Sales: $1 billion (2003)
NAIC: 323112 Commercial Flexographic Printing
Printpack, Inc., is one of the largest manufacturers of flexible packaging products in the United States. The firm's offerings, which typically conform to the shape of their contents, include packages for snacks, beverages, frozen foods, pet foods, cheese, produce, and personal care and diaper products. Printpack's client list includes a host of well-known names like Frito-Lay, Kraft, and Coca-Cola. The company is owned and run by the family of founder J. Erskine Love, Jr.
The origins of Printpack date to 1956, when Atlanta native J. Erskine Love, Jr., decided to found a printing company. Love, 28, had studied at Georgia Tech, and then worked at Westinghouse as an engineer before switching to a small Atlanta-based food company. Married with one child and a second on the way, he struck out on his own after gathering the needed capital by mortgaging his home and borrowing money from relatives and friends. While awaiting delivery of a four-color Kidder stack printing press, he initially produced blank cellophane bags for vegetables in the basement of an office building with a used machine he had bought for $500. In June 1957, Love moved into new quarters, and in July the newly delivered press began operation. At this time Printpack's payroll was expanded to ten.
The firm's client base soon began to grow, and in 1958 Love hired an art director so he could develop in-house the graphic designs he believed were key to successful packaging. In 1960, the growing Printpack hired a Midwest sales representative to help it expand beyond its southern stronghold, and in 1963 the firm moved into a new 30,000-square-foot space, which would remain its headquarters for decades to come. The company had by now firmly established its niche in the field known as "flexible packaging conversion," in which raw materials like polypropylene were made into packages that conformed to the shape of a product such as potato chips or candy.
By 1964, Printpack employed sixty-five, and the firm was performing work for more than fifty different clients including Frito-Lay, Murray Biscuit, The Arkansas Rice Growers Co-Op, and Crackin' Good Bakeries. By the time the company celebrated its first decade in business just two years later, its payroll had more than doubled to 150.
Acquisitions Begin in 1969
In 1967, Printpack established a research and development group to help create new types of products, and in 1969 the company's first manufacturing facility outside Atlanta was constructed in Grand Prairie, Texas. The firm also made its first acquisition, Southeastern Packaging, Inc., which was soon followed by Standard Packaging, Sigmadyne Corporation, and Daniels Packaging.
The company's efforts at research and development paid off in 1970 with the creation of extrusion laminating, a new process for making potato chip bags. In 1972, Printpack added a quality control laboratory to enable it to more efficiently perform standardized tests on materials.
The printing industry was presented with a new challenge in the early 1970s with the introduction of the Universal Product Code (UPC). Because an incorrectly printed UPC could cause scanning (and pricing) errors, printers had to rigorously monitor consistency and quality to ensure that retailers were able to scan all products correctly. Producers of flexible packages were particularly challenged, because they generally relied on flexographic printing, which used photographically created plates that were less precise than the older etched-metal rotogravure plates. Printpack rose to the challenge, and the company's employees took special care to make sure print runs conformed to the new higher standards after UPC use began in 1975. That same year the firm introduced its new logo, a small round swirl that looked like a camera shutter and was referred to by insiders as "the bug."
By 1976, when Printpack celebrated its 20th anniversary, the company's employment ranks had grown to 469. In 1978, the firm added another feather to its cap when it became the first manufacturer of all-plastic labels for PET plastic bottles. Printpack was now recognized as the largest independent flexible packaging converter in the United States, the largest supplier of flexible packaging materials to the snack food industry, and the country's largest converter of cellophane.
In 1980, Printpack opened a new technical center, which offered materials testing, chemical and physical analysis, research and development, and engineering services. It also had a pilot plant to do sample print runs. In 1983, the company expanded further with the purchase of a Richmond, California, printmaking facility that made co-extruded plastic film for high density polyethylene products. The year 1985 saw the firm win a prestigious packaging industry award for its pressurized plastic tube for Wilson tennis balls.
By 1985, Printpack's major accounts included Frito-Lay, Tom's, Lance, Golden Flake, and Wise Foods. It was making bags for their salty snacks like potato and corn chips, as well as wraparound plastic labels for two-liter bottles of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, luncheon meat packages for Swift, Hormel, and Eckrich, boiler bags for Stouffer's frozen entrees, and wrappers for cookies, candy, and granola bars. The company was now operating plants in Atlanta (where its original location had been expanded to 250,000 square feet); Grand Prairie, Texas; Elgin, Illinois; Fredricksburg, Virginia; and Richmond, California. It had 930 employees and revenues of more than $100 million.
In the three decades since the firm was founded, many new flexible packaging materials and processes had been developed. Having started out with cellophane, by the mid-1980s Printpack was using a variety of plastics, papers, films, adhesives, and inks to produce its packaging, with most items made from two or more materials laminated together. Some 95 percent of Printpack's output consisted of flexible packaging that conformed to the shape of the food it held, with most of the remainder comprised of wraparound plastic labels for two-liter soda bottles. The company's products performed two basic but important functions: preserving the freshness of food and providing an eye-catching design to win the attention of customers.
In an interview with Business Atlanta magazine in 1985, Erskine Love attributed the company's success to the quality of its employees and to its dedication to customer service. Love himself took calls at any time, day or night, and frequently visited with major clients to be sure he was closely attuned to their needs. He also took pride in his involvement with a variety of charitable organizations in Atlanta, serving as president of the United Way, Rotary Club, and Boy Scouts. He was on numerous boards of directors, as well, and was a trustee of several educational and religious organizations.
Sudden Death of Founder in 1987
On February 21, 1987, 58-year-old Erskine Love suffered a massive heart attack and died while jogging near his home. The company had no clear succession plan, but Love's widow Gay quickly assumed the title of chairman of the board, and their oldest son, Dennis, was named CEO. Dennis Love, age 32, had earned his MBA from Harvard before joining Printpack's marketing department. Though he was not yet experienced enough to take the firm's top position, his mother felt he would "grow into the job" while maintaining the family's leadership role.
Dennis Love proved to be an able leader, and over the next several years undertook an aggressive campaign of expansion. By 1992 Printpack had more than 2,000 employees and a total of eleven plants in the United States and Ireland. In May 1993, the firm acquired Flexpack U.K. Ltd. of Bury, England, which was renamed Printpack Europe Ltd. Less than a year later the company bought U.C.B. Packaging Ltd. with operations in St. Helens and Gainsborough, England, and merged them into the former Flexpack operation. Printpack later sold the U.C.B. plant in Gainsborough to EPL Technologies. The U.C.B. purchase doubled the firm's European sales to $120 million, while also giving it the ability to make flexible medical product packaging.
In 1994, the company sold a 51 percent stake in its Forest Park, Illinois facility to Oscar Robertson's Orchem, Inc. The jointly owned venture would be known as Orflex, Inc., and would continue to produce flexible packaging for the food industry. The plant had been slated to close, but under the leadership of former basketball star Robertson, who was African American, it would benefit from the growing numbers of businesses that were pledging to support minority-owned concerns. By now, Printpack had total annual revenues of more than $500 million and employed 2,700.
Printpack is a family-owned company with old-fashioned family values. We believe that cooperation, honesty, and an active adherence to high moral and ethical standards results in the highest quality flexible packaging products for our customers. We feel it is our responsibility to build strong, long-term relationships with our customers so we can meet and exceed their expectations. But while our values may be old-fashioned, our methods certainly are not. We are constantly seeking ways to provide greater value to our customers. Printpack is a place where trust, respect and teamwork are highly valued; this environment fosters a great deal of innovation and encourages continuous process improvements. We know this dedication to progress gives us and our customers a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In 1995, Printpack opened a new 206,000-square-foot manufacturing facility adjacent to its plant in Grand Prairie, Texas, which would be equipped with six- and eight-color flexographic printing presses, adhesive and extrusion laminators, and new ink mixing and control systems. It would also have a 1,000-square-foot quality assurance laboratory. Some operations from Printpack's Villa Rica, Georgia, plant were shifted to Grand Prairie, though no jobs were lost.
Company Doubles Size with 1996 James River Purchase
In August 1996, Printpack completed its biggest acquisition to date—the Flexible Packaging Group of the James River Corporation. The deal, valued at $372 million, gave Printpack four lamination and coating plants in Missouri, Ohio, Louisiana, and California; five film and converting plants in Delaware, Texas, Indiana, Tennessee, and Mexico; a rigid plastics container facility in Virginia; and pilot plant equipment from James River's technology center in Ohio. The James River operations, which employed a total of 2,200 people, had accounted for approximately $490 million in sales in 1995. The deal brought Printpack several major new accounts, including Georgia-Pacific and Kraft. The move was made as food companies sought to reduce the number of packaging suppliers they dealt with, and the acquisition strengthened Printpack's ability to offer a diverse range of products.
Following the purchase Printpack closed two plants and consolidated several other operations, with a total of 4,100 employees remaining afterwards. The integration process was not always smooth, with problems like a twelve week strike at the former James River plant in Greensburg, Illinois, that caused Printpack to lose some accounts.
While this was in process, Printpack also acquired a patented flat-bottom food pouch developed by a company called Jebco, which had gone bankrupt. The pouch, and new aseptic juice boxes, would bring additional business for Printpack as these formats were embraced by food companies.
For the fiscal year ending in June 1998, the company reported annual sales of $850 million. At the same time that the kinks from the James River merger were being worked out, serious difficulties with Printpack Europe were also being dealt with. The company closed its U.K. plant at St. Helens, consolidated operations at Bury and Saffron Walden, and reduced its client base from 140 to 50 by eliminating unprofitable contracts. By 2000 the unit was back in the black, earning £1.7 million on sales of £62 million.
The turn of the 21st century saw the company continuing to innovate, with successes like a special Harry Potter label for plastic Coca-Cola bottles which revealed a prize symbol only after the beverage had been consumed. In February 2002, Printpack formed another minority-owned joint venture with Woodrow A. Hall called Diversapack. Hall would own 51 percent of the operation, which included the former Orflex plant in Ohio and two others in Indiana and Illinois. By now, Printpack's annual revenues had risen above $1 billion.
Over time, each of the six children of company founder Erskine Love and his wife Gay became involved with the company. In addition to CEO Dennis Love, his brothers Bill, Keith, Jimmy, and David and sister Carol Anne had all joined the firm. Each had first worked in the shipping department, then returned after college to take higher-level positions.
On July 19, 2003, tragedy struck when a chartered plane carrying Bill Love, his wife Beth, the eldest of their four daughters, and nine other members of Beth Love's extended family crashed into a mountaintop in Kenya, killing all aboard. They had been scheduled to move back to Atlanta from the firm's European division just a month later so that Bill Love could take the position of director of business development at Printpack.
In September 2003, the company bought a 105,000-square-foot thin-wall container thermoforming facility in Newport News, Virginia, from competitor Amcor, Inc. The new plant would expand its capabilities in this product area, which were already served by a similar operation in Williamsburg, Virginia. Revenues for the fiscal year reached $1.053 billion, down slightly from the record $1.1 billion of 2002.
After nearly a half-century in business, Printpack, Inc. had grown into one of the largest flexible packaging manufacturers in the United States, while contributing a number of innovations to the industry. The firm, which was still family-run and owned, continued to serve many long-term clients like Frito-Lay and Coca-Cola.
Printpack Europe (U.K.); Printpack Mexico.
Bemis Co., Inc.; Alcan, Inc.; Reynolds Food Packaging; Amcor, Ltd.; Pliant Corporation.
- J. Erskine Love, Jr., founds Printpack in Atlanta, Georgia.
- An outside sales representative is hired to seek Midwest business.
- The company moves to larger quarters.
- A new plant is built in Texas; acquisitions begin with Southeastern Packaging.
- Extrusion laminating process is introduced.
- The company begins producing packages with UPC codes; a new logo is unveiled.
- The first all-plastic labels are created for plastic bottles.
- A new technical center is opened for testing and analysis of products.
- J. Erskine Love dies; his wife Gay is named board chairman and his son Dennis becomes CEO.
- U.K. firm Flexpack is acquired.
- The acquisition of James River flexible packaging unit doubles the company's size.
- Sales top $1 billion.
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