After launching Cup Print in the USA following such success in Europe, it’s time to reflect back on the last year or so on this awesome journey.
The US market definitely has different inclinitations in terms of product styles and taste in designs compared to Europe.
Europe vs. The USA – Paper Cup Market Comparisons
In Europe the preference is moving towards double wall insulated cups for hot drinks. Especially in the UK and Ireland where the double cup is definitely more popular.
The US market is a large single wall cup market with a sleeve for hot drinks, but is definitely a growing Double market.
I think the options for independents café’s in the US have until now been limited. Cup Print hope to change this and give customers choice.
In the time that Cup Print have operated in the US, 80% of the orders have been for double-wall cups. This demonstrates that there’s better value for money in the double wall rather than the single cup.
The price difference between both options isn’t double like the name the suggests. It’s very close.
In terms of finishes, we find the US market has preference for the matt material. The uncoated textured feel does tend to suit the coffee industry well and very few are left disappointed with their choice.
In terms of sizes, the US market definitely work off larger sizes. In the EU nearly 57% of market is 12oz followed by 30% 8oz and then 16oz 10% and 3% 20oz being the max size. Most café’s just have an 8oz and 12oz.
European Printed Cup Market Preferences
Rise of the Machines
Most of the machinery for the US paper cup manufacturing operation is brand new. We had some equipment, mainly cutting machines, brought over from Europe. But for the most part they’re brand new machines.
The voltages used here differ from Europe, so there were some early challenges to overcome. Installation and setup took six months and there were the usual teething problems.
We had to make sure we installed enough equipment to cover all the main sizes in the market. We supplement sizes and styles we don’t have in the US with the plant in the EU by taking a hit in our margins and subsidize some the shipping so our customers are not at any disadvantage.
Now things are flowing really well with very few issues. I’m satisfied that the end product is up to the usual Cup Print high standard.
There was a lot involved in terms of shipping machinery and equipment – and my entire family – over here to get this venture rolling.
The family move was a small surprise. I was hoping to leave a crew here in the States to start and guide them remotely. But there’s nothing like being there to ensure the quality, reliability and, most importantly, the company culture.
My wife and kids are really enjoying it here and the kids are loving the school. People commend the Irish for their hospitality, yet I have to say the people here have been more than welcoming.
It’s also great to get a full summer of nice warm weather here in Indiana compared to cold and rainy Ireland. We haven’t done much of winter yet, but I love a challenge!
This new ‘startup’ period reminds me quite a bit of the early days of Cup Print in Ireland when we first pioneered this paper cup printing technology.
A start up is a very hands on job. After any installation there’s a bedding in period with machines that throws up the inevitable initial problems that you have to become involved in.
I’m a engineer first and foremost and we don’t have the same size of engineering team we have in the EU, so it’s fun to become involved again in the problem solving, just like the start up days in Europe.
On the sales side we suffer as most new companies do entering a new market. We need time to become established and become the go to company for this product.
In Europe we tend to take this for granted. There we’ve been established as a paper cup manufacturer for 8 years and know most distributors really well and we have 1000s of customers.
You sort of forget how much hard work it is building up a reputation again. But as long we have the same company culture and attitude in the US plant, this will happen sooner rather than later.
Of all reasons to be here, instilling our company culture here in the US is the most important.
People often ask me what drives me to succeed with printed cups? Well, I’ve been involved in printed products as commercial printer all my life.
My father was a commercial printer and entrepreneur and I followed in his footsteps.
The commercial print industry is tough. And very competitive. But we’ve always tried to look for new angles and niches as a differentiation.
Problem Solving Solutions
When we researched the paper cup industry, we realized there was a huge problem to be solved.
The existing paper cup manufacturers had approached the problem by looking at machinery they have and working forward.
We approached it by looking at the customers needs and working backwards to install the equipment that corresponds to the customer ideal requirements.
There’s no point having equipment that only works for large chains and not for independent cafes, small chains and small businesses.
The fact that we’re the company that solved this problem gives me a great amount satisfaction and I want to drive forward to satisfy the customer demand here.
Someone said recently, ‘Why America – China not a big enough market for you?’ One step at a time I say!
The US was the first market to take on after Europe particularly for many reasons. It’s the single largest market for paper cups in the world. Plus it’s a one language market (for the main part), which just so happens to be my native language too.
The world consumption of paper cups per annum is 50 billion cups. The US consumes 23 billion cups per year.
This one, large, mostly English-speaking market makes the go-to-market strategy much easier.
In Europe we operate 14 different versions of our website in many different languages. So the complexity is much higher. You get more bang for your book in a single marketing strategy in the US.
So, Why Indiana?
And why did an Irish company choose the home of the “Fighting Irish”? As it happens this was a coincidental bonus.
After picking up an award at the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year we were approached soon after by the University of Notre Dame who were connected to the programme.
Notre Dame’s in South Bend, Indiana which is where I was introduced to David Murphy, Dean of the Esteem Program.
The Esteem programme was an Masters Degree level entrepreneurial course run in Notre Dame. I told him about our ambition to set up CupPrint in the US.
A 30-minute lunch meeting turned into two hours and both us were sure we had a great solution to establish Cup Print USA.
Esteem provided two top Entrepreneurship students and this project became their thesis for the year.
With these two great students doing the initial ground work and Notre Dame’s connection to the local business community in South Bend, we quickly able to set up a plant with far greater ease than we first anticipated.
Notre Dame have to be commended for their efforts, providing Cup Print a network needed to get going. This included banking, legal and real estate assistance and access to the advice of the local entrepreneurs as well as the Mayor’s offices.
One of the two graduates, Todd Hoogland has stayed with business and is an integral part of Cup Print team.
So now we’re here in Indiana living and working in South Bend. Nice weather and ‘real’ summers. South Bend’s just the right size city to start a business. It’s easy to get around and there’s enough suppliers and services to hand.
Cup Printing Community
Notre Dame’s given us access to the business community, the Renaissance district downtown redevelopment at the old Studebaker car plant. It’s great to be part of the rejuvenation of this part of the city.
It’s even better to be part of the wider community with a nice family and a friendly neighbourhood. You get to know people pretty quickly and there’s a strong local spirit.
And, yes, we’ve been to a couple Notre Dame games and we had a couple Cup Print tailgate parties and I’m now an honory fan.
One of the things I was initially concerned with was finding good employees with the skills we needed.
We’ve been fortunate enough to find a good crew of staff to get the business from start to ready. We’ve recruited locally and have created a good family atmosphere, all working for same goals in the same culture.
We’ve had amazingly positive comments about the quality of the product so far. The quality’s as good as anything we’ve made in Europe ever.
We use USA-sourced material – the best materials in world – and use the same techniques for color control and QC.
We’ve had no complaints or problems thanks to the time we took to get things right. Plus the experience of nearly a decade in Europe have helped us avoid obvious stumbling blocks.
The customer expectations are similar to Europe in terms of quality.
Many here in the US want faster turnaround, with most willing pay extra to ship fast. We accommodate people in a rush and do our best to give them the best time slot for their event, cafe opening etc.
So, yes, expectations are high – but we can meet them easily. Customers are happy with the fast turnaround time and quality, especially when they need things instantly.
Our biggest challenges now are achieving consistent sales and keeping the production schedule steady, managing the volume and learning the patterns.
We’re heading towards our targets and everything’s going as it should. There’s plenty of room to scale, even with current staff and machinery, we’re coping with the challenges that we expected would come and anticipate more to come in next level of sales as we establish in the US market.
Our long term goal is simple. In Europe we’re the no. 1, short-run, fast-turnaround paper cups.
In the US we should be no 1 in the next 2 years. We have to do this while keeping the pricing, quality and service matching Europe. We want the plant and headcount to match Europe – 100 staff – in the next 4 years.
Terry Fox Cup Print CEO Cup Print USA