Sales: $244.04 million (1998)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: ALC
NAIC: 326113 Unsupported Plastics Film & Sheet Manufacturing; 326199 All Other Plastics Product Manufacturing; 327213 Glass Container Manufacturing; 331491 Nonferrous Metal Rolling, Drawing, & Extruding; 332115 Crown & Closure Manufacturing
Alltrista Corporation was previously a wholly owned subsidiary of Ball Corporation, which spun it off in 1993. The company is a manufacturer of plastic and metal products, serving both industrial and consumer markets. Approximately 42 percent of Alltrista’s sales derive from its plastics segment, which produces thermoformed and injection-molded plastic components. Alltrista’s plastics subsidiaries serve a wide range of markets, including automotive, appliance, manufactured housing, recreational vehicle, healthcare, heavy trucking, agricultural, material handling, and electronics. The company’s metal products segment consists of two distinct divisions: consumer products and zinc products. Through its consumer products operation, Alltrista manufactures and markets several well-known lines of home canning products, including Ball and Kerr. Through its zinc operation, the company is the primary supplier of zinc penny blanks to the U.S. and Royal Canadian Mints. It also supplies zinc strip and other zinc products to various industrial markets.
Under Ball Ownership: 1880–1993
Although Alltrista has only existed as a corporate entity since 1993, its roots run all the way back to the late 1800s and the inception of the Wooden Jacket Can Company. The Wooden Jacket Can Company was founded in 1880 by five brothers in Buffalo, New York, to produce and sell wood-jacketed tin containers to hold paint, varnishes, and kerosene. Eventually, however, their product evolved into tin-jacketed glass containers, and the brothers—whose surname was Ball—rechristened the company the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company. In 1884 the Ball brothers learned that the patent for sealed glass home canning jars, which had been held by John Mason, had expired. They began producing their own version of the jars, imprinted with the Ball name.
In 1887 the brothers moved their jar business to Muncie, Indiana. In the late 1880s, Indiana was in the middle of a natural gas boom—which made it an excellent location for Ball, whose glassmaking operation required great quantities of gas. Soon after the move, Ball began expanding its business by acquiring other small companies, including a zinc mill, a rubber manufacturing plant, and a paper packaging operation. The company continued to expand into the 1900s, further diversifying by acquiring a metal beverage container company, an aerospace research firm, a petroleum equipment maker, and a telecommunications division. By the middle of the 1980s, Ball Corporation had annual sales of more than $1 billion.
In the early 1990s, Ball’s management began assessing its large and extremely diverse portfolio of businesses to determine what direction the company should take. Its decision was to focus on its larger businesses and to shed smaller subsidiaries. The company established Alltrista Corporation, containing the assets of seven of these smaller subsidiaries. Alltrista was spun off in early April 1993, giving Ball shareholders one share of Alltrista stock for every four shares of Ball stock. The company began trading on the NASDAQ under the ticker JARS.
A New Old Company: 1993
Headquartered in Muncie, the newly formed Alltrista consisted of seven diverse businesses, some of which were more than 100 years old. The oldest was the Consumer Products Company, which consisted of the original Ball jar business along with a line of other canning-related products. Despite the corporate name change, Alltrista continued to use the well-known Ball script trademark on its canning products. Another of Alltrista’s centuryold businesses was the Zinc Products Company, which first produced zinc caps for Ball’s canning jars in the 1880s. At the time of the Alltrista spinoff, Zinc Products was a major manufacturer of the zinc penny blanks used to make U.S. pennies. In addition, the company made battery cans, automotive trim, electrical fuse strip, and architectural materials.
Alltrista also held three plastics businesses: Industrial Plastics Company, Unimark Plastics Company, and Plastic Packaging Company. Industrial Plastics manufactured heavy-gauge thermoplastic sheet and thermoformed products, such as molded inner door liners for refrigerators. Unimark Plastics Company, which Ball had purchased in 1978, was a custom injection molder that sold mainly to the medical and consumer products markets. The Plastic Packaging Company produced plastic sheet and containers for use in the food processing industry. Its plastic products featured barrier layers that reduced the oxygen and moisture that could pass through them—making them ideal for shelf-stable, aseptic food packaging applications.
The last two companies in Alltrista’s portfolio were its Metal Services Company and The LumenX Company. Metal Services Company was a metal decorating operation that manufactured thin-gauge metal containers for various consumer products, such as canned goods. Alltrista’s LumenX Company, which Ball had acquired in the late 1980s, built customized industrial inspection systems that used x-ray and machine vision technologies. LumenX products were used primarily by the automotive and automotive component industries.
Alltrista’s president and CEO was William Peterson, who had for 27 years worked in various administrative capacities for Ball. Its senior vice-president and CFO was Thomas Clark, who had previously been Ball’s vice-president for corporate planning and development. All seven of the spun-off subsidiaries retained the same management they had had while still under the Ball umbrella.
Divestitures and Acquisitions: Mid- to Late 1990s
When Alltrista was spun off, it was essentially a collection of companies that Ball no longer wanted. Some were profitable, some were not, and there was little coherence among the businesses or the markets they served. Alltrista’s management was faced with the task of analyzing the businesses and deciding how to shape the unwieldy, patchwork-quilt company into a whole and profitable business. Because tax laws prohibited any significant divestitures for two years after the spinoff, the company first determined which areas it wanted to grow.
Its first step was to expand the home canning line. In 1994 Alltrista purchased Toronto, Canada-based Bernardin Ltd. Like Ball Corporation, Bernardin had a rich history in the canning products market; since 1881, the company had been producing metal lids for commercial and home canning containers. Alltrista also acquired the Fruit-Fresh brand product line in 1994. Fruit-Fresh, an agent used in canning and preserving to prevent browning and protect flavor, was marketed through Alltrista’s Consumer Products division.
The company further grew its Consumer Products division with the March 1996 acquisition of Kerr Group, Inc., one of Alltrista’s main competitors in the home canning products market. After completing the $14.6 million acquisition, Alltrista closed Kerr’s manufacturing plant in Jackson, Tennessee, and consolidated its operations into Alltrista’s plant in Muncie, Indiana.
The year 1996 also marked the end of the IRS-imposed divestiture moratorium, and Alltrista was ready to prune the weak areas of its portfolio. In April, the company made its first move in this direction with the sale of its Metal Services division. Although Metal Services was Alltrista’s largest company in terms of sales, it earned little or no profit. Atop that, it had just lost its largest customer in 1995—which was bound to depress its top line.
In 1997 Alltrista’s management turned their attention to expanding the Industrial Plastics division. On May 19, the company purchased the Arkansas-based Viking Industries, a producer of large thermoformed plastic products, such as tubs, showers, surrounds, and whirlpools. Viking’s primary markets were the manufactured housing and recreational vehicle industries—new markets for Alltrista. The company believed that both industries, and manufactured housing especially, showed great growth potential. The Viking purchase also dovetailed well with Alltrista’s existing plastics operation, creating operational synergies. For example, prior to its acquisition, Viking had relied on outside suppliers for the large plastic sheet it used in its thermoforming operations. Alltrista, however, produced the necessary sheet through its Industrial Plastics division—thereby reducing overall cost and improving efficiency.
According to Thomas Clark, who had become Alltrista’s CEO in 1995, the sort of operational integration achieved with the Viking purchase was likely to be a hallmark of future acquisitions. “In the past we have looked at the three plastics businesses as separate organizations and separate activities,” he said in a December 1997 interview with the Wall Street Corporate Reporter. “We will tend to take a more integrated view in the future.”
Alltrista’s vision is a growing, diversified company with businesses that command a leading market position or possess other differentiating characteristics that consistently create value for shareholders, employees, and customers. All resource allocation decisions are focused on this vision.
The year 1997 also marked Alltrista’s second divestiture, when the company sold the line of machine vision inspection equipment produced by its LumenX subsidiary. The following year, the company exited the LumenX business altogether, when it sold the subsidiary’s remaining product line—x-ray inspection equipment. Alltrista also initiated plans to close down an unprofitable plastics plant located in Puerto Rico.
Alltrista ended 1997 with net sales of $255.2 million—a 10.8 percent increase over the previous year—and a net profit of $14.8 million. The increase in total sales was primarily attributable to the Kerr and Viking acquisitions within Alltrista’s food containers and Industrial Plastics businesses: sales of food containers grew by 39 percent, while Industrial Plastics’ sales showed a 62 percent gain. As the year’s final milestone, Alltrista moved from the NASDAQ to the New York Stock Exchange on December 31, trading under the ticker ALC.
New Vision: 1998
Alltrista marked its fifth anniversary as an independent company in 1998 by redefining its vision, strategy, and growth goals. The company set its sights high, aiming for $500 million in sales and $50 million in operating earnings by the year 2002. To meet this ambitious goal, Alltrista—which had grown an average of seven percent yearly since the spinoff—would have to double its growth rate in the ensuing years. The new company vision brought with it various other changes. Alltrista reorganized its business into two distinct segments: metal products and plastic products. The metals segment included the zinc operation and the consumer products division, including the home canning products business. Group vice-presidents were named to oversee the two segments.
To help drive growth, Alltrista began seeking new opportunities for its metals division. Already the primary supplier of one-cent zinc blanks to both the U.S. and Royal Canadian Mints, the company tapped European markets in 1998. One of its earliest wins was a three-year contract to supply the Birmingham Mint in Britain with 55 metric tons of zinc blanks for the new unified Euro coins. Alltrista also initiated negotiations with mints in Poland and South Korea to supply blanks for their coins.
The company looked to overseas markets to boost sales of its home canning lines as well. It began preparing to test market its canning jars in Hungary, with the plan to expand into Poland and the Czech Republic if Hungarian sales were promising. Because home canning was far more prevalent in Eastern Europe than in the United States, Alltrista believed that the targeted markets had tremendous growth potential. The home canning products business also expanded its U.S. and Canadian product lines in 1998, introducing a decorative “elite” line of canning jars and closures. In addition, the company added a new housewares line—called Golden Harvest—which included tumblers and other glassware products.
In September 1998, Alltrista moved its corporate headquarters from Muncie to Indianapolis, Indiana. According to Clark, the main impetus behind the relocation was the need to be near a major airport as the company grew more geographically far-flung. Alltrista did not bring its manufacturing business with it to Indianapolis; both the consumer products and plastic packaging operations remained in Muncie.
Triangle Plastics Acquisition: 1999
In March 1999, the company proved itself serious about achieving its growth goal when it announced plans to purchase Triangle Plastics Inc. for $148 million. Triangle was an Iowa-based thermoforming company with 1998 sales of $114 million, a growth rate of around 15 percent, five production facilities, and 1,100 employees. It produced heavy-gauge components for a whole slew of industries, several of which were new to Alltrista. Through its subsidiary, TriEnda Corp., Triangle also manufactured thermoformed materials-handling products, such as plastic pallets. TriEnda—which contributed around 40 percent of Triangle’s total sales—had a customer base that included the U.S. Postal Service, and grocery, printing, textile, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies. Alltrista planned to consolidate Triangle’s five production facilities with its own plastics group.
The Triangle acquisition, which was completed in late April 1999, made Alltrista the largest industrial thermoformer in North America. It also stood the company in good stead as it worked to quicken its growth rate. “Triangle Plastics is a key step in achieving our goal to grow our company to $500 million in sales with $50 million in operating earnings by the year 2002,” Clark said in a March 15, 1999 press release. “To meet this goal we must grow by 15 percent annually, and the Triangle Plastics business fits this criteria.” The scope of the Triangle acquisition made investors edgy, however; the company’s stock dropped 16 percent in the two weeks after Alltrista announced the purchase.
In May, Alltrista announced that it planned to sell its plastics packaging business to a Missouri-based maker of sheet plastic. As Alltrista positioned its plastics segment to grow in the areas of thermoforming and injection molding, the packaging division—which used different manufacturing processes and served a different market—was no longer a good fit. The division, which had 1998 sales of $28 million, was sold for approximately $30 million.
As the 1990s wound down, Alltrista geared up for substantial growth in the new century. The company’s main area of focus was expected to be its plastics division, where it planned to add capabilities and new markets to its portfolio by way of both acquisition and internal growth. One potential area of growth in the plastics segment was an expanded geographic coverage, which would allow Alltrista to serve a wider customer base. Another likely rapid growth area was the company’s newly acquired Triangle Plastics subsidiary, TriEnda. Alltrista’s management believed that there was a growing and largely untapped market for TriEnda’s main product—thermoformed plastic pallets for materials handling. In a March 15, 1999 press release, Clark said that only in recent years have plastics begun to displace wood and corrugated packaging and pallets. Noting that plastic pallets account for only four to six percent of the U.S. market, he said, “We are at an early point of plastics penetrating this market, therefore growth opportunities should be significant.”
Alltrista also anticipated increased sales in its zinc products division. Part of that growth was likely to be driven by a higher demand for U.S. penny blanks, as well as a continued demand for blanks used to produce the Euro one-cent and five-cent coins. Another avenue of growth in the zinc business was the increasing substitution of zinc for other materials in various industrial applications. The company’s sales of battery cans, however, was likely to decline greatly in the coming years, as two of its main buyers of the cans decided to relocate their operations to foreign companies.
Consumer Products Company; Bernardin of Canada, Ltd.; Industrial Plastics Company; Triangle Plastics Inc.; TriEnda Corp.; Unimark Plastics Company; Zinc Products Company.
“Alltrista Corporation Launches Expansion Drive; Will Acquire Triangle Plastics Inc.,” PR Newswire, March 15, 1999.
Jefferson, Greg, “Alltrista Gets Legs,” indiana Business Journal March 29-April 4, 1999.
Koenig, Bill, “Plastic, Metal Products Maker Alltrista Opens Indianapolis Headquarters,” Indianapolis Star and News, September 15 1998.
Lauzon, Michael, “Alltrista Corp. Acquiring Triangle,” Plastics News March 22, 1999, p. 1.
“President & CEO of Alltrista,” Wall Street Corporate Reporter, De cember 2, 1997.