Lisa King’s career as an entrepreneur and successful business owner has followed a somewhat winding path.
She started Brownie Points, a gourmet confectionary business that grew out of a baking hobby, in her suburban Cleveland, Ohio apartment in 1991. For five years, she developed the business while getting married and starting a family.
After moving into a new facility in Cleveland, her husband took a job in Columbus, Ohio. The family moved, but the daily 280-mile round trip quickly took its toll. Lisa ended up selling the business in 1999. When life threw her another curve a year later — she and her husband divorced — she decided to buy back the company. She restarted Brownie Points in 2000, this time in Columbus.
Since then, the company has grown in both size and acclaim. Brownie Points has received national visibility on “Good Morning America,” “Today,” “Rachael Ray,” “Fox News” and more. The company’s treats have been featured in the dressing rooms at both the Billboard Music Awards and the Grammy Awards.
Today, Lisa describes Brownie Points as a “goodie factory” producing not only gourmet brownies, but chocolate confections, popcorn, and other treats. She heads an operation with two, 6,000 square foot facilities dedicated to manufacturing all the company’s products in-house. One facility produces the bulk of Brownie Points’ product line of mail-order gourmet confections. These are shipped fresh across the U.S., and internationally, to both corporate and individual clients. Another produces the company’s new Brownie Bites, a shelf-stable treat sold in retail stores.
An annual process to find better ways to ship
Brownie Points long ago hit its stride as a maker of delectable, gourmet edibles for a growing customer base. But the business continued to be challenged in one important area: temperature-controlled shipping.
Freshness is one of the keys to customer satisfaction for Brownie Points. Temperature control and timing are critical when shipping perishable gourmet foods across the country or overseas. For years, Lisa worked with packaging manufacturers to search for a solution. But she struggled to find anything that would work satisfactorily for the company and its client base.
“It was an annual process to find better ways to do it,” says Lisa. “The product has to ship in the best possible way. The packaging has to be a good fit and minimize any damage. We take utmost care in how the product is produced, packaged, and shipped. It simply needs to arrive to the customer exactly as it left the facility — at the peak of perfection.”
“The bigger challenge is in the warmer months,” she adds. “Our products are made with pure chocolate, not cocoa powder. So they’re more apt to melt. It’s a challenge to get products where they need to go, and make sure that when they arrive they’re in the same perfect condition as when they left our facility.”
Things finally began to take a turn in 2020, when Lisa connected with Temprecision International.
Addressing an unmet need in the direct mail gourmet food industry
Temprecision International is a fully owned, legal subsidiary of Smithers-Oasis, which has decades of history producing high-performance foam packaging materials. Beginning in 1999, Smithers-Oasis started selling temperature-control foam products.
The subsidiary was thus created to serve the unique needs of companies with a need for temperature control. These include pharmaceutical companies, for example, whose modern biologics tend to require being kept within tight temperature ranges during shipping.
It also includes companies in the mail-order gourmet food industry. “We’ve noticed that there’s an underserved segment within gourmet foods,” says Larry White, Executive Vice President, Temprecision International. “It’s a unique niche there. We believe that we can help customers like Brownie Points go the extra mile to ensure the optimal customer experience.”
A performance solution for temperature control Temprecision International engineers its ThermaBrick® Refrigerant Bricks, using a unique foam technology, as a superior alternative to standard gel packs and bottles. They offer robust thermal properties, drain-safe refrigerants, and greater cooling power per unit volume compared to the alternatives.
ThermaBrick® Refrigerant Bricks also keep their shape, helping the shipper optimize product packouts and stacking. This, in turn, helps yield more product per case, more cases per pallet, and often more units per truck, along with efficiency gains and total lower costs.
And unlike gel packs, with their well-documented history of leaks — sometimes leading to consumers calling customer service or even poison control hotlines — the foam inside ThermaBrick® Refrigerant Bricks is designed to absorb and hold the moisture within. The resulting leak resistance ensures the end customer won’t have an unpleasant surprise upon opening the insulated shipper.
ThermaBrick® Refrigerant Bricks can be cost-effectively produced in multiple sizes and shapes, offering further advantages over gel packs and high carbon footprint refrigerant bottles that require a closed loop return system to capture a reasonable financial return. This can further contribute to lower long-term costs for the customer.
Engineering a solution based on the customer’s needs
Beyond these unique products, the company offers high levels of service and engineering expertise to help customers find customized, cost-effective solutions to their temperature-control challenges.
As was the case with Brownie Points, Temprecision International typically begins such an engagement by helping a customer better understand how its existing packaging and temperature control system performs. The company follows independent, standardized testing protocols, such as those developed by the International Safe Transit Association (ISTA). It conducts customer research in its Kent, Ohio laboratory. The laboratory features state of the art equipment, including a computer controlled environmental chamber that can be programmed in accordance with the ITSA protocols.
The engineering process starts with establishing a baseline of performance data using the customer’s current packaging and temperature control material, including the refrigerant. From there, engineers develop a thermally sound shipping system with commercially available insulated containers that would work with its refrigerants.
For Brownie Points, the key performance indicator was the amount of time the interior of the existing packaging — with standard gel packs — would remain at an optimal shipping temperature. Engineers then proposed and tested a revised packaging approach using ThermaBrick® Refrigerant Bricks customized to fit in that packaging. They re-tested, and found the revised approach extended the optimal shipping temperature duration, in some instances by up to 36 hours.
It resulted in a product recommendation that allowed Brownie Points to not only ship with much greater confidence, but streamline its inventory of packaging materials to include just three shipper sizes. Following the testing phase, the lab provided Brownie Points with a grid to show which box and ThermaBrick® Refrigerant Brick combination to use when shipping products containing chocolate.
“There’s a real technique to shipping and packaging,” says Lisa. “There’s the box, the time frame and the refrigerant. They really understand the science behind it. We even found that in some cases, we don’t need an insulating cooler.”
Speaking at the tail end of a stretch of 90-plus degree summer temperatures in central Ohio, she adds, “We’ve had much less stress over our summer shipments, even with the heat. This has transformed our summer shipping process, and the results speak for themselves.”
“Our R&D is a growing division, and a global one with labs in both the U.S. and the U.K., says Paulo Meneghetti, Ph.D., R&D Director, Temprecision International. “New ideas are coming up almost every week. We may, in the future, have different designs that are even better for the customer. We are pushing very hard to keep the innovation going.”
A culture built on respect, a strategy focused on the customer
Smithers-Oasis and Temprecision International President and CEO Robin Kilbride started with the company in 1983. As with Lisa King’s career, Robin’s has followed a somewhat winding path. Her roles included financial analyst for the executive team, global controller, CFO, and COO, before arriving in her current position in 2010. She stresses that the company is built on a foundation of diversity, empowerment, and respect. This respect manifests itself externally in listening carefully to the needs of customers such as Brownie Points and responding to their needs.
Regarding a strategy for Temprecision International, Robin says, “I think in terms of market needs. We stay closely connected to customers and are always working to understand their needs and opportunities. We continue to improve our foams, so they work well with customers’ processes, and with the materials, they want to ship. Everything we do comes from our customers.”
For Lisa King, this has meant an opportunity to discuss her shipping challenges and benefit from an engineered solution. That solution has helped her ship with greater confidence and keep Brownie Points on an even straighter path for growth.
Learn more about ThermaBrick® Refrigerant Bricks