$17 million investment in water-based coating solutions for eco-friendly packaging

Cascades Sonoco, a joint venture of Cascades Inc. and Sonoco Products Company, inaugurated the expansion of its facility in Birmingham, Ala., and its new production line of eco-friendly packaging. The $17 million investment enables the facility to now produce a water-based functional coating solution to create recyclable, repulpable and compostable containers.

Numerous partners, clients, suppliers and employees took part in Open House festivities on May 1. More than 100 people attended. Mario Plourde, President and CEO of Cascades, and Rob Tiede, President and CEO of Sonoco, gave brief presentations prior to the plant tours.

The new world-class equipment allows for the production of 50,000 metric tons per year of coated paper and paperboard using the company’s FlexShield™, FluteSHIELD® and SurfSHIELD™ water-based coating technology. These water-based functional and barrier coatings are designed to replace the non-compostable applications traditionally used in the design of folding carton take-out containers. The coatings can also replace the wax used in the corrugated industry.

“Located in a strategically important region of the United States with the highest demographic growth and close to boxboard and containerboard manufacturing plants, this Cascades Sonoco investment in water-based coating solutions allows us to offer a greener alternative to our customers so that they, in turn, can meet the needs of the most discerning consumers when it comes to the environment,” Plourde said. “Because they are recyclable, repulpable and compostable, this packaging can help the food service industry to significantly reduce its ecological footprint.”

The new production line adds to the diversity of the products offered by the Cascades Sonoco facility in Birmingham, which has a core business of manufacturing roll headers and roll wraps for the pulp and paper industry. The plant employs approximately 75 workers and the new machine will create 20 long-term jobs. The expansion of the Birmingham facility and the installation of the new production line took place in 2018.

‘Dream Machine’

Cascades Sonoco has identified water-based coatings as a growth platform. Until recently, the JV had just one water-based coater, which was located in Berthierville QC., Canada. It was an older coater and was limited in its capabilities, according to Jeff Stacy, Cascades Sonoco Market Segment Manager. “We knew that if we were to excel in this market, we would need to invest in a new line that would provide us the flexibility to focus on numerous end-use markets and provide the size and scale in order to supply the increasing demand of these markets.”

In 2017 the goal was to find this machine. “We quickly determined that there was no such machine on the market, so we decided to design our own,” Stacy said. “Our engineers traveled the globe looking for the best components to ensure that we would have the best and then pull them together and build the ‘Dream Machine,’ as we call it.”

The new coating line in Birmingham has the capability of producing coated and laminated products 110” wide and up to 72” in diameter. It has state-of-the-art drying and cooling capabilities providing the flexibility to produce a wide range of products for many different markets.

"This technology is the result of listening to our customers, listening to consumers, listening to the marketplace, then working to create something that solves a problem and fills a need. It also fits extremely well with our focus on finding sustainable packaging solutions which are in such great demand today, and it perfectly aligns with our purpose as a company — Better Packaging, Better Life," Tiede said.

JV History

During the Open House event in Birmingham, guests were shown a video that detailed the history of Cascades and Sonoco and their joint venture.

Founded in 1964, Cascades offers sustainable, innovative and value-added solutions for packaging, hygiene and recovery needs. The company employs 11,000 people in over 90 production units in North America and Europe. Sonoco was founded in 1899 and is a global provider of a variety of consumer packaging, industrial products, protective packaging, and displays and packaging supply chain services. With annualized net sales of approximately $5.0 billion, the company has 20,800 employees working at more than 330 installations in 34 countries.

The Cascades Sonoco joint venture was started in 1992. Both Cascades and Sonoco were engaged in roll packaging at that time,” Stacy said. “We both had strengths, but we were not producing the entire line of roll packaging that our customers required. Our customers were consolidating and were looking to standardize their packaging across their mill networks. Our company leaders saw an opportunity where we could partner together in order to provide the North American paper industry market with the products they needed from a single source with a North American reach.

“As the industry continued to decline through the early 2000’s due to cell phones, tablets and other digital means, we realized that we either needed to optimize our plant network and personnel or we could reinvent ourselves and look for new markets that utilized our expertise and equipment,” Stacy continued. “In early 2010 we set out to find out what markets we could focus on and continue our legacy of solving problems and helping our customers excel.”

Investments in chemists, engineers, and marketing resources resulted in the development of wax alternatives for the corrugated industry — FluteSHIELD and SurfSHIELD. The food service industry was also looking for sustainable alternatives to polyethylene coated boards. “We took on this challenge and determined we could use our technology and intellectual capital and developed FlexSHIELD,” Stacy said. “This solution is recyclable, repulpable and also certified compostable.”