Phong Kee is not your typical start-up. The story of Phong Kee is one of the American Dream, of a family immigrating to the United States and through hard work, starting a successful peanut business.
When Phong and Khanh Tran came to the U.S. from Vietnam, they were determined to make it on their own. According to Susan Tran, Co-Founder and daughter to original owner Phong Tran, the brand started when her parents decided to start a business to provide for their family.
“My family is very humble… my parents started the company because they wanted to put a roof over our heads, and provide for us,” recalls Tran.
Phong Tran enjoyed cooking to satisfy his sweet tooth, yet he was diabetic, which spurred him to start making his own healthy snacks. He began roasting a variety of flavoured peanuts that all featured a crunchy, gluten-free crust and fresh ingredients. Combining the couple’s ambition with Phong’s love for cooking, the brand Phong Kee was born in 1982 in Oakland, CA. With seven unique flavours, including garlic, coconut, spicy hot and original, Tran describes the brand as not only named after her father but also a nod to the brand’s “funky” flavours.
And it was truly a family business. As a little girl, Tran recalls packaging peanuts as a family in their garage. She also has memories of all the kids going with their mom as she went to pitch the peanuts to retailers in the area. Pretty quickly, all the family’s hard work paid off. Every supermarket and retailer loved them and the peanuts were selling great in stores. Phong Kee was becoming a recognized brand in the Oakland area.
Rebranding and Repackaging Phong Kee
For over 30 years, the brand continued to do well as a regional company. But just recently, Phong and Khanh Tran started to consider retirement, which meant that they were simply going to stop making the roasted peanuts. But daughters Susan and Nancy had other ideas.
“I told them, ‘before you stop, can we give it a shot, build it out, and develop the brand?’ I wanted to tell the story of the American dream and keep my dad’s name out there so people could taste his wonderful recipe,” says Susan Tran.
The sisters’ first step to taking the brand national was to upgrade their snack packaging to a more professional and polished look. The previous design had been drawn out by the sisters and sourced by a local packaging supplier.
The sisters began looking for investors, as well as opportunities, for the brand to really expand. As Tran describes, she was sending the peanuts to anyone she could find that might be interested in selling them in their stores or helping the small brand with their expansion goals. She landed a contract with an investment broker out of Chicago that was eager to help spread the Phong Kee name. And it was that broker that introduced Tran to ePac, and digital printing, in December 2019.
“I had never heard of digital printing. Had we heard of this before, we would have gone this way and not wasted so much money on inventory… we had to print so many before,” says Tran.
With low order minimums, and never any plates, Tran could order packaging at her own pace. In fact, Tran is phasing out the old packaging and bringing in the new over two phases. The brand has completed the first phase of the brand re-launch, which included updating the snack bag packaging for the brand’s top four flavours. Later this year, it will relaunch the last three flavours in the new packaging from ePac.
The peanuts are now packaged in 6-ounce stand-up, resealable bags from ePac. Each includes a 3D effect in the design that showcases the flavour through an overlay that appears within the package’s design.
“They made it look a million times better than I could imagine,” says Tran.
Today the brand is sold at T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods in California, in the San Francisco and Las Vegas airports, and on the Phong Kee website. And after the full line has been updated, they will be relaunched on Amazon. The Tran sisters are hoping to be in Costco and Whole Foods by the end of this year. In fact, the pitch to Whole Foods may not have happened had it not been for the fast turnaround of ePac’s digital printing platform.
“Whole Foods was a big part of the desire to switch to ePac. We were up against a tight turnaround time to get the samples in for the Whole Foods team to taste them,” says Tran.
The big pitch to the giant retailer was only weeks away from the start of the brand’s redesign process with ePac. Tran needed to send samples in the new custom snack packaging to make the best impression possible.
“ePac really delivered. I was really worried I wasn’t going to get my samples to Whole Foods on time. But ePac was there working hard, from the beginning to the end, to get me what I needed,” says Tran.
Tran has since sent off the samples to Whole Foods (on time) and is awaiting if the brand will be chosen to be on their shelves later this year.
Carrying on the Vision
The updated peanuts package offers the quality and aesthetics that the brand knew it needed to expand, and the entire family couldn’t be happier.
“We could never imagine that the package could be so gorgeous and that we could be in big-name stores. It’s more than any person could ever dream of. After 38 years of my mother and father’s hard work to raise us and live this American Dream, I wanted to take the business to the next level. ePac is really helping us make this come true,” says Tran.
Today, Phong Kee’s goal is to create the best-flavoured peanuts around and to keep growing into a national brand. With ePac’s digital printing platform, the Tran sisters enjoy the flexibility of short runs, a fast turnaround time, and the quality pouches that set the brand apart.
Are you looking for a better packaging solution for your small brand? Call us today to learn more about how ePac can help you make your dream a reality.