Randy Ludacer likes tweaking classics. As a graphic and packaging designer, he’s designed a package for coat hangers that resembles a shirt, a puzzle cube-like box that holds souvenir candies, and a pasta sauce label whose barcode wraps around a fork like spaghetti. But he had no client or market in mind when he was fooling around on the web one day and thinking about egg cartons.
Why not, he wondered, make a carton for a baker’s dozen of eggs? Not that it would have any practical benefits. After all, he had no egg farms as clients. He quickly realized that supermarket shelves weren’t made for odd shaped cartons. Still, it would be great publicity for Beach, the New York City branding and package design firm he owns with his wife, Deborah Davis. Drawing from patent designs for existing egg cartons, he made a sketch, put it up on his design blog BoxVox, and forgot about it.
“I’d always been interested in polyhedrals, and it just occurred to me that you could arrange eggs differently. It was surprisingly easy to do with paper,” said Ludacer.
Some 1,200 miles away, in Gretna, Nebraska, on the outskirts of Omaha, Chad Wegener was collecting eggs from the chickens he raises at Willow Valley Farms, a 40-acre spread by the Elkhorn River. One morning’s harvest with his 9-year old nephew yielded 13 eggs, a baker’s dozen. If only there were a carton for 13 eggs, thought Wegener, it would certainly set Willow Valley Farms apart from the crowd at Omaha’s farmer’s markets. Scouring the web for a baker’s dozen egg crate, he came across Ludacer’s blog. A few phone calls later, and the two were in business, aiming to produce and sell the odd-shaped cartons.
From the start both were drawn to paper pulp--the rough greyish material used to make many of today’s egg cartons. “I wanted something that was reusable and biodegradable, that wouldn’t leave the same footprint as a plastic egg carton,” said Wegener, who asks his customers to bring back their empty egg cartons to re-use at his farm.
Paper is Ludacer’s preferred medium for packaging. For one thing, he finds it’s easier to print on and more earth-friendly than other packaging materials. He also finds it an easy medium to use when brainstorming.
“If I’m trying out a new idea, I’ll just grab a piece of laser printer paper and work it out,” he says. A piece of paper or Bristol board, scissors, and a knife are all it takes. “We make mockups out of paper to refine the idea and make sure we are not pitching something that won’t work. It’s a trial and error thing.”
Ludacer’s egg carton has three rows of cups (one row of five bracketed on each side by a row of four) creating a hexagonal egg holder. But the pair discovered that industrial egg producers can’t use the innovative carton because their packing machines are set up to fill only two row egg boxes. Instead, they envision selling to small farms, which can use the carton to differentiate themselves at local markets. The pair produced several thousand cartons, and have interest from a national distributor of farm supplies and several egg farms.
Last spring’s floods in the Midwest slowed things down. Wegener had to evacuate his farm and animals, including heritage chickens, egg-laying ducks, and a large herd of San Clemente Island goats, a rare breed of uncertain origin that he is raising for milk and cheese.
Now Ludacer and Wegener are waiting for their trademarks on the baker’s dozen package to be approved by the U.S. government. If they win approval they hope to license production to a U.S. egg carton-maker. If not, Wegener will use the 4,000 cartons they have stored at his farm and Ludacer will go back to designing paper packaging.
Ludacer says he can’t help working with paper because it’s an integral part of his surroundings.
"Paper is so much a part of our daily lives, and there's a reason for that,” he explains. “It's super-versatile. Paper can be scored, folded, perforated, embossed, debossed, molded, whatever you like.”
"It can convey any message and wrap anything from haute couture to homespun and biodegradable, like the vibe we're going for with our egg carton,” he says.