2023 Midyear Converters Roundtable
By AICC Staff
July 7, 2023
AICC member experts weigh in on the economy and industry in Miami
At one of this year’s strongest sessions at the AICC Spring Meeting in Miami, attendees heard from a panel of stalwart leaders on the current economic and industry outlook. Moderated by Mike Schaefer, CEO of Tavens Packaging & Display Solutions, the panel discussed navigating inflation, spearheading employee initiatives, managing capital, and more. That session was transcribed exclusively for BoxScore and is as follows: Mike Schaefer: During the beginning of the (COVID-19) pandemic, we met and talked a lot about what do we need to do? What [do] we need to think about? What kind of changes do we have to make to survive both the lull before the pandemic spike and then the pandemic spike? We wanted to get together and talk a little bit about what things are looking like now and what sort of things we held onto through that. Right off the bat, Howard, how do you see things looking in the coming year? What kind of market are you expecting? Are you expecting a growth market in the box business specifically? Howard Bertram: Thanks for having me; thanks for inviting me up. It’s good to see some friends here. A lot of what I heard earlier in all the statistics and all were kind of “gloom and doom.” Demand is down, and capacity’s up. Inflation’s here; recession’s inevitable. Business kind of sucks right now to be honest with you. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s flat to say the least. We’re doing the best we can to, as my friend Mitch says, “rightsize” the business and stay positive. I’m optimistic, but last quarter last year started to flatten off, and it’s been about the same for this first quarter. So, I don’t know about you guys. Schaefer: How are you guys seeing that? Brett Kirkpatrick: For The BoxMaker, we’ve got two plants: one facility in Seattle and the other in Arkansas. So, two interesting areas to compare and contrast to each other. We’re about 10% off year to date currently, and we’re anticipating probably staying in that 6%–10% down through the rest of the year. As we look at next year, probably flat status is what we’re planning for. Schaefer: You guys—anything different? Joseph M. Palmeri: Good afternoon, everybody. We are running the Great Lakes from Cleveland up through western Pennsylvania, Ohio, [and] Rochester, Syracuse, up through Utica, (all in New York). So, we have four sheet plants, a foam fabricating facility, [and a] contract packaging and packaging supply facility. Sheet feeder Niagara Sheets—we’re a majority owner-operating partner along with Buckeye Corrugated Inc., Cascades, and WestRock. And we’ve got part of the Greenpac Mill. When Anna (Wong) presented, in my notes, I’m not necessarily optimistic for this year. I still think there’s going to be a softness. I’m not quite convinced we’ve bottomed out yet, so we’re approaching it that way at least through 2023 and into 2024. My two cents is we’re in a recession—at least our industry is in a recession—and many of our customers are currently in a recession. And I think historically you see, if you go back to like 2008, 2009—I know specifically for us it was November 2008—it was like a light switch shut off. I think the recession was recognized in March or April of 2009. So, that’s my take.
Moderator Mike Schaefer CEO Tavens Packaging & Display Solutions Participants Howard Bertram President Complete Design & Packaging Brett Kirkpatrick Director of Trade Business The BoxMaker Joseph M. Palmeri President of Corrugated Packaging Jamestown Container Corp. Ben Urquhart Sales Manager NEWW Packaging & Display