Sonoco Products Co. has started making plastic beverage bottles by opening its only blow molding plant at a new site in California.
The Hartsville, S.C.-based company, known for its film packaging and paper products, opened the extrusion blow molding facility in July in Corona, Calif., spokesman Grey Moore said Aug. 23. The approximately 60,000-square-foot, leased facility has one line and about five employees, Moore said.
Although starting small, the packaging company is considering a larger investment in blow molding, Moore said. Sonoco is aware that it faces stiff competition in the United States from the likes of Graham Packaging Co. LP, Amcor PET Packaging, Plastipak Packaging Inc. and others.
However, the opportunities are difficult to pass up for a company that already serves some of the same customers, Moore said.
``We can't keep our eyes closed for too long,'' Moore said. ``Over the past year or so, our strategy has been to focus more on the consumer side of our business. We saw a market for [blow molding] as a strategy to grow.''
The Corona plant is making high density polyethylene bottles for what Sonoco calls ``functional beverages.'' Those include soy, dairy and juice drinks, used in some cases for smoothies made with protein additives and juices that serve as meal replacements or dietary supplements, Moore said.
That blow molding process requires sophisticated technology. The Sonoco plant is making high-barrier bottles for both hot and cold filling. The bottles use oxygen and ultraviolet-light barriers to guard against the loss of nutritional content and flavor.
The Corona plant is collocated with an undisclosed packer that will fill the bottles, Moore said.
Sonoco has experience in multibarrier technology, used for some of its film products and its rigid fiber products, Moore said.
The firm is shifting its product balance away from the industrial end, which now accounts for about 55 percent of its production, to more of a consumer slant, Moore said.
``We want to grow the consumer business by 5 percent or more, and growth opportunities are in plastics,'' Moore said.
The company enters rigid plastic packaging in a time of transition. Owens-Illinois Inc. is selling its $1.1 billion blow molding business to Graham's parent company, Blackstone Group. And Amcor, a leading North American maker of PET bottles, is restructuring and closing several plants.
Sonoco also has been in a bit of flux since 2002, when it started restructuring plants and shifting management positions to reduce costs. The company closed several plastics plants and late last year sold its HDPE film business to Hilex Poly Co. LLC of Hartsville.
The company has been involved with blow molded bottles before. In 1989, Sonoco formed a partnership with then-named Graham Container Corp. to make bottles. Sonoco sold its share in the partnership two years later.
Sonoco recorded $2.76 billion in sales in 2003.