Japanese materials firm Kuraray Co. Ltd. is moving in two directions at once, adding specialty resin capacity in Texas and Belgium, while cutting jobs in Indiana.
In an Aug. 9 news release, officials with Kuraray in Tokyo said that the firm was adding more than 20 million pounds of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) copolymer resin at plants in Houston and in Antwerp, Belgium. The firm will add about 11 million pounds of annual production capacity at each location. Half of the capacity will be added in 2024, with the remainder added in 2026.
Kuraray sells EVOH under the Eval brand name. The expansions will increase Kuraray's global production capacity for the material by almost 10 percent to about 250 million pounds per year.
"We expect that demand for [EVOH] will rise even further in the future as food packaging shifts to using just one type of material, as required for a circular economy, and as food products become more long-lasting to reduce food waste," officials said.
"The increase in Eval demand had been centered primarily in industrialized nations, such as Japan and the United States, as well as those in Europe," they added. "However, demand is now rising in emerging nations. To secure a stable supply structure, Kuraray has determined that it is necessary to boost its Eval production capacity."
Officials said the firm also is considering a new production site in Asia. It already makes the material in Japan. "We anticipate that the need for food packaging will continue to increase in Asia, where the market for EVOH resin is expanding significantly," officials added.
According to Kuraray, EVOH is frequently used for food packaging, since its gas barrier qualities guard against deterioration.
But as it grows in EVOH production, Kuraray's MonoSol film unit announced that it was cutting 45 jobs at a plant in Merrillville, Ind. The firm made that announcement in a worker adjustment and retraining (WARN) notice filed with the state of Indiana. The job cuts are expected to be completed by late September.
MonoSol makes water-soluable PVOH films used in products such as detergent capsules. In late 2019, MonoSol opened a new plant in Lebanon, Ind., giving it four in the state. Almost 200 workers at a MonoSol plant in La Porte, Ind., went on strike for a month late last year before reaching a new labor agreement in early January.
Kuraray employs more than 11,000 worldwide and posted sales of about $615 million in 2022. In addition to specialty resins and specialty films, the firm is a major supplier of synthetic fibers.