How To Source Packaging: 3 Proven Tips

No matter what type of business you run or what industry you are in, chances are that you will need to source packaging materials at some point. 

Packaging requirements vary widely, and so do the solutions in the marketplace. For example, simple shipping needs can be addressed with off-the-shelf corrugated boxes, while custom-designed, die-cut folding packaging material may be necessary to withstand volatile shipping environments.

Whatever your packaging needs are, it helps to understand your options. Let’s take a look at three areas of sourcing flexibility to find best performance, price, and supplier.

Decide If One Time Use vs. Reusable Is More Efficient

The simple solution for shipping products is the always reliable corrugated box. It's sturdy, simple, and disposable. Corrugated boxes are a commodity that once again allow you to shop price and locate the most advantageous suppliers with the best lead times; however, some companies turn to reusable bulk containers to ship between suppliers and their different locations.

These containers can be used thousands of times and save you and your supplier network the cost of traditional packaging supplies, if you are willing to overcome the significant first time investment. Businesses with green initiatives underway would see value in the option as well.

Take a look at this calculator to determine the best option for your business.

Sourcing Sustainable Packaging? You've Got Some Competition

Many companies have embraced the business and environmental benefits of sustainable packaging. McDonald's, for example, recently set a goal of ensuring that 100 percent of its guest packaging will come from renewable, recycled, or forest-friendly materials by 2025. Coca-Cola, Amazon, and even the NFL are also making heavy investments in sustainable packaging.

Our CEO, Tony Uphoff, recently examined how this trend is impacting the supply chain. 

 

 

When You Can’t Find Exactly What You Want, Look At The Next Tier

So the packaging team just sent you a request to source a new custom designed package that they want made out of paper. Since you already have a die cutter and a printing company that you use for other packaging, it's simple enough; however, this time the packaging team needs the paper to keep out moisture and oxygen.

Your existing supplier has raw material to fulfill on the need, but the printer says they can’t print on it due to the coating on the paper. You try several other printers but are met with the same response — "can’t print on it." So what do you do? Is it time to tell the team it can’t be done? Absolutely not.

You’re a problem solving rockstar that doesn’t give up. So what can you do?

Let’s break down the challenge: You can find the material, but the printer can’t work with it because the coating is on the inside and outside of the packaging. But the team only needs it on the inside of the packaging to maintain the oxygen and moisture integrity requirement. So, what if you could find a supplier that could make the one-sided coated material you need? Bingo!

Look for suppliers that are one tier down on the supply chain and can bring the raw materials you need to your usual die-cutter and printer. (A company like Sierra Coating Technologies would be a perfect solution to this challenge — they don’t do packaging themselves, but they do specialize in teaming with packaging companies to overcome complex coating challenges.)

There are always ways to solve the sourcing challenge — you just need to get creative.

Sweat The Details When Sourcing Stock Packaging Products

There are stock packaging products such as bottles, jars, tubes, bags, and boxes that you can source off-the-shelf. Sourcing a standardized size or configuration of a product typically allows you to solicit pricing and lead times from several vendors, keeping the cost down and delivery time low.

But don’t let the simplicity fool you — even something as seemingly simple as a Poly Bag has complexity to the sourcing process. Just take a look at some standard types of these bags:

  • Flat: Sealed on three sides with an open top. Basic protection from debris, primarily effective as a container, requires additional sourcing to enclose the bag (twist ties, tape, etc.).
  • Reclosable: Sealed on three sides with reclosable strip at the open end. Typically used to protect products from dirt, dust, and moisture where complete enclosures are necessary.
  • Gusseted: Flared on the sides or bottom to allow the bag to expand as contents are added. Open top requires secondary sourcing to close.
  • Stand Up Pouch: Bottom gusseted bag with reclosable top. Allows for additional capacity in same height/width dimension. Used for moisture protection.
  • Bags On A Roll: For high volume applications. Bags are usually pre-opened at one end and sealed at the other.
  • Anti-Static: Negates static buildup that would occur with traditional polybags. Pink in color. Primarily for protection of electronic components.
  • Static Shielding: Protective bag for electronic components that eliminates possibility of static discharge. Typically black in color.

You thought this was going to be easy, right? We aren’t even done yet.

Each of these stock bag types come in different material thicknesses usually measured in MIL (that’s 1/1000th of an inch) which denotes the thickness of a single wall of the bag. Poly Bags are readily available in sizes from 1 to 6 MIL. 

Of course, as the complexity of the bag and the thickness of the material changes, the price does, too.

Say you are sourcing 1 million pieces annually of 1.5 MIL 4x2x8 gusseted poly bags that come in 1,000 bags per case at a rate of $14.60/case. The current base spend is $14,600, and you want to lower it. It's all in the details.

Let’s use the pricing from Four Star Plastics as a basis for analysis — here are some scenarios:

  • 1. If you don’t need the gusset and could switch to a 4x8 flat 1.5 MIL bag, you could drop the cost by $2,160. 
  • 2. If you still need the gusset but could change to 1 MIL thick bags. Boom — that's $4,540 annual savings.
  • 3. If you could lose the gusset and switch to 4x8 flat 1 MIL bags. You just saved more than 1/3 of the cost ($5,560).

Again, this is a relatively simple product with modest price points, but the savings adds up as volume increases. For more complex packaging, this savings compounds quickly. Pay attention to the little details and question the requests from the team to have a big impact on the bottom line.

Final Thoughts

We understand that you put your name and career on the line every time you select a new supplier. Thomasnet.com has in depth information on thousands of packaging suppliers.

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If you aren’t sure who to turn to for a tricky sourcing challenge, feel free to lean on the Thomas sourcing experts. Just submit your question or spec through Custom Quotes and we’ll find you up to 5 suppliers to fill your need.

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