Who would have thought that when a young Howard Epstein left his father’s tea bag manufacturing business that the world of takeout and delivery was ready to welcome what would blossom into a Hall of Fame career? In 1964, after discovering flavored ice pops, the Bronx, NY native left the family business to launch his own company. His first product would enable Metro New York’s movie theaters to provide their patrons with fresh popcorn.
Epstein would then convert his experience calling on Chinese restaurants to create what has become a staple of takeout and delivery in the US: prepackaged soy sauce. Although the initial response from restaurants to the soy sauce packets proved to be a mixed bag, the business boomed in the 1970’s when airlines realized that Howard had created a simple solution for them to ensure flavorful meals for their passengers. “To this day, those packets are a staple of inflight dining across the globe,” explained Kimberly Cassar, Kari-Out’s Head of Marketing.
Kari-Out’s Chinese restaurant clients began to ask for additional solutions. “It began with chopsticks and napkins and before too long it had grown into food pails that have become synonymous with Chinese food to go,” Cassar continued. “That really put us into the packaging business. With that in 2006, we bought a company called Specialty Quality Packaging (SQP) to be able to keep up with the demand.”
“Much of our success is due to the fact that we understand the needs of the consumer at home,” Cassar added. “We look at a soggy French fry from their perspective. What can we do to make sure that our restaurant customers are providing their dining consumer with the highest quality fare? We then look at it from the operator’s perspective. How are you preparing, storing and packaging the items on your menu? Once we’ve answered the need of the end-user and operator, then it’s up to us provide our distribution partners with products in the right shape, size and of course the correct price point.”
With the increased takeout and delivery demands of the pandemic, Kari-Out has expanded its’ sauce portfolio into items including mustard and duck sauce. “We now are responsible for manufacturing sauces for many of the nation’s leading restaurant chains.”
A change in what became available on menus during the pandemic had a significant impact on Kari-Out. “Restaurants with high end steaks and lobsters including Ruth’s Chris that never did takeout and delivery decided they needed to be in it. With that we saw enormous growth in both plastic and aluminum packaging.” On the heels of that growth, the company is making a $10 miilion investment in the SQP facility in New York, where Kari-Out’s popular Food Trays, Eco Box™ and Eco Earth™ paper food containers are produced. The SQP expansion will expand Kari-Out’s manufacturing footprint to over 340,000 square feet.
In line with their recent affiliation with the U.S. Composting Council, the investment underscores Kari-Out’s commitment to a sustainable future. While about 80% of all the food packaging the company makes is paper based, they will increase their output of responsible products like the Eco Earth™ closed container, which is made from 100% recycled board and both recyclable and compostable.
“We’ve seen a considerable increase in demand for our single-slice pizza boxes and closed food containers for hamburgers and hot dogs,” Cassar continued. “Another area of growth is chicken boxes. The chicken wars across the national chains are real. This key investment will help us better serve this segment with our line of perfect containers.”
The pandemic has also led Kari-Out into a full commitment into towelettes. “Years ago, Howard had actually brought a towelette production machine and we’ve been making a lemon scented line for decades. We were able to pivot and create an alcohol towelette in just three months.” The towelette business grew so much that Kari-Out bought a factory to be able to expand its’ capacity.
“One of the keys to our success has been that we describe ourselves as material agnostic,” Cassar added. “Our goal is to continue to figure out as many different ways to move your food and we know that it can be accomplished with a variety of materials.” With that mission, Kari-Out also purchased TriPak, an injection molding manufacturing facility in New Jersey. The Garden State facility produces high quality microwavable containers.
Cassar is seeing significant changes as the restaurant industry seeks to find its New Normal. “We are seeing a significant increase in the demand for paper products again,” the marketing executive continued. “There’s no question that we are seeing a legislative move back towards the use of paper. That includes in New Jersey where single use plastic bags have been banned. Our customers are asking for more compostable and bio-degradable solutions that you can only accomplish with paper. Kari-Out also has an eye towards additional opportunities in the marketplace. Our new new molded fiber 4-cup carrier is perfect for the Drinks-To-Go solution for restaurants, nightclub and bar operators,” Cassar noted.
Kari-Out also understands the importance of a productive work force to be able to produce consistent quality. “I love our team, it’s incredible there are people that have worked with us in our plants for 30 plus years.”
With high quality, American made products and an ear to the needs of the marketplace, Kari-Out has forged a recipe for success. For more information, please visit their website.