The Truth About Cheap Bulk Bags: Do Your Research Before Buying

December 3, 2020

Picture this. You are a new bulk packaging procurement manager and have just been tasked with sourcing bulk bags for the upcoming fiscal year. You have very little experience with this product category, but you know there is a corporate initiative to reduce operating costs by 10%.


You send out an RFQ with detailed specifications to your current supplier and 2 new potential  suppliers. After viewing the suppliers’ websites, each one seems to have all the qualifications your company requires. Bids are submitted and somehow the same bulk bag comes back at the following prices: 

Current Supplier: $12.00 

New Supplier A: $12.75

New Supplier B: $7.25

Your immediate reaction is "WOW, I am being gouged by my current supplier! I can get this bag for nearly 40% less from a supplier that is going to provide the EXACT SAME bag! My management team is going to love how much money I am going to save the company and I will reach legendary procurement manager status right?" WRONG.

The Truth About Cheap Bulk Bags 

There is a wide degree of variability in the cost, quality, and performance capabilities of an FIBC. We recognize a highly, cost-effective bulk bag doesn’t necessarily yield a dangerously defective bag. Nevertheless, disproportionately low-cost bulk bags should raise a red flag to any purchaser and require further explanation from the supplier. 

The following is intended to assist FIBC buyers in sourcing a safe, functional bag for their manufacturing operation. 


Specification Catfish

You are lured into buying a cheap bulk bag based on a written specification that the supplier has no intention of adhering to. 

We often see disparities between a bag’s written specification and the actual bag supplied. In an effort to reduce cost, suppliers may attempt to reduce the weight, strength, and size of multiple components of a bag. The supplier’s out-of-spec bag might perform as needed. However, this is a significant financial and operational risk that may not be worth taking.  

ALWAYS compare your written specification to the actual bag being produced and confirm the bag is manufactured to your spec. 


Sample Bait and Switch

You request samples from the supplier for testing. The samples look great and test great, but the finished production bags look and perform nothing like the samples. 

Sampling bulk bags is part of the standard bag qualification process. However, most samples are made by a plant’s dedicated sampling team and not by production line workers. A supplier has every incentive to provide the highest quality samples notwithstanding their true production capabilities. 

Sample quality is a good indication of production quality; nonetheless, sampling has its limitations and should be considered a small component of a greater overall vendor qualification process. 


Fabric Weight Roulette

Your specification requires 6.0oz fabric and a Safe Working Load of 2,205lbs, but the supplier knows they can sneak 5.0oz fabric right by you. A 5.0oz bag is enough to support the load so no harm, no foul right? 

Fabric weight is the largest cost component in a bulk bag. Therefore, the easiest way to cut cost is to trim fabric weight. Suppliers may attempt to manufacture a bag with the lowest functional fabric weight to create the appearance of an ultra low-cost bag. What the supplier doesn’t realize is there may be other reasons why the customer’s bag is overbuilt. Maybe the bag undergoes significant stress and abuse during transit? Maybe the customer’s experience has lead them to increase the fabric weight over time? 

The CUSTOMER should ALWAYS dictate the bag’s fabric weight to the supplier.  

For large scale bulk bag users we recommend ordering a Fabric Sampler Cutter and Digital Scale to confirm the weight of your bag’s fabric. If this is not possible, we recommend weighing the entire bag and confirming that against your supplier provided specification. 


Safe Working Load and Safety Factor? Who’s Counting?

"My supplier tells me the bags are tested in-house and the bag tag displays the right Safe Working Load and Safety Factor so I’m covered right?"

Safe Working Load is an essential element of every bulk bag. This load number allows workers to safely utilize the FIBC and prevents catastrophic accidents from overfilling. Every bulk bag is rated for a specific Safe Working Load (e.g. 2,000lbs) and Safety Factor (e.g. 5:1). A Safety Factor of 5:1 indicates the bag has been tested and certified to hold 5x it’s Safe Working Load. In other words, a 2,000lbs SWL bag must withstand a load of 10,000lbs to have achieve a 5:1 Safety Factor. 

A complete peak load Safety Factor test includes 30 press-and-release top lift cycles at 2x SWL followed by a final cycle at 5x SWL. If the bag survives the final cycle the Safety Factor has been met. 

How do you know your bag will pass a Safe Working Load and Safety Factor Test? We recommend sending a sample bag to an independent testing facility for confirmation. Southern Packaging engages the services of TEN-E Packaging Services, Inc. for all our testing needs.


High Calcium Carbonate Content

Your low-cost bulk bag may contain excessive additives that are compromising the performance of the FIBC. 

FIBCs are constructed of woven plastic tapes made from a combination of virgin polypropylene resin, calcium carbonate, and UV inhibitor. Calcium Carbonate is a natural low-cost “filler” used in plastic manufacturing. Excessive levels of calcium carbonate content have shown to degrade the quality and durability of the FIBC. 

We recommend asking your supplier questions like: 

-What % of calcium carbonate is added to your master batch? 

-Is Calcium Carbonate added by hand or mechanically?

-What performance tests do you do on your fabric?  


Not Realizing That the Bags have No UVI 

Your bags begin to show signs of rapid degradation and failure when left outside for several weeks. 

UV Light is the ultimate enemy of PP. Like calcium carbonate, Ultraviolet Inhibitor (UVI) is a necessary component of FIBC resin. UVI is expensive and leaving it out is a way to reduce cost. Most bulk bags are filled and emptied before they have been in the sun long enough to degrade. Your supplier may take this chance and leave out critical amounts of UVI that could help preserve your bags. 

ALWAYS require your supplier to include UVI in your FIBC and never leave an FIBC under direct sunlight for extended periods of time. A standard bulk bag with UVI treatment is rated for 1,600 hours of UV exposure. However, elevation and humidity have a significant impact on how well a bag will resist the degrading effects of sunlight. 


Bags looking Gray? No they aren’t old

Your new load of cheap bulk bags just arrived and they don’t have the gleaming white appearance like the bags you have bought in the past. 

Quality FIBCs are made with 100% virgin polypropylene. This means the resin blend does not include any recycled resin or “regrind”. Regrind is a cheap alternative to virgin resin. Gray or off-white color bags indicate that regrind has been added to the resin blend. This is cause for concern because regrind does not have the same strength and elasticity properties of virgin resin. As a result, your gray bags may not safely perform. 

ALWAYS confirm your suppliers are using 100% virgin polypropylene in their resin blend and spot check the appearance of your bags. Bags manufactured in China are notorious for being filled with plastic regrind and excessive levels of calcium carbonate. 


The Phony Manufacturer

You think you are buying from a direct overseas manufacturer when in fact they are just an individual brokering bulk bags from overseas. 

The majority of all bulk bags and woven poly bags are made overseas. Most plants are located in places that are all but inaccessible to the average bag user. These days anyone can create an email with a decent looking website, brochures, business cards and claim they are the president of a bulk bag plant. The problem with buying bags from overseas brokers is there is no way of knowing who is actually producing your bags. Furthermore, if there is any sort of manufacturing problem, you have no recourse against the overseas broker. 

To avoid this issue, ONLY deal with suppliers who are members of FIBC industry associations like the Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container Association (FIBCA) or the Indian Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container Association (IFIBCA). These industrial groups vet their members for purposes of protecting the public and their industry.  


The Phony Distributor

You have respectfully declined to do business with the phony manufacturer, but now you want to buy bulk bags from the phony American distributor operating from his couch. 

Like the situation described above, the barriers to entry in the FIBC distribution business are low. If you have a website, brochures, and can come up with $50,000 for a container load of bulk bags, you are in business. The problem lies in the fact that individuals generally do not carry the levels of insurance or capital necessary to correct any problems that may occur with the bulk bags they have just sold you. 

Legitimate distributors carry significant amounts of overhead for warehousing, personnel, insurance, company vehicles, and inventory. These expenses are embedded into the cost of their products. On the other hand, the only overhead the phony distributor has is a cell phone, apartment rent, a Honda Accord payment, and internet. 

The difference is, if anything goes wrong, the distributor is sufficiently capitalized to correct the problem and the distributor’s business reputation is on the line. The phony distributor just blocks your phone number.

To avoid this problem, as stated above, ONLY deal with suppliers who are members of FIBCA that have a physical presence.  


Thinking Your Bags are Food Grade

Your specification requires food grade level cleanliness but when the bags are put into production loose tapes and dirty threads abound. 

Food grade clean FIBCs are a premium product requiring proper production practices and high levels of personnel hygiene. Bags are produced in audited “clean” rooms with highly trained production teams. Production output is much slower than industrial grade bags due to the additional layers of Quality Control. As a result, food grade bags command a much higher cost than common industrial grade bags. 

Not all plants can produce food grade quality bulk bags. Food Grade plants must undergo third party certification and rigorous annual audits to ensure compliance with the latest food clean production standards. 

ALWAYS request food grade related certificates from your suppliers and verify the manufacturing location of your suppliers. Food Grade bags and industrial grade bags should never cost the same. 


Trust Southern Packaging for your FIBC Needs

Southern Packaging has grown to become one of the largest distributors of FIBCs and bulk packaging products in the country. We have succeeded by listening to our customers, identifying their needs, and delivering on our promises.

For more information regarding our full suite of premium quality bulk bags, email our experienced sales team today.