Constantia Multifilm Corp. is growing beyond its core confectionery market to make film products like coffee, nuts and dried fruits packaging that have longer shelf lives.
In its 60,000-square-foot facility in Elgin, officials have invested in technology to create films like nano-based High-Barrier N-Coat. With that barrier coating, an ultrathin shell is applied to a 48-gauge polyester film that creates a clear film with a gas barrier that competes with metalized structures.
The oxygen barrier that is achieved is two to three times better than a metalized PET and nearly 10 times better than polyvinylidene chloride-coated PET film at a lower coating weight and cost, claimed Olle Mannertorp, president and chief executive officer of Constantia Multifilm.
The N-Coat also lets the company move away from chlorine-based PVdC, Mannertorp said, which the company feels is a great environmental advantage.
The company is a unit of Constantia Packaging AG of Vienna, Austria. Multifilm started as a small import office in the early 1990s, focused on twist film for hard candy. The firm entered into a joint venture with a company called Crystal Plastics in 1991. By 1994, it purchased Crystal Plastics and then grew with a second cast film line in 1995.
``We were looking for someone that could help us out with film domestically,'' Marcus Magnusson, Multifilm's business development manager, in an interview at the factory.
The Elgin plant has about 40 employees. It operates three shifts, five days per week. In 2000, Constantia was supplying what officials categorize as ``almost all'' of the confectionery twist-wrap customers in North America. Officials were bent on replacing cellophane, which has a wood-pulp base material.
``We expanded dramatically until 2000. We were on a mission to replace that with cast polypropylene,'' Magnusson said. ``We've done that successfully.''
In 2000, however, Congress modified the Farm Bill with changes that impacted the cost of domestic sugar. Now, the moment a producer is outside the United States, it can buy at world sugar prices, putting domestic manufacturers at an enormous disadvantage.
``The candy industry collapsed,'' said Magnusson. Where there were 42 buying companies, that figure now is at three. As of April 30, one other customer, Chicago-based Peerless Confection Co., ended operations.
In its letter to customers, Peerless said declining consumption of hard candy and increasing imports and offshore production were major factors influencing the firm's decision.
``We realized, we have the metalizer, extrusion and printing, but we need to get into lamination,'' said Magnusson.
The company grew into laminating between 2000-01, with a water-based laminator. But water-based laminators create bonds that are not so strong; so last year, Constantia invested in a solvent-free laminator.
In addition to diversifying markets, Constantia Multifilm is focused on exporting.
``What is it we want to do?'' Mannertorp said. ``Let us find products that our government doesn't mess with. With equipment we have, we felt we could do some revolutionary things [for the coffee market]. Coffee needs barrier and above all, it needs gas barrier.''
With the drive in packaging to reduce waste, officials came up with a solution. Constantia now has made commercial a two-ply material with the same looks and physical function of a three-ply.
Mannertorp states it this way, ``Essentially, we produce garbage,'' he said of what happens to the package after the consumer uses the coffee.
``We should produce as little garbage as we can,'' he said. ``Good packaging saves more than it costs. One of the key points is to be a good citizen and to leave nature cleaner than we found it. We try to stick to this commitment. With Wal-Mart driving it now, that makes it better.''
The company's Hi-Z Triplex replacement barrier material has been on the market for over three years. The film is a metalized sealant web that can be laminated to a reverse-printed PET or oriented polypropylene. The goal was to create a film but keep costs down, officials said, with a better gas and water barrier.
Right now, the future of Constantia Multifilm is uncertain. In August, the Vienna parent company announced that the Elgin unit is for sale. The sale is being handled by Blaige & Co. of Chicago. According to Blaige, Multifilm is noncore to Constantia Packaging.
``What we're looking for is a plastics partner,'' Magnusson said. ``We deal exclusively with plastics. We're hoping to get the transaction completed sooner rather than later, well in time before the end of the year.''