Pechiney Plastic Packaging Inc. plans to establish a new plant in southern France to manufacture polypropylene barrier bottles for an unidentified food product.
Designed to carry a syrup- or ketchup-type product, the containers will be produced on a single-wheel production line, said PPP President Ilene Gordon.
The company signed a contract with the customer several months ago, and the facility is scheduled to start production in the second half of this year. Pechiney hopes to find other customers for the plant that require similar bottle production. The project is typical of niche packaging opportunities PPP is looking to snap up in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
Meanwhile, Chicago-based PPP has installed two new polyolefin high-barrier-bottle production lines at its Brampton, Ontario, plant. The new manufacturing process was launched there in March.
Pechiney reported ``sustained growth'' in the polyolefin bottle market in North America last year due to the substitution of plastic for glass in bottling fruit juice, and the marketing of green and purple ketchup in plastic bottles.
On the beverage-packaging front, PPP stresses it is keen to capture a slice of the action but prefers to employ its high-barrier technology in the niche areas of fruit juices, baby juices, flavored alcoholic drinks or ready-to-drink teas rather than beer.
``Beer clearly represents a significant opportunity for plastic, but we believe the other categories beyond beer offer more significant opportunities,'' Gordon said.
``We only want to play in the multilayer part of the bottles business where there's added value,'' said Gordon, speaking in June to investment analysts in London.
Although Pechiney was a pioneer in recent efforts to commercialize plastic beer packaging, the company is not keen to join the herd in what may become a commodity business.
``We do have a beer offering, but so do 10 other people. While it has huge potential, the beer growth is really only happening in the stadium and recreational side - that's all it is right now.
``If it did go very fast, then there would be a lot of people in it, and the brewers would make their own bottles. So, while we have a product, that's not our focus. Our focus is much more on applications where we can work with one customer like the Welch juice product,'' she said.
The company is not only looking to take its bottle technology into mainland Europe, but it believes it can tap the synergies available to it as an established flexible-packaging producer with big customer names like Heinz and Gerber.
On the flexibles side, PPP is up among the leaders in North America in what is a fragmented field. It claims a 7 percent share of the market, equal to Cryovac Inc. and just behind Bemis Co. Inc. and Printback Inc.
In some areas Pechiney has been expanding its capacity through vertical integration. For example, the company used to buy film for its Neenah, Wis., converting plant, but now the firm has added its own film lines at the plant.
``We're expanding our blown film lines because we know how to make the product, and that's going to pay off in the next year or two. We've done the analysis, but it is going to take between now and 2004 [to get the benefits],'' Gordon said.
In addition, PPP is investing heavily in improved printing capacity. It is investing more than $3 million to install a new, 10-color, Sciavi rotogravure press at its plant in Asheville, N.C., which serves the high-end personal-care packaging market.