It is this last item that is most significant for the promotional industry. Until now, bag bans were confined mostly to cities and isolated counties. If California's legislation goes into effect, single-use plastic bags will be banned in all grocery stores effective July 1, 2015, and in most small stores by 2016. "This breaks a decade-long deadlock on a statewide solution," Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said in the L.A. Times. "This bill is going to eliminate some 20-billion single-use plastic bags that become litter."
Twenty billion. That's roughly 525 bags for every person in the state of California. If all those bags disappear, stores will have to scramble to fill the void. And that could mean major sales opportunities for promotional products distributors—though maybe not where they'd expect. "Grocery stores who are selling their own reusable bags to shoppers, for the most part, are sourcing and ordering their bags directly," said Hy Brownstein, president of Westbury, New York-based EnduraPack. "That would make this sale particularly challenging. Target the suppliers to these stores (in the case of grocery stores, target companies such as Kraft, Tyson, P&G, etc.), and suggest a co-branded grocery bag that they could supply as a promotional item to the supermarkets, who would distribute them to the shoppers at no charge."
Jason Emery, vice president of sales and marketing for Tagmaster/a division of DARD Products, Evanston, Ill., also advised against directly targeting grocery stores, citing similar direct-sourcing issues. Instead, he recommended focusing on smaller businesses that would use branded bags as a marketing tool, rather than a revenue stream. "Local businesses can easily place grocery-style totes and bags with their brand into the market," he said. "[These would] experience a high level of use and generate impressions."
It's easy to lump them in the same category as writing instruments or drinkware, but bags have more in common with apparel than they do with hard goods. As such, selling them requires a different approach. A pen has to be comfortable and hold up under frequent use; a bag needs to do both of those things and not clash horribly with its wearer's radiant-orchid chinos.