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Berry dedicates Kentucky operation to make insulated PP cups & containers

By: Frank Esposito

February 8, 2013

EVANSVILLE, IND. -- Berry Plastics Group Inc. has high hopes for its new Versalite-brand packaging material. Those hopes are so high that Versalite will be the only product made at the firm's plant in Madisonville, Ky., which will reopen later this year.

In a Feb. 7 phone interview, Versalite business development manager Joseph Wood described the product as "an insulated polypropylene structure," but he declined to offer other details of the product's makeup. Target markets for Versalite include containers for both hot and cold food and drinks sold in convenience stores or quick-serve restaurants.

"Our goal is to focus on products with thermal management," Wood said. "We chose polypropylene [for Versalite] because it's a fairly common plastic with a good material profile that's used in other food and beverage applications.

"We've done a lot of research to understand thermal management with business-to-business customers and with consumers," he added. "We wanted to look at what they want in packaging."

Versalite production will begin in Madisonville later this year. Currently, the plant "is in the final stages of product development and installation," Wood said.

Officials with Evansville, Ind.-based Berry previously have said the firm is investing almost $100 million to reopen the Madisonville plant, a former plastic closures facility that closed in early 2012. The reopened plant is expected to employ more than 400 — almost three times the number it employed when it closed. Berry is receiving up to $10 million in tax incentives from the state of Kentucky for the reopening.

Versalite will be Berry's third new product launch since November, joining Polyken 500-brand duct tape and DriBulk-brand container liners.

Berry is one of North America's largest plastic processors. In recent Plastics News rankings, Berry was the region's second-largest injection molder, third-largest film and sheet maker, fifth-largest thermoformer and 11th-largest blow molder.

Berry reported sales of almost $1.1 billion in the first quarter of its 2013 fiscal year, which ended Dec. 29. That total was down almost 6 percent from the same quarter in fiscal 2012. Berry lost $10 million during the quarter after losing $31 million in the year-ago period.

Most of the first-quarter sales loss occurred in the firm's rigid packaging unit, where sales fell almost 10 percent. Quarterly sales in engineered materials fell less than 1 percent, while sales in flexible packaging were flat.

For its full 2012 fiscal year, Berry rang up sales of almost $4.8 billion, up almost 5 percent vs. fiscal 2011. The firm showed a $2 million profit for fiscal 2012 after losing almost $300 million in the previous fiscal year.

Berry launched an initial public offering of its stock on the New York Stock exchange Oct. 4. Its per-share price debuted near $15 and was at $18.15 in late trading Feb. 7 — an increase of almost 20 percent in about four months.