“Ship in that box, shop that box, and take that box home” is how Jeff Chalovich, president, corrugated business, WestRock. expresses the versatility of corrugated containers, which WestRock manufactures at 95 plants across North America. No longer thought of as solely for shipping, corrugated containers have become vehicles for “brand activation and brand rejuvenation” in retailing environments from convenience stores to big-box outlets.
Simultaneous progress in paper science and machine science are enhancing corrugated’s appeal as a packaging material, Chalovich says. Two-ply papers and microflute construction form corrugated substrates that can accept litho laminates or direct-to-surface printing with equally attractive results. Multiple coatings provide water resistance, protect food safety and assure consistent printability.
WestRock operates a battery of seven high-output flexographic presses to support its standard and custom corrugated container business. They include a fully automated, 2,500 fpm, central impression machine that can, according to Chalovich, make ready in 20 minutes and print with quality rivaling that of offset lithography. He adds that the company is evaluating in-line inkjetting for sequential bar codes and “smart” imprints.
In another tech-focused pursuit, WestRock recently acquired a company (Plymouth Packaging) that sends “Box on Demand” cartonmaking systems to customer sites where they produce custom corrugated cartons at the points of packing and shipping. The systems work, says Chalovich, by using three-dimensional scans to create diecuts for fanfold corrugated sheets in any dimensions the product to be packaged requires.
Advances in materials and production technologies are helping corrugated producers to attack costs and improve efficiencies throughout the supply chain, according to Chalovich. What brands are coming to appreciate, he says, is corrugated’s value at all stages of the ship-to-shelf sequence. It “billboards” well at retail, and for families who do a lot of online shopping, the arrival of those attractively decorated corrugated containers means “Christmas every day” and happy unboxing experiences.
Another marketing point strongly in corrugated’s favor is its sustainability. About 90% of corrugated packaging is recyclable, says Chalovich, who notes that WestRock is managed as “a very sustainable-footprint business” when it comes to recovery and reprocessing. The company collects 8 million tons of fiber annually, sending 5 million tons to its mills and selling the remainder on the open market.