Packaging Quandaries

pt-ro10050One of the toughest things in making new pipe tobacco blends is packaging, and I’m not just referring to artwork. Making decisions on how we’re going to present a product hinges on a number of factors.chatham

For Hearth & Home Marquee and my RO Series, we’ve gone with vacuum-sealed 50 gram tins. The reason is that we expect that many people are going to cellar the blends, and most people prefer these tins for long-term storage. The H&H Signature line comes in the 1.5 oz. tin with a pop-top and are not vacuum-sealed. It helps keep the cost down, and Signature is positioned as a value line. They’ll still cellar well, but I’ve only got about four years of history with these tins, so I can’t say how they’ll be in ten years. I’ve been asked about larger sizes for the Marquee blends, but there aren’t any vacuum-sealed tins larger than 100 grams, so 8 oz. tins are out of the question, because we want to make sure that it’s consistent across the line. We’ll be looking into the 100 gram size later on.

The most frequently asked question is about bulk. Why do we offer the Signature Series blends in bulk but not the Marquee. The answer is more complicated that it appears. In fact, at one time, we did offer everything in bulk, but there was a good reason. At that time, it took about 2 1/2 weeks to get the blends tinned up, and often more. So to avoid a backlog, we offered bulk for people who didn’t want to wait. Now that we have a manufacturer handling the assembly and packaging, we order what we need. But the biggest problem with the Marquee being available in bulk was that people complained that the bulk and the tinned tobaccos were different. They weren’t, but I know why they thought that. When a tobacco sits in a sealed tin, it has additional fermentation taking place, so the flavor will mature in a tin, but bulk won’t ferment further, or if it does, it’s very slight, so people smoking fresh bulk alongside tobacco that’s been in a tin for six months will notice a flavor difference, even though the blends are exactly the same. Because the blends in Marquee contain super high-grade tobaccos, we didn’t want people to think that we were blending a cheaper version to sell in bulk, so we discontinued the bulk option. People who buy the Signature blends more often tend to smoke them right away, so we didn’t have the same problem offering the bulk and we continue to do so.

We understand that people want to save, so we try to offer options wherever possible. The Missouri Meerschaum tobaccos came out in 1.5 oz. pouches. Folks began asking about a larger size to save some money. Sometime soon, we’ll offer the blends in 9 or 12 oz. bags, but because these blends can be sold by brick and mortar stores, a bulk option makes no sense, as a mom and pop convenience store has no way to offer bulk.

We recently introduced our Hearth & Home Mid-Town Series to offer replacements for some discontinued OTC tobaccos, and to offer a more affordable option for a couple of blends still being made. They come in 14 oz. screw-top tubs, but some people were reticent to try 14 oz. of an unknown tobacco. We heard the concerns and today  (3/25/15) we added 2 oz. bags of bulk to each page, so there’s a smaller option to try before jumping in with both feet.

Label art used to be a real problem. We didn’t have any experience with creating labels and we didn’t want to spend a lot of money to farm it out in the early years of Hearth & Home, so it was left to me and my trusty copy of Microsoft Publisher to do it. I look back at some of those labels and I’m embarrassed by how amateurish they were, but they served the purpose. Today, I’m fortunate to have access to a full-blown design department with a lot of very talented people who can produce really attractive artwork in a timely manner. People who saw the Fire Storm label before the blend was released said that the package alone made them want to try it, and isn’t that what packaging is all about?

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.