Aluminum has won a round over plastic in a fight for supremacy over the pull-off tops to microwaveable food bowls.
Silgan Holdings Inc., a maker of plastic and metal containers, will close a small but pioneering facility making plastic easy-open lids for microwaveable food bowls. The acclaimed development plant was converting the tops of meals-in-a-bowl from the traditional aluminum lid to one made entirely of plastic.
It was an experiment that failed, partly a victim of penny-pinching economic times. The Norwalk, Conn., plant, once known as Polystar Packaging Inc., will shut down by the end of August, said Silgan Chief Financial Officer Anthony Allott.
Stamford, Conn.-based Silgan will keep the lid business but move to an aluminum, pull-tab closure, also called a ``convenience end,'' that is made at other Silgan plants, Allott said.
The Polystar convenience end had been more acclaimed than economically practical for Silgan. Founded by William Heyn in 1988, Polystar developed an integrated plastic lid and rim to fit plastic food containers such as fruit cups or hot meals. The company worked in the early 1990s with Del Monte Foods Co. and others to develop the polypropylene bowls.
The seven-layer top is made from PP mixed with oxygen absorbers, adhesives and ethylene vinyl alcohol. The flexible rim is insert injection molded onto the lid and can contain a ring tab for easy removal.
Silgan purchased Heyn's company in 1996 and started making microwaveable food containers under its Omnistar brand name. The business evolved when meat-processing behemoth Hormel Foods Corp. of Austin, Minn., started using the bowl and lid combination for its line of Kids Kitchen single-serve entrees.
The entrees, offering such children's staples as macaroni and cheese, launched in 2000 in grocery stores. The Hormel-Silgan all-plastic bowl won a DuPont Award a year later for innovation in food processing and packaging. The company said the price of the plastic closure matched that of the ring-tab aluminum top.
However, while ballyhooed, the actual product did not meet financial scrutiny, Allott said.
``Basically, the technology was fine,'' he said. ``But we experienced economic issues on the manufacturing side and were not making enough money with it. And when the customer tried to go commercial, they had similar economic issues with the operation. It was mutually decided to go a different direction.''
Hormel officials did not respond to a request for more information, and Silgan would not discuss Hormel's situation. When reached at the Norwalk plant, Heyn also declined to comment.
About 30 people will be laid off at the 14,400-square-foot plant, Allott said. Silgan, a publicly held company, will take a $5.2 million write-down in the third quarter of 2003 and record severance and plant exit costs of about $1.5 million.
The product development work on the recloseable tops also will be discontinued, Allott said.
Silgan claims to be the largest supplier of metal containers for food products in North America and is a major maker of plastic containers. According to a Plastics News 2002 ranking, the company was ninth among North American blow molders, with $441 million in relevant sales.