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  • 03 Mar 2020

ePac revolution

Formed four years ago to give small and medium businesses access to short run, high quality flexible packaging, ePac now runs 12 production plants and has plans for continued expansion.

Formed four years ago to give small and medium businesses access to short run, high quality flexible packaging, ePac now runs 12 production plants and has plans for continued expansion.

‘Our strategic plan is to populate ePac locations in as many as 15 locations around the United States. It’s really just a question of which one goes next,’ said Carl Joachim, ePac’s chief marketing officer in August 2016 at the opening of its second production plant. 

His prediction became reality in less than four years. The company runs 10 locations in the US, and one each in Canada and the UK. The ePac revolution now spreads globally. Plans are in place for a second location in the UK and one in Indonesia. Further expansion is planned in the US, additional European expansion is possible and a site as far afield as Australia has also been mooted. 

"The meteoric rise of ePac in just a few years with its business model based on HP Indigo digital printing technology, is truly amazing" 

ePac was formed in May 2016 as a greenfield business with one HP Indigo 20000 press. It is led by CEO Jack Knott and COO Virag Patel, who have plenty of experience in flexible packaging. Knott is the former CEO of Coveris, and Patel is former vice president of global market development at the same firm. Together with Joachim, who has years of marketing experience bringing digital printing technology to market with Xerox and other suppliers, the three partners had similar views of the market opportunity and complementary skills to execute the creation of ePac.

The main principle behind the company is that digital technology will significantly disrupt the service and manufacturing models that have served the flexible packaging industry for decades. ePac’s main driver is to serve small and medium size businesses by providing customers a fast and easy way to buy flexible packaging by specializing in short and medium runs.

‘We’ve seen a tremendous market response to ePac’s unique value proposition, which is built on providing a complete solution from pre-press through converting,’ said Patel in 2016, shortly after opening the first location in the US. ‘By providing turnaround time of 10-15 business days, and offering low minimum order quantities, we can offer our customers solutions that, until now, were just not available.’

Business model

Each ePac production site has been built on the same principle. Each exclusively uses HP Indigo 20000 digital presses, and facilitates the buying process from ordering to shipping. Being built from the ground up on a digital platform enables production of competitively priced short and medium run length orders, delivered within 10-15 business days from the date artwork is approved, with photo quality graphics. 

The company prides itself on fast time to market, variable data printing, low minimum orders, order-on-demand and no plates fees. To complement the HP Indigo 20000 presses at each location, ePac offers a full range of pre-media services including die-lines, color matching and optimization for digital print, solventless lamination and multi-format pouches such as stand-up and lay flat formats.

The company’s values and focus have remained the same since inception, with small and medium businesses at the center of its strategy. ‘Our mission has been to serve customers and communities by providing a high quality flexible packaging with record speed to market,’ says Knott. ‘For years I have watched as large companies and large brands consolidate and create massive conglomerates. Of course, this trend is pushing flexible packaging firms to buy bigger pieces of equipment to fulfill the demand. This takes away the ability for the smaller to medium entrepreneurs to grow their business professionally. 

‘We wanted to provide the tools to change that. In addition, we wanted to give converters the tools to grow jobs back in local communities. And the way to do that is to create a model that is based in each community to service small or medium businesses in that region.

‘In every market we enter, we experience a similar reception. Local small and medium businesses partner with us to help them grow into bigger brands, and as they grow, they see opportunities to bring new products to market rapidly and run more targeted promotions.’ 

"The low minimum quantity and fast lead time is great for a small company and allows us to have multiple SKUs in a single order"

One such example is Smackin’ Snacks. The sunflower seed company was founded in April 2019 by Cole Schaefer. He is the definition of a one-man company – seasoning, roasting, packaging, marketing and selling the seeds all by himself. Schaefer rents out space in a commercial kitchen near his apartment, putting in hours every chance he gets.  

When it was time to find a packaging company, Schaefer knew he needed quality and a partner with the right technology to accommodate the needs of his small start-up business. ‘The low minimum quantity and fast lead time is great for a small company and allows us to have multiple SKUs in a single order,’ says Schaefer.

ePac ultimately delivered the convenience of a local company, a wide selection of pouches and films, and a fast turnaround. In fact, Schaefer took his proof of concept to full-on product in a matter of weeks. ‘The ePac team gave us great feedback on the packaging and offered suggestions. Plus, they were able to work around my busy schedule and timeline,’ adds Schaefer. ‘My goal is for us to be a large, healthy and flavorful snack company. We aim to provide quality ingredients in quality packaging that people will enjoy and continue to come back and eat over and over again.’

Today the seeds are sold at Bobby & Steve’s Autoworld stores, the largest gas station chain in the Twin Cities area. This year, Smackin’ Seeds will be available to purchase in all their stores across the US and online.

The future

‘Based on our success, we’ve decided to accelerate our business plan with an additional investment,’ says Knott. ‘We have figured out how to drive the digital transformation within the flexible packaging market for short, medium and even longer strategic runs with this game-changing technology provided by HP Indigo.’

In November last year the company announced a new wave of HP Indigo 20000 digital presses planned for 2020 to continue disruption of the global flexible packaging market. A new order of 24 presses is the largest packaging deal to date for HP Indigo. It will nearly double production capacity for ePac, growing from 28 presses in 12 locations to over 52 operating at 20 sites. The investment has been valued at over 100 million USD, including hardware, supplies and services over several years.

‘The meteoric rise of ePac and its business model based on HP Indigo technology in just a few years is truly amazing,’ says Santi Morera, general manager and global head of Graphics Solutions Business, HP. ‘Thanks to the continued collaboration between HP and ePac, brands of all sizes can obtain high-quality, digitally printed flexible packaging in quick turnaround times, with low minimum orders, high variation and personalization options.’

According to Johnny Hobeika, MD at ePac Holdings Europe, setting up smaller and agile sites in each region allows the company to build close relationships with local producers, add value and then continue to support them as they grow. 

‘We are community focused and committed to giving our customers a chance to compete against larger rivals,’ says Hobeika. ‘Although ePac is now a global company, it is not run like a big corporation. Each facility is managed by local partners who have invested their own equity and are engaging directly with the community. At the same time, we all collaborate and support each other. This ensures our customers can rely on ePac to deliver on time, every time, and it is what makes us unique.’

With a clear vision to take this philosophy global, the company has created ePac Holdings Asia Pacific, located in Singapore. The first site in that region will be ePac Indonesia, in Tangerang to the west of Jakarta, scheduled to be operational in the second quarter of 2020, with orders being taken from early this year. 

‘The short-run, quick turnaround philosophy of ePac will bring tremendous benefits for many local businesses that currently do not have the scale, capital, or expertise to compete,’ says Hadi Widayat, director of ePac Holdings Asia Pacific. ‘We will start with a base in the Indonesian market, then moving forward to Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.’

In 2016, with just one production site, Joachim was predicting 15 plants across the US. Now the UK, Canada and Asia have been added to the list, with Australia on the horizon. With such global expansion plans, 2020 will be an interesting year for ePac. Meanwhile, it continues to spread its ideology of helping small brands take the leap to full-scale production and packaging their products to the same standard as global brands.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Piotr is a part of the global team of editors and comes to the magazine with extensive experience in journalism. He has background in print and digital media spanning different countries and industry sectors. He is based in the London office, reporting on European label market.

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