T.H.E.M.’s Kozarsky Marks 20-Year Milestone with Japan
Neil Kozarsky, President of T.H.E.M., the North American leader in stick packaging, recently returned from Tokyo Pack 2012.
Marlton, NJ, December 12, 2012 – Neil Kozarsky, President of T.H.E.M., the North American leader in stick packaging, recently returned from Tokyo Pack 2012.
What makes this event so significant is that it marks 20 years since the packaging innovator, best known for his role in commercializing stick packaging in North America, first traveled to Japan.
“It’s hard to believe that 20 years have elapsed since that first visit.” Kozarsky stated. “Marking this anniversary certainly puts the events and achievements inside and outside of the packaging world into perspective.”
Q: What circumstances influenced that first journey to Japan?
Kozarsky: It was a unique business opportunity that provided us with the motivation. In the early 1990’s, we had taken on the representation of a Chicago-based firm that was offering an innovative, liquid pouch dispensing technology. Looking back, it was the ultimate “solution” for a “bottle country” that didn’t have a problem. We placed ads in several international packaging publications and were contacted by a Japanese company.
Q: So, you first transferred a technology to Japan back in 1992; how did that experience go?
Kozarsky: Considering that it was our first global venture, things went very smoothly. The project was quite involved, however, so the initial deal wasn’t completed until 1993. First, there were several parties involved on the Japanese side and quite a few details that needed to be sorted out. Factor in the language and cultural challenges, and it was quite an experience. But we persevered and the project launched. Amazingly, it’s still in the market today.
Q: Speak a bit about the “language and cultural” challenges.
Kozarsky: Well, when you travel half way around the world to a foreign country you expect to find differences. Beyond that, there are also some unique aspects about the way in which business is transacted and conducted in Japan, as each country often has its own nuances. It just takes some time to fully appreciate and adapt to the customs and cultural differences. In the final analysis, people are people and business is business, so with some patience and dedication you can definitely arrive at a place where relationships are created and everybody wins.
Q: What do you recall about your first experiences in Japan?
Kozarsky: That first trip was both memorable and just a little bit surreal. We didn’t factor in the time zone difference and had planned meetings from almost the moment we stepped off of the plane. There was definitely a bit of “over-ambitious” scheduling during those first few days. With the help of our hosts, who were meticulous planners and took excellent care of us, we got through it all. I remember spending time in grocery and convenience stores on my earliest trips. Scanning the shelves, I realized the truly special things that were going on with their packaging.
Q: What was most memorable about those initial store checks in Japan?
Kozarsky: Most impressive was the elegance and neatness of the packaging and overall merchandising approach. The stores were brightly lit and products were lined up perfectly. The result was a symphony for one’s visual senses. Space is limited in Japanese retail stores, so competition for the eye of the consumer is fierce. That’s one of the key points of difference we discovered about Japanese packaging; it has to do something exceptional just to get noticed.
Q: Can you explain that in more detail?
Kozarsky: Certainly. Retailers in Japan have many constraints due to space. We noted that virtually all packages were designed to maximize cube efficiency. Even bottles were “squared up” so that more product could fit on the shelf and space could be maximized. We also saw incredibly clever use of color, shapes, even textures on cans and labels, all in an effort to capture the busy consumer’s attention.
Q: Did you see stick packaging on the shelves in the early days?
Kozarsky: We certainly did, and it was noteworthy. Packaging innovation was evident everywhere we looked. There were so many interesting and new things to take in at those stores. Stick packs were just one of many. In particular, Van Houten instant cocoa and coffee sticks stood out. I like to refer to my initial experiences in those Japanese stores as the “aisles of my dreams.” There was something very special about the overall design of the packaging and the merchandising strategy. I became energized, thinking about how such materials and formats could be transitioned onto store shelves back home.
Q: How did the stick packaging business actually take form back then?
Kozarsky: Well, just like so many things at T.H.E.M., it started with a client’s request. Actually the requests of two clients, at about the same time. Both inquired about “innovative single-serve options” for projects they were working on. One was a confectionery product, the other a beverage. Because we serve as a technology “antenna” for our customers, we set about to identify the possibilities. What we discovered at the time was that stick packs were available only on machinery manufactured in Japan That was back in the summer of 1996.
Q: So it actually took a number of years from your first experience in Japan until getting onto the stick pack path?
Kozarsky: That’s right, almost four years. We had been developing and executing other flexible innovations in Japan during that time period. Back in the mid-1990’s, we were one of the pioneers in the transfer of stand up pouch (SUP) technologies to North America. Today, SUPs can be found just about everywhere on store shelves across the United States. It’s hard to believe, but less than 20 years ago they were almost non-existent. Working with a broad range of machinery and material organizations during those initial years gave us the proximity and knowledge to move quickly on what became the stick pack opportunity.
Q: How long did it take from the initial discussions to get the stick business up and running?
Kozarsky: Our first meeting with Sanko was back in August of 1996. We had heard from a major food/beverage client that Sanko made excellent equipment and had earned a great reputation. The timing couldn’t have been better because Sanko was looking at expanding into the USA market. Our initial discussions progressed very well. Three months later, we showcased two Sanko stick pack machines at Pack Expo, serving as the exclusive North American representative.
Q: What kind of reactions did you get at Pack Expo?
Kozarsky: The response was positive and immediate. We began discussions with a major pharmaceutical company that had been independently assessing stick packaging for an infant product. They wound up purchasing a number of Sanko stick pack machines back in 1997 and 1998 to support a nationwide launch. Formalization of the relationship with Sanko enabled us to also move forward with a soluble coffee project for a multinational client. These projects helped Sanko showcase their leadership, experience and knowledge with stick packaging. Both projects were highly successful. So much so, that they’re still on the shelf today.
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T.H.E.M. (Technical Help in Engineering and Marketing) was founded in 1973 as one of the first providers of innovative packaging solutions in North America. The company is best known for commercializing Sanko Stick Packaging in the U.S. Working in conjunction with select packaging and equipment manufacturers, T.H.E.M. offers a comprehensive array of stick packaging solutions designed to take brands from initial concept to full-scale national or global production. T.H.E.M. has a fully operational, on-site R&D center located at its Marlton, NJ headquarters, with pilot production to scale-up contract packaging capabilities.
For more information on T.H.E.M.’s flexible packaging machinery and contract manufacturing services, please visit: www.them.net.
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