Houston-based contract food packager Consolidated Mills wanted a better way to bring their Alamo Red branded products to consumers.

After being frustrated with the normal retail model, which relies on distributors to manage the distribution channel to the retailer and ultimately to the consumer, owners and brothers Keith and Scott Vrana, decided that they needed to have more control over this process, so they decided to focus on eCommerce.

"Our ultimate goal was to control our brand including how we supply the product to our consumers and how we continue to support our community," says Keith Vrana. "We had our own recipe and we knew it was good because the feedback was so positive."

But that decision meant they also needed a packaging that worked for online customers and a glass jar is not that packaging. Consolidated Mills needed a more durable and lighter alternative. And they didn’t want to have to redo their production lines.

"After seeing a sample of the new Apex jar, I knew this would be a game changer for the ecommerce industry," explains Keith Vrana.

So, David Parker, packaging consultant and the TricorBraun team, were asked to step in to facilitate the process for commercialization.

"We understood this would be a first for Consolidated Mills and for the category. We were so pleased to be part of this and confident that we could help put a process in place without adjusting their lines," Parker says.

TricorBraun partnered with Consolidated Mills and the manufacturer of the Apex jar, to trial a hot fill PET (polyethylene terephthalate) jar.

Consolidated Mills wanted to be able to fill the PET jars with their current equipment line used to fill glass jars.

"We wouldn't have done this if a large financial investment was needed to change the set up and the equipment," says Keith Vrana.

The main goal of the trial was to set up the production line in the same way that it would have been for the glass container to properly cap, using a steam injected capper, and label the new PET jar.

Technicians were on hand from the enclosure and capper manufacturer to help fine tune the cap application.

"Because we do not have a cooling tunnel, we allow the jars to naturally cool in the shipper box after being filled and labeled… so our main concern was how the labels would react to the PET material. We did see some problems initially, but our label supplier recommended a new material that corrected the issue," explains Keith Vrana.

PET versus Glass

The advantages of PET versus glass are numerous.

"Using the PET jars greatly reduces the decibel levels during production, and we don't have to worry about broken glass shutting down the line. Our cases weigh three pounds less now, reducing our freight cost, and because we are now shipping plastic containers, we are able to eliminate the extra packaging costs needed for ecommerce," Keith Vrana says. "Our goal is to get all of our salsas plus our other Alamo Redproducts, Blood Mary mixes and barbeque sauces, into hot fill PET jars." explains Vrana.

And they are going to encourage their private label customers to switch to PET as well.

For more information about Consolidated Mills, Inc., visit www.consolidatedmills.com.

For more information about TricorBraun Design & Engineering Group, visit www.tricorbraun.com.