Boulder, Colorado / Los Angeles
Boulder, Colorado; Los Angeles; and 13 other U.S. locations (HQ: Austin, Texas)
Employees: 300+ companywide (65+ in Boulder and Los Angeles)
Industry: Supply Chain
Products: Flexible packaging
A gourmet coffee roaster. An artisan cheesemaker. A pet treat business. A fledgling, cosmetic company. A CBD supplement startup. A regional lawn or pool care company. A local creator of power bars. All of these different types of businesses have different needs in terms of packaging.
Packaging has traditionally been a major hurdle for manufacturers like these. Boustani and Steerman say that it's no longer cost-prohibitive for small and medium-sized businesses to acquire affordable packaging, thus allowing them to enter the market and compete against larger brands.
ePac Flexible Packaging is the largest operator of HP Indigo 20000 digital presses in the world, according to Boustani. Starting with an Adobe image document -- and no costly plate fees required -- the technology allows ePac to create labeled, product pouches.
Depending on the product category, there are pouches that retain moisture, others that allow air in. Packaging options include candy bar wrappers, stand-up coffee bags, and sample-sized packets. Boustani and Steerman say that the packaging ePac creates appears as professional as the packaging utilized by, for instance, major consumer goods and food conglomerates; "[Based upon the packaging,] if you would see them next to each other on the shelves, you would think they're the same company," says Boustani.
Founded by three partners with experience in the worlds of packaging and printing, ePac opened a proof-of-concept facility in Madison, Wisconsin in 2016. Acting as co-investors and managing partners, Boustani and Steerman helmed the company's very first expansion in 2017 to Boulder, and then in early 2018 to Los Angeles, where Steerman says there's a "much heavier" concentration of customers who employ co-packing.
Steerman says, "Knowing that Boulder is the epicenter -- the Silicon Valley -- of the natural foods and natural and organic industry, we decided to come and be part of the community in which our customers reside."
Steerman says that "north of 50 percent" of ePac's business in Boulder and Los Angeles consists of organic and natural foods brands. Boustani adds, "We have over 250 local customers -- and that's just Boulder."
One of the company’s earliest customers in Boulder was Skratch Labs, a maker of electrolyte supplements for athletes. Another customer, Ancient InGRAINed, was recently chosen to appear on the Shark Tank TV show to plug its Ka-Pop! Snack.
But unlike healthy snacks, there are items that kids definitely shouldn't get into. "We do offer child-resistant packaging for regulated industries," says Steerman. "That could be hemp-related products, pool chemicals, that could be fertilizers, that could be vitamins." And there are also sustainable, recyclable packaging options within the company's portfolio of products.
Steerman says the flexible packaging market is "north of a $30 billion industry," of which two billion is imported from overseas. Hoping to cut into that overseas market utilized by smaller brands, ePac aims to provide cost-effective options where "there wasn't the ability in the past to have those good locally produced [in an economical fashion]."
Headquartered in Austin, the company now has locations in 15 U.S. cities -- including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, and New York City -- as well in Canada and the United Kingdom; Indonesia is next. "Our facilities are all set up to provide the same level of service to each of their communities," says Steerman.
Boustani and Steerman saw their end of the business nearly double in 2018. In 2020, they expect business to double again. In Boulder, the number of employees has increased from nine in 2017 to 39 today.
Steerman says he enjoys "the chance to work with small businesses, entrepreneurs. Understand their vision, their aspirations, their dreams within their businesses. Helping them bring those to life."
Boustani adds, "The growth of our customers excites me."
Challenges: Finding the right people to employ, says Boustani, "because the job itself is new, the [micro level of servicing] is new."
Opportunities: Steerman says it's "the amount of addressable marketplace" in the various industries and geographies ePac is targeting.
Needs: "Efficiency," says Boustani. And: "Staying up to date on all the new technologies that are taking place."