Chief executive officers of two leading packaging companies are finding growth in the emerging markets of China, India, Russia and Latin America. In some cases, their companies are focusing plants on specific technologies, as they specialize to thrive.
``We've reached a point where more than half of our business is outside the U.S.,'' said Bill Hickey, chief executive officer of Sealed Air Corp. in Elmwood Park, N.J.
As the company looks ahead, he said, that business will continue to shift outside America, which makes sense because 95 percent of people in the world live outside the United States.
Since shedding its polypropylene barrier bottle business to Ball Corp. last year, Chicago-based Alcan Packaging has streamlined itself to concentrate on core areas.
The company wants to grow both organically and via acquisition, according to Ilene Gordon, president and chief executive officer of Alcan Packaging.
``We've done significant portfolio cleaning and we've actually exited 45 plants'' that were part of 11 businesses, Gordon said in an address at the Packaging Strategies conference, held Feb. 28 to March 2 in St. Petersburg.
``They didn't fit with our strategy and our portfolio,'' she said. ``The whole idea was to grow the size of the average plant. So by divesting these businesses, we were able to focus on the larger factories.''
Alcan now is focused on one or two technologies per plant, building a global footprint that it said gives it competitive strength in each market.
For instance, the company is opening two plants in Russia, one in St. Petersburg for the tobacco industry and another in Moscow that will concentrate on the food industry.
``To be successful long term, we continue to build our footprint around the world,'' Gordon said.
``We're looking closely at India. We're only serving India now with a strategy in the food business, but we are looking into the pharmaceutical business to grow in India. ... We're looking at all the different low-cost areas of the world.''
That doesn't mean Alcan is ignoring its stateside facilities.
In Shelbyville, Ky., where Alcan operates a film and sheet extrusion plant, the company is focusing on pharmaceuticals. That plant is expanding to concentrate on a particular drug-delivery technology for powdered insulin.
Elsewhere, the firm is focusing on a process to make improved mascara brushes. That technology is moving toward plastic.
Gordon said Alcan worked with cosmetic customers to define what they needed in a brush, then used a prototype process that reduced the development time of the new brushes by 75 percent, ``to just a couple of weeks,'' she said.
Emerging markets can't be ignored, Gordon said. In Mexico, where Alcan has grown through acquisition during the past few years, the company now is starting to grow organically by bringing equipment from other parts of the world, and by investing in new equipment.
Gordon, who on Feb. 28 was named chairman of the Flexible Packaging Association trade group in Linthicum, Md., said she knows North American companies are nervous about competing with packaging suppliers in China.
``As a global company with global customers, we look at this as an opportunity,'' she said. ``And we work with our customers to figure out, what should we be making in China? What should we be making in North America?''