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A Fortune 500 firm and a small grocer would seem to have little in common, but a joint project between Owens-Illinois Inc. and Toledo area grocer Walt Churchill is proof that partnerships come in all sizes.
O-I is testing a new glass jar with a pouring spout that it thinks could revolutionize the consumer product container segment.
The test product for the jar is a new marinara sauce developed by Walt Churchill's Markets that the local grocery chain hopes will become a customer favorite.
"It works well for both of us. We learn, and they learn," Mr. Churchill said Monday.
The jar and sauce debuted Wednesday at Mr. Churchill's supermarket in Monclova Township and will hit the shelves of his Perrysburg stores on May 14.
A large display of sauce-filled jars greets customers as they enter the Monclova Township market, but a store worker demonstrates both the versatility of the sauce and the unique advantages of O-I's new jar, which it has named the VersaFlow.
"We definitely think [VersaFlow] has game-changing potential," said Stephanie Johnston, spokesman for the Perrysburg-based glass maker. "In fact, conversations are happening right now with potential customers. There's no reason why we couldn't have them on store shelves four or five months from now if things go right," she said.
O-I thinks that after four years of development, VersaFlow's built-in pouring spout is ready for adaptation to a variety of glass jars and bottles, eliminating a top-10 consumer complaint about jars with rounded openings that lead to spills or pouring mishaps, Ms. Johnston said.
But first the company needed more feedback on consumer reaction, likes and dislikes, and potential uses. That was where Mr. Churchill fit in.
With his Perrysburg store less than a mile from O-I's headquarters, Mr. Churchill said the company frequently brings clients and others to his store to observe its glass products on his shelves. "Because of that they thought we'd be a good candidate to work with, so they approached us on this particular project," he said. "We've had a number of recipes that we produce, and this marinara was one that we thought had an opportunity for mass appeal. So it was a good fit."
O-I was looking for a place to run its pilot test on the VersaFlow, "and we thought why not look in our backyard to test this thing?" Ms. Johnston said.
"We did a very basic jar in this execution, but the concept is one that can be applied to various shapes and sizes," she said. "Now we are learning what consumers think about it and how it can be applied to other things."
Churchill's employees are helping the glassmaker by talking with customers about the VersaFlow and relaying the feedback.
Meanwhile, Mr. Churchill is getting a boost to launch his new sauce.
"It's been my desire to have the product be marketed like a magic marinara for all sorts of uses. Kind of like the Garlic Expressions salad dressing. You can use it for salad, but it has all sorts of uses," Mr. Churchill said.
"So far we've been very happy with the success we've had this week with our sauce. We tell people you can use a little to top a chicken breast or on scaloppine, or as a dipping sauce. So the idea of having a jar with a spout really gives you the advantage of using it for multiple uses, whereas a standard bottle is not as easy to pour with." The jar's lid screws on like any other's, but it is slightly deeper to accommodate the spout.
The VersaFlow is the second glass container concept with high market potential that O-I has introduced in the last two years.
In 2010, the company introduced a bottle design called the "Vortex" that makes beverages swirl as they exit the container. The twisty bottle was credited with creating marked improvement in sales of its exclusive beverage user, Miller Lite beer.
Ms. Johnston said VersaFlow could have a similar impact, and most who encounter the jar immediately see it as a solution to the messiness that accompanies jars of salsa.
"We see [VersaFlow] as a packaging design with a value that customers will love. ... There's an immediate ‘Aha!' moment when you see it and feel it," Ms. Johnston said.
But a jar with a spout is just one of several ideas that O-I has launched or is about to launch.
"We're actually looking at a whole suite of innovations. We've been going through these innovation capabilities for years and mapping out these hassles that consumers experience and looking for innovative ways to solve those problems," she said.
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.