Midwest Firm Brings Innovative New Bag Design to NYC Area Foodservice Operators

Ever thought much about the bags you get for takeout? They’re just to stow leftovers in and if they have grease stains, or spill the contents, what’s the problem? That’s what takeout bags are for.

But a company in Chicago has realized that, for $1.50 a bag, a restaurant can brand itself, call attention to itself as a place you want to return, and even upsell the dining establishment itself, all with a carefully, beautifully designed bag to take food home in.

It’s called the Versatote, created by Bulldog Packaging, and it’s made of reusable materials, and has elongated handles so you can sideload cartons without worrying if they’ll tip over, unlike traditional takeout bags, which are taller, and awkward to load. With the Versatote, trays go in easily, and when the bags are loaded, users simply pull up on the handles, with straps keeping them secure, and food stays safe and unspilled, say its owners. And it looks pretty nice, too.

“It works for branding. Customers might even take them to competing restaurants or to the soccer game and there’s your name and logo, publicizing your restaurant in an attractive and convenient way, everywhere a consumer goes,” says Kiel Brunette.

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Brunette notes that his daad started Bulldog in 1990. “We set out with just one hot stamp machine, 25,000 zipper garment bags and through years of hard work and customer support we’ve now grown to over 50,000 square feet of warehouse, five hot stamp machines, six 6-color press machines and over 1,000,000 in inventory.” Brian Brunette, his father, actually started out in the retail packaging business. “My dad did zipper garment bags. He was the first to stock side-zipper garment bags,” says Kiel. But what really brought Brian to the world’s attention was his discovery of the non-woven reusable bags now seen at grocery stores. Though the business began as a supplier of retail and promotional products, the last few years has seen Bulldog make a direct entry into the food market with these kinds of bags.

“We offer domestic short-run printing on a variety of stock-size bags,” says Kiel. But what makes the company different is what’s on the bags — its printing and artwork. “We bring a retail mindset to the product mix,” says Kiel. “We work with Kate Spade and Club Monaco and they have a demand for quality graphics, textures, materials. For a lot of bag manufacturers in the food industry, printing and artwork are an afterthought. They’re in the commodity business, not the design solution business.” But that’s what sets retail and foodservice businesses apart, Kiel adds. “Their image. Their brand. The feeling you get when you go to that restaurant. How do you carry that image out the door?” says Brian. “Let’s take most restaurants. They’ll have their logo or design on the tablecloths, the linens, the menus, but when they bring you your takeout, it’s in a brown paper bag – not the memory you’re looking to walk out the door with.
We take our experience with retail presentation into the food industry. Today it’s more important than ever to create a consummate experience, and that includes what customers walk out the door with.” Says Kiel, “That’s especially true in the restaurant business. So much is based on repeat experience. You have a very small opportunity to capture that image and keep people happy with you.” Kiel explains that his father’s artistic expression of a restaurant’s image or brand is what makes their bags stand out. But even more, it’s the way the company has devised to keep food secure in doggie bags or from takeout that’s an added bonus. “If you don’t pack something properly and it ends up on a customer’s clothes, he’s not in a hurry to come back,” says Brian. Kiel says his dad, who he feels has transformed the way retail and promotional companies go to market with their products, is now bringing that finesse to foodservice. “We’ve seen an explosion in the last five to 10 years in the use of bags not only as a way to take a product home, but now as a promotional item, too,” he says.

“There are a lot of tricks to turn a bag into a marketing piece, to capture an image, the feeling and emotion of a restaurant experience. We’re now offering to restaurants that same option we’ve given businesses like Kate Spade and Club Monaco, at a minimum quantity, a chance to see if our bags don’t bring you more business.

It’s not just that our bags are beautifully designed. If things aren’t packaged expertly, it can ruin the experience and cost you a customer.” Kiel says the way his dad operates the business is unique, too. “My dad will go to a restaurant, as you’re sitting down at a steak house, trying to enjoy a nice dinner, and he’ll bring a bag of designs and walk around as people are eating and ask, which design would you like your takeout in?

We look at it as, if we were the consumer, how would it affect us going to a restaurant if our food were packaged in something like this? There’s an inherent flaw with traditionally-designed takeout bags. They’re vertical constructions, containers you have to tilt to get in a bag, and that’s how you get salad dressing onto a steak, pasta that’s stuck to the lid.

When you’re spending $60 to $100 on takeout, it’s not what you want for the money. Our bags prevent that from happening, and are designed for ease-of-use for restaurant employees, too. It’s time-consuming to pack a brown paper bag, staple it, put it on the shelf the right way so things don’t spill and get damaged. Our bags are labor-saving. They help speed up the restaurant operation.

And any customer taking that bag is immediately lifting that restaurant in their mind. It’s convenient, it won’t roll around in the car. It won’t leak grease onto the carpet. Any restaurant who gives a consumer a bag like ours is going to make food taste better, and that restaurant will be the first one that customer orders food from next week. We elevate that restaurant in his mind.” And when the customer’s done with the takeout? No garbage pail for that bag. “It’s an attractive, reusable shopping bag to take to the grocery store, to take lunch to the office in.

And for the restaurant, where else do you get that market exposure for $1.50 to $2 a bag?” says Brian. “You’re making the customer feel better about your restaurant and you’re branding yourself. You’re also being sensitive and green.” Another plus, the father and son feel, is being able to accommodate any style of container in their bags.

“For large orders, if you go to a restaurant and want something for catering, or having the family over and need eight dinners, there’s been no universal packaging system. You’ll get a half-pan, a half-round, a quarter-round, eight different styles of containers going into one order. Our bags accommodates all of that, and keeps it secure.” One more thing that sets them apart, the Brunettes say, is that restaurants can order their bags in small quantities. “With some packagers, you have to buy a huge quantity, more than the smaller chains can afford. With us, you can order as few as five, to try us out,” says Kiel. But Bulldog isn’t limited to working with just the smaller chains.

“We sell to the large chains, too, who often want to buy 10,000 sports-themed or holiday-themed bags. It helps customers see them as a smaller, community-based outfit.” What’s next? “Catering,” says Kiel. “It’s a large area of growth for the fast-food chain down to mom and pop operations. Home delivery will be a big area of growth, too. We do it all. We design bags that can brand a restaurant – and make its food easy to take home, too.”