Sonoco Products Co. has centralized its plastics businesses, uniting at least five businesses under the Sonoco Plastics brand.
The move, announced Nov. 1 at the Pack Expo trade show in Chicago, puts the Hartsville, S.C., firm's acquisitions since the 1990s under a single corporate umbrella. Those acquisitions included Crellin Holding Inc., German firm Burk, Clear Pack Co., Matrix Packaging Inc. and the most recent, Associated Packaging Technologies Inc.
With the [June] acquisition of APT, we have a product portfolio that we think is unique in the business, with thermoforming, injection molding, blow molding and tube extrusion that gives us the opportunity to brand our plastics and show the world what we have, Sonoco Plastics Vice President Bob Puechl said in an interview at the Chicago show.
We're going away from the individual companies that we have purchased so that all of our customers know we have these various capabilities, he added.
Sonoco supplies a variety of packaging applications in plastics, including beverage bottles and containers, food trays, electronics packaging and personal-care products.
Depending on the needs of the customer, we can customize to a very precise level, Puechl said. Because we're not anchored to one material or technology, we're capable of producing various types of plastic packaging in a single plant, whether that is a bottle, a tray or a thin-wall container.
At Pack Expo, held Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, Sonoco officials said the company has weathered the recent global economic downturn and will emerge leaner and stronger.
Our business is divided between consumer and industrial, and our consumer business has actually performed pretty well during the recession, said spokesman Robin Montgomery. We found that people were staying home more, not traveling as much, eating more at home, cooking more at home that ties right back into the products that we have.
Puechl said Sonoco is studying emerging markets and potential raw materials sources in the Middle East, Asia and Brazil as it looks for partnerships.
We're still concerned about the overall [U.S. economic] recovery. We think it's going to be weak, he said. But we don't foresee a double-dip recession. Our challenge is how to get growth for our shareholders in a slowing economy and find avenues and customers internationally that we can grow with.
At the show, Sonoco engineers touted the company's True Blue line of packaging, which includes shaped and round composite cans, blow molded plastic containers, thermoformed packages, molded and extruded plastic products, ends and closures, printed flexible packaging, point-of-purchase displays and protective packaging.
To qualify for True Blue branding, a package must provide a clear environmental advantage over the package it was created to replace, either through the use of more sustainable materials or source reduction. A package may also qualify for this new line of sustainable packaging solutions if it requires less energy, water or raw materials to produce or results in fewer carbon emissions.
The True Blue brand's stringent standards also require that any improvement in the sustainability of a package must be verifiable through a life-cycle assessment, third-party certification or recognition by an independent industry organization.
Puechl acknowledged that pressure to reduce packaging and shipping weights from large retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and consumer products makers like Procter & Gamble Co. has driven much of the recent industry push toward sustainability measures. But he added that Sonoco has been involved in waste reduction efforts since its 1899 founding as a paper and pulp company.
Obviously, there's pressure to be more sustainable. But that fits Sonoco very well, because we have been doing this in the paper side of the business for 111 years. We take old corrugated cardboard and we turn it into paper, and then we turn it into products. So on the plastics side, we're not fully integrated on that [recycling] but we're very comfortable with moving toward practices such as lightweighting of products. We have some of the best technology in the business for source reduction, he said.
According to a Nov. 3 news release, the firms's sustainability collaborations with its customers recently included a redesign of Unilever USA's Suave shampoo and conditioner bottles, resulting in a 16 percent reduction in resin needed to produce them.
Sonoco is one of two U.S. packaging companies listed on the 2010 Dow Jones Sustainability World Index; the other is Mead Westvaco Corp. of Richmond, Va.
Puechl said Sonoco continues to research bio-based materials, although for economic reasons it remains committed to petroleum-based resin.
We see [bioresin] as a developing market. Obviously Sonoco is a very sustainable company and we're promoting it. But the biomaterials are more expensive. It's going to be a very niche player in the plastics business for now, but I think over time, it's going to grow and expand, he said.
Sonoco recently reported third-quarter 2010 profit of $59 million on sales of $1.05 billion, compared with profit of $47.7 million on sales of $931 million for the same period in 2009.
The company has $3.6 billion in sales in 2009.