Sustainable Packaging Is the Name of the Game

Acorn Packaging
Written by Pauline Müller

Actively engaging with over one million North Americans daily is but a dream for most businesses. For Acorn Packaging of Mississauga, Ontario, however, it is a reality. The company is a specialist converter of sophisticated, high-performance packaging trusted by leaders in the consumer goods, food and beverage, and industrial fields for some of the best packaging products in the world. Its impressive selection of traditional and sustainable packaging options is seen on major national retailer shelves across North America.

Running research and development and design services alongside logistics, custom supply chain, complete inventory management, printing, laminating, and pouch making—all while providing an optimum customer experience—is not for the fainthearted. This is what Acorn Packaging provides to its sizeable list of longstanding clients, and that is why they keep returning.

The company delivers what it promises fast, priding itself on speed to market from design all the way through to finished product. It is flexible, and its people listen to clients’ needs. Not only are its teams responsive, but the administrative aspect of the business is also a pleasure to deal with since help is just an email or phone call away.

“We are also minimizing our impact on the environment. We happen to be in the sustainable packaging business but we’re taking that to heart and becoming more sustainable as an entire organization, better managing our environmental footprint in parallel,” says Peter Connelly, President and Chief Operating Officer. The company belongs to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), and is focused on offering all Polyethylene alternative structures that meet the How2Recycle guidelines.

Acorn Packaging leveraged the organic growth spurred by many of its clients being classed as essential services and product suppliers during the COVID pandemic to set itself on a path of regeneration and rapid evolution over the past four years. “We plan to exceed the industry growth rate which we estimate to be about four to five percent. We’re doing that by engaging employees and offering an unmatched customer experience to our valued clients,” says Connelly, pointing out that producing sustainable products means actively running a more earth-friendly organization. The company is achieving this in various ways, from improving its systems for shipping and freight in ways that optimize space and minimize waste to its use of energy-efficient lighting across its facility.

Overall, using what Connelly refers to as homogenous material combinations of mainly polyethylene-based films processed into stand-up zipper pouches and roll stock is the way to move ahead in this realm. “People don’t fully understand, I think, the role that plastic has to play. A lot of it is recyclable. By extending the shelf-life of materials [inside] the packages it has a positive environmental footprint versus a lot of other packaging options,” Connelly says.

Extended shelf-life is made possible by infusing plastics with a range of engineered barrier properties designed to protect the contents of any package from oxygen. In the trade, this is called “slowing down the oxygen ingression rate,” or minimizing the speed at which oxygen penetrates the package and begins to affect the stability of the contents.

In a bid to meet the demand of product owners, especially those selling in Canadian supermarkets headed toward complying with a 2025 deadline on 100 percent sustainable packaging goals, Acorn Packaging has ramped up its research and development department. Offering more easily recyclable, sustainable packaging materials that perform as well as or better than existing materials is the challenge for this packaging leader, and it is succeeding.

In parallel, the company recently qualified for the prestigious, internationally recognized IFS PACsecure Standard certification. To qualify, converters’ facilities, processes, and products must adhere to strict protocols and rules governing the production of food-safe packaging. Preparation of the facility and processes to achieve this milestone took Acorn two years.

“Being awarded IFS PACsecure Standard certification was a huge accomplishment for our plant and our company,” Connelly says. The certification is kept current by passing strict annual audits.

In addition to this, after around two years of preparation the company will roll out a next-generation version of its existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in September. The system will give the firm access to larger volumes of more reliable, on-the-spot data which promises to support improved decision-making and render a deeper view of the core principles at work across its organization.

The new ERP system “is going to be one of the key drivers for effective growth and customer experience,” says Connelly. “I firmly believe that your decisions are only as good as the data they are based on, and any time you can improve the reliability and timeliness of the data, you can make better decisions, and better decisions lead to better performance.” This domino effect benefits all stakeholders.

After nearly half a century of providing complete solutions, the team is proud to announce these latest contributions to the world of packaging. Acorn is improving the overall performance of its stand-up zipper pouch department to speed up production while expanding its range of pouch designs. The new designs include child-resistant closures aimed at markets that package cannabis products and cleaning agents.

“With a lot of products moving from rigid plastic containers to stand-up zippered pouches, it is understandable that we need to provide the same child-resistant safety features in our offerings.”

Working as a partner rather than simply a supplier, Acorn Packaging is adept at managing smaller packaging lines in cost-effective, low-risk ways that support customer growth and development. In addition, the company keeps track of projected inventory volume demands on behalf of its customers and fabricates accordingly. A few years ago, the company implemented several thorough, well-thought-out new systems to cut down significantly on the minimum six-week lead times of the past. That took significant investments in leading-edge technology, improved processes, customer service training, and updated equipment. Today Acorn Packaging and its customers enjoy the returns on these investments.

The visionary industry leader has never defended the overproduction of plastics; instead, Acorn has actively applied itself to being part of the solution rather than another cause of the plastics problem. To this end, it is known for consciously avoiding what it has referred to as the “over-engineering trend” by guiding customers away from using unnecessary features and materials in their packaging as much as possible. Providing clients with more environmental friendly options remains a top priority for Acorn and its employees.

Thanks to the continuous improvements implemented over the past few years, the company has had the opportunity to turn its production facility into a happy workplace where people thrive in their respective positions. Outlining its robust, strategic position in response to economic downturns, Connelly is adamant about the job security the company provides.

“We advertise ourselves as a job-for-life opportunity. For anybody looking for steady work, this is a good place to be. We proved that during COVID and the high inflation period we are still in now,” he says.

Naturally, none of its successes would be possible without its outstanding team of 100 people and their dedication and commitment to the business and its customers. Their drive to give customers an enjoyable experience is another appealing quality that sets the company apart from competitors.

“They demonstrate this commitment every day—employees raising issues when they find them. Not just doing their job, but caring about the product that they produce. What makes our people great is their willingness to change, their willingness to go through some uncomfortable times.”

Connelly acknowledges that this is not nearly as easy or simple as it may sound. “It truly is transformational in terms of [how] people approach their work and the level of commitment it takes to be good at this.”

To him, this proves, once again, that employee satisfaction is not automatically acquired. It is born of clear communication across the organization, ensuring everyone is genuinely happy and informed instead of just guessing that they are. By cultivating a well-cared-for team, Acorn Packaging is assured of the loyalty needed to expand its output effectively.

The COVID-19 restriction period stands out as an example of how well this works. “Their commitment levels were just exemplary. I was really proud. I think achieving what they achieved, under those circumstances, is outstanding,” Connelly says with a smile. “We still managed to muscle through it all and get customers the products they needed when they needed them. It was exceptional… People adapted so quickly. They had their eye on the prize.”

Another recent proud moment came in the form of the company’s renewed collective bargaining agreement last year. To Connelly, the real success was that all stakeholders contributed equally to reaching a fair deal for all involved during a challenging economic season. Describing the company’s evolution as a journey, he understands that organizational change takes time but that the effort to attain it is entirely worth it.

After a lifetime in packaging, Connelly joined the company two years ago after realizing its expansion potential given ownership’s openness to evolution. A team player to the core, he ascribes the company’s success to each employee’s contributions. Acorn approaches its overall goal of continuing to outperform industry growth with this mindset daily. With improved sustainability at the forefront of everything it does, Acorn Packaging is committed to continued growth of flexible packaging in the North American market with its solid customer-for-life model at the core.

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