focus groups show time and time again that product users prefer dispensing packages over a regular one and are willing to pay for its convenience. Our studies confirmed that consumers associate the product quality with its package quality – like it or not, package has become a part of the product,” says Frolova-Levi. “Today, we’re well-positioned with the broadest line of products and the full range of sizes that address all three concerns about convenience, safety and sustainability with innovative closure solutions.”
These solutions include improved Flapper® closures, the FlapMate™, LiquiFlapper®, NutraGen II™ caps, and the Grinder NR™ Packaging system.
All four new designs were introduced in the course of the last 18 months and have three common features:
• Contemporary appearance communicating quality;
• Convenient dispensing features;
• Ease of package opening and re-closing.
“We found that while convenience was still the leading consideration, there was a growing concern about safety and sustainability,” says Frolova-Levi.
According to a Chartered Management Institute survey conducted in 2006 cited by Weatherchem, about 75 percent of Americans are concerned about food safety issues and pay close attention to food packaging to ensure it looks safe. Also, a recent Sustainability in Packaging Study survey sponsored by Packaging Digest conducted in January 2007 reported that “Eighty-seven percent of respondents mentioned at least some portion of their current customers are asking for/requiring sustainable packaging.”
Frolova-Levi notes, “Our new closures offer an opportunity to make a package more environmentally friendly while maintaining the overall functionality. For example, we often replace closure systems designed in two pieces, each piece made of different material. We know fully well that consumers do not want to go through an extra step of removing the non-recyclable material from the recyclable one. Our dispensing closures, being one-piece solution, can address that problem.
“We also worked hard on creating a closure that has tight seal performance allowing for elimination of the seal, making the package more sustainable, both environmentally and cost-wise. By doing good to the environment, we can also do well for our customers who are striving to reduce their own costs. Certainly, not all products will allow for liner elimination, as often liners accomplish two objectives: they provide tamper evidence and keep the product fresh. Our liner suppliers are more like business partners to us. As such, they help us in delivering on our customers’ needs and expectations. ”
Safe and Sustainable
Safety and sustainability extend beyond the products themselves, but also the processes of product manufacturing. “While we’ve always maintained the highest level of product quality and safety standards, Weatherchem is fully committed to the FPA-SAFE Audit program,” Frolova-Levi notes. This audit program, put in place by the Food Products Association (FPA), establishes benchmarks to review such processes as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (“HACCP”) based food safety systems, production controls, quality management systems and regulatory compliances.
Notes Frolova-Levi, “As with most companies, we have many business visitors to our facility on any given day. As a result of our FPA-SAFE participation, we changed and strengthened our policies regarding facility access. All visitors to our plant must comply with FPA-SAFE guidelines before any access is granted to the manufacturing facility. This also is true for any material that enters or leaves the business. By implementing the FPA-SAFE program, we offered an online-audit-records alternative to the facility audits that our customers and prospects conduct on a regular basis, by that eliminating the need to travel.”
Weatherchem also introduced an electronic system to replace a manual paper process to handle the possibility of recalls. To comply with FPA-SAFE guidelines, Weatherchem is now able to trace and, if need be, recall any of its products within two hours. In addition to maintaining the highest possible safety standards, Weatherchem was concerned about its “eco-footprint,” even before people started using such terminology. Frolova-Levi points to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency that packaging comprises as much as one-third of the non industrial waste stream. “Weatherchem is committed to satisfying the metrics established by the UN Global Compact, a voluntary international organization to promote social and sustainability principles, as well as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). We’re also working with Case Western University’s Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB) and EDGE, a group of local area middle market companies, to develop and institute improved sustainability practices. Along similar lines, we’re also working with Earth Renewable Technologies, a partnership between Gaia Herbs and Clemson University.”
Specifically, Weatherchem is looking for resin options that are more biodegradable than traditional oil-based resin. It is also instituting programs to reduce energy consumption and waste, including the use of more energy efficient lighting and recycling programs.
Designed for Success
We offer a range of convenient, value-adding closures, but Frolova-Levi emphasizes that there is no “one-size fits all” solution. By working with ColorMatrix, a leader in liquid colorant, Weatherchem is capable of matching any color a customer may need to communicate their brand effectively. “Furthermore, we offer a range of customization options to fit our customers’ packaging needs,” she says. “This ranges from embossing the customer’s brand on the closure to designing and making a unique dispensing option that accommodates product’s unique characteristics. Our experienced engineering team designs flexibility into our tooling to provide original, unique solutions to fit the product’s particular packaging needs.”
In addition to spices and seasonings, Weatherchem’s markets include chemicals, confectionary and sweeteners, creamers and specialty milks, grated cheese, healthcare, liquid condiments, dry foods, personal care and pet food and care. “Even as our core dry product markets have grown very slowly, we see a lot of opportunity in new markets, in particular pet food, OTC drugs, diet supplements and liquid foods,” Frolova-Levi says.
Typically, Weatherchem manufactures the closure, which is then sold to the package manufacturer, although in some instances Weatherchem will license the technology. That said, the company has ventured into providing a total packaging solution, exemplified by its new grinder line. “This is a patented technology that ensures content freshness by simplifying the package and offering to the consumer the benefit of a fresh grind,” Frolova-Levi notes.
Weatherchem intends to step up the pace of new product introductions to address the needs of new markets. “This year, we introduced three new products, and in 2008 we’re looking to expand our size offerings for these new product lines,” Frolova-Levi says.
With Weatherchem’s recent growth in product line, research and technical capabilities, custom solutions and international reach, you can’t help but look with appreciation at this North-American manufacturing company that managed not only to survive in tough market conditions, but grow and prosper.