There are several options available to western companies when looking to purchase their bottles and jars offshore. With China and Asia in particular, apart from the many glass manufacturing factories, there is an endless list of 'traders' offering glass bottles and jars of any size and shape! The flexibility of these businesses is due to the fact that they can approach many different glass factories to find one that either manufactures vessels that satisfy your requirements, or one that is willing to manufacture a specific vessel for you.

There can be both advantages and disadvantages when dealing with traders. Regardless of this, they provide a valuable service to the supply of glass vessels from China and Asia, providing affordable options to many western companies who might otherwise have been forced to use less-desirable forms of packaging.

Many glass trading companies are listed in the GPC 'Directory of Glass Manufacturers and Traders'. To assist western companies more easily distinguish between 'factories' and 'traders', trading companies have been labelled accordingly. When western companies assess potential glass suppliers, circumstances might dictate that they procure their vessels through a trading company (e.g. low volume products will often be sourced through traders). Therefore understanding how traders fit into the supply chain is important, and the following discussion may help to clarify their role in the supply of glass containers to the West.

Dealing with 'intermediate' companies based WITHIN Asia (e.g. Trading Companies)

Many western food and beverage manufacturers might consider the use of 'middle-men' when procuring glassware from Asia. In fact many smaller F & B companies who are sourcing from Asia (and China in particular) may well be dealing with a trading company and not know it! Many trading companies display themselves as 'glass-manufacturers' and their websites also convey the same. Other trading companies will state they have a 'shareholding' in a particular glass-manufacturing plant, however in most cases this extends no further than a general agreement to sell the plants products. If visiting the trader in China, they will duly take you to 'their' manufacturing plant, and the western customer will be none-the-wiser!

Nevertheless, Asian-based traders play an important role in the supply of glassware to western countries. In fact for some purchasers, the use of such companies may be beneficial. However western purchasers need to understand the advantages and disadvantages when dealing with traders.
The following list highlights some of the advantages:

  • Trading Companies are likely to have a greater range of products available - particularly if you are looking to purchase a standard 'stock' item. Traders will often deal with a range of glass-plants, saving you the hassle of sifting through many factories trying to find the product you want.

  • There will often be good english-speaking representatives working for Trading Companies. Many glass-plants have limited abilities when communicating in English, increasing the possibility for mistakes or wrong information being communicated. The Trading Company will often keep you informed if there are any issues associated with production of your glassware (e.g. delays with production or shipping issues, etc) whereas this type of information might be more difficult to obtain directly from the plant.

  • Trading Companies will often have smaller 'minimum-order-quantities' (MOQ). The glass-plant might require a minimum order of 1 FCL, which might be too high for many smaller western companies wishing to purchase only limited numbers of bottles or jars.

  • If the Western purchaser experiences quality-issues with their bottles or jars, the Trading Company is likely to be of some assistance when dealing with the glass-plant. If dealing directly with the glass-plant, they may be less helpful (particularly if you are only purchasing small quantities).

Notwithstanding the above advantages, there are potentially a number of disadvantages when dealing with traders. The following list highlights a number of these (and provides a number of 'tips' to help overcome some common issues):

  • Many Chinese and Asian glass manufacturers operate with TWO different levels of quality. Some operate with THREE different quality standards. An example might be:
    1. 1) 'Western-Export Quality'
    2. 2) 'Asia-Export Quality'
    3. 3) 'Local Sales'
    Therefore if a trader is sourcing a 'stock' item on your behalf, it might have been manufactured under the lower quality-standards. For smaller western companies purchasing low volumes of 'stock' vessels through traders, there will be a higher probability of the ware being manufactured under 'Local' quality standards. Note: If the vessels are not too 'complicated' in design (e.g. basic 'cylindrical' vessels such as many common bottles & jars), they are more likely to be 'fit-for-purpose' if produced under 'local' standards, and may well run without issue on western filling-lines.

    TIP: (1) If purchasing standard 'stock' bottles or jars from a glass-trader, they may have already supplied the same (or similar) vessels to other Western purchasers. Ask for details of other companies who have purchased the containers, and contact them directly for a first-hand assessment. (2) If information from other purchasers is not available, get the trader to forward samples of the bottles/jars to you so that they can be assessed first-hand. This will also allow you to test the compatibility of your labels with the surface-treatment on the vessels.

  • Traders will often boast "experienced quality personnel" to "watch the production of your bottle or jar". However in many cases their 'quality' people have little or no knowledge of the glass-manufacturing process, nor the minimum 'checks and balances' that must be in place to ensure glassware is manufactured to the required (western) quality standards. Aside from this, the trader may have no idea of the required specifications that the vessels must conform to - thus their 'quality-people' have no base-standards upon which to assess the ware. If western companies are using the services of Traders to coordinate the manufacture of their glass vessels in China or Asia (which is a common practice), it is critical that you (the western customer) provide the Trader with a copy of the required quality specifications for the vessels (so that they can forward them to the glass-plant that they have arranged to manufacture your vessels). Acceptance of the quality standards should be signed off by the Trader or manufacturing glass-plant. This process will ensure ALL parties understand the required quality-standards of the glass vessels, and will provide a reference-point should any quality issue be discovered in future.

    TIP: The required quality specifications for bottles and jars are available on the GLASSPLANT CONFIDENTIAL website. These are an essential tool when getting bottles and jars manufactured in China and Asia. The specifications have been designed to address the most common quality-issues affecting Asian-manufactured ware, and are available FREE of charge to 'VIP Members', and at significantly discounted rates for 'SILVER Members'. To view the 'Quality Specifications' documents - click HERE.

  • When buying 'stock' bottles and jars from Traders, the vessels will already be packed as per the palletising requirements of the glass manufacturing plant. The 'dimensions' of the pallet, 'number of vessels' per pallet, 'height' of pallet etc might not suit the filling-plant of the western purchaser. The purchaser may have to make some compromises on the pack configuration, which might be an inconvenience at their filling-plant.

    TIP: If the Trader has found you a suitable vessel, but the pack configuration is not compatible with your filling-plant, it may be possible to negotiate a 're-pack' of the vessels. The glass-plant (or trading company) may be able to reduce (or increase) the number of tiers on each pallet, change the layerboards to trays (or vice versa), or even pack the vessels into cardboard cartons if required. Flexibility will depend on the type of vessel, and the willingness of the trader to undertake the repack. Such rework is however likely to come at a cost.

  • When purchasing existing 'stock' bottles and jars, the western purchaser will not know the age of the vessels, and whether they have been stored for lengthy periods in humid conditions, etc. Under certain conditions, glass vessels can become 'bloomed', and display a foggy or cloudy residue on their internal surface (this is particularly noticeable in vessels manufactured from flint glass). This condition (referred to as 'soda-bloom') is a reaction of the constituents of the glass with moisture in the air. Whilst in most instances the bloom is suitably managed on the filling-line, it can create issues with certain products.

    TIP: Soda Bloom can have a negative effect on certain products. More information on this condition is included on the GLASSPLANT CONFIDENTIAL website (in the 'Technical Bulletins' section).

  • A common 'negative' point often raised when dealing with Traders is price. The trader will of course add his margin on top of the bottle price, as they also need to make a profit. Therefore, the western purchaser will be paying a small 'premium' on the vessels. However this premium must be weighed against the convenience of having the trader do the 'hard yards' searching for a suitable vessel or manufacturer on your behalf. Some traders will argue that because they are 'local', they have better negotiating-power and therefore their margin is in fact negligible.

What about 'Trading Companies' based OUTSIDE of Asia?

Western companies filling in bottles and jars also have the opportunity to purchase their glass requirements from 'local' (western) glass traders. There are many western-based glass traders that source a large range of products from around the globe (including China, Asia and the Middle East).

Some western traders focus on selling their glass vessels in a single country (usually the country they are domiciled in), whilst others market their glass containers internationally (often having offices in a number of countries). Western purchasers need to weigh up the benefits of dealing with these local glass suppliers. Whilst price considerations may influence some companies to deal directly with Asian manufacturers, the 'convenience-factor' that western traders offer will certainly be attractive to many businesses.

Apart from simply having the ability to source your desired containers from a number of glass manufacturers worldwide, established western traders will also provide 'design' services that allow fillers of bottles and jars to have their own proprietary vessels manufactured. Where such services are offered, the convenience of dealing with a 'local' company will surely have its advantages.

Another advantage of dealing with local traders is having the ability to quickly communicate with the supplier should you strike a quality issue with your glass vessels. If their warehouse is nearby, they may be able to provide replacement stock in quick time, thus reducing downtime on your line. Resolving the quality-issue with the offshore glass-manufacturer will also be the responsibility of the trader.
Note: Suggestions to reduce downtime on the filling-line in the event you strike a quality issue with your bottles or jars can be found on the GLASSPLANT CONFIDENTIAL website (under the 'Quality-Focus' series of documents).

Dealing with Traders
Croxsons Glass Traders