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AICC Members Gather for an Xperience Like No Other

By AICC Staff

May 17, 2022


Over 100 AICC members and speakers came together for in-depth discussions during the Packaging Xperience. (Photos courtesy of AICC.)

AICC’s Packaging Xperience drew 85 members and presenters March 1–3 in Kansas City, Missouri. The three-day event highlighted post-COVID-19 trends in company leadership and market challenges, sales management, brand-owner demands, and technological innovation to help members better serve a consumer-focused packaging marketplace.

AICC President Michael D’Angelo opened the meeting by noting the dramatic growth in demand for corrugated packaging in the past two years and the industry’s continuing strain to meet it. Working smarter, understanding customers’ responses to changing consumer behavior, and leveraging technology will help members maintain their standards of service and long-term customer loyalty, he said.

Gene Marino, AICC Chair and executive vice president of Akers Packaging Service Group, set the tone for the program by discussing the challenges facing box plant personnel at the current pace of demand. His presentation described a “Strategy for Success,” rewarding knowledge, experience, and consistency in processes across all business operations—in other words, to have everyone in the right seat. Marino was followed by Mark Roberts, CEO of OTB Solutions, who asked attendees, “How do you make your company more data-driven?” Citing surveys of buyers in different industries as well as those who purchase corrugated and paperboard products, Roberts made the case that increasing sales will rely on understanding how and why your customer makes purchasing decisions and understanding their challenges in their markets.

A four-member panel of AICC member boxmakers followed, featuring Chris Stoler, CEO of Vanguard Cos.; Jana Harris, president of Harris Packaging; Ed Nusslein, general manager of McLean Packaging; and Mark McNay, senior vice president and general manager at SMC Packaging Group. Panelists answered questions posed by D’Angelo and the audience, particularly around hiring practices, employee engagement, paper supply, lead-time challenges, and capital equipment purchasing plans.

Adam Peek, senior vice president of Meyers Printing, presented the subject of blockchain and cryptocurrency and their potential for business operations. He explained why this technology is important for the corrugated and folding carton industries to watch, and he outlined several areas of the business process where it could be useful, namely on receiving timely price estimates based on real-time production factors, order tracking, and proofing and quality control.


AICC members connected during numerous networking opportunities.

The continuing raw material supply issue was the subject of a three-speaker segment on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 2. Pete Butier, president of Evergreen Fibres, reported on the North American containerboard market. Joe Cali, global business development and sales at Price & Pierce, offered a global perspective. Ryan Fox, corrugated packaging analyst at Green Markets, a Bloomberg Co. publication, presented a retrospective and analysis of box demand over the past two years.

The program also featured several representatives from corrugated end users, namely, those in the direct-to-consumer market. Blake Brown, vice president of brand and creative for the Kizik shoe company, discussed his company’s experience in finding packaging suppliers as a startup. Stephan Ango, vice president, product, for the online packaging design marketplace Lumi, offered ways that boxmakers can promote themselves to smaller startup internet sellers.

On Thursday, March 3, the program continued with the end-user viewpoint, with Evelio Mattos, founder and host of Package Design Unboxd, who recommended ways that boxmakers can evaluate smaller startups for their potential success.

Turning to the production process and ensuring the quality of the packaging that members are providing their customers, Les Pickering, principal of Quadrant 5, took an in-depth look at factory maintenance procedures, showing best-in-class examples of organized and structured maintenance departments from box plants in the United Kingdom, United States, and Japan. John Kelley, CEO of Dusobox Creative Packaging Group, then presented an overview of hybrid flexographic and digital printing presses now coming to the market. These presses can offer boxmakers and their customers versatility in addressing graphics and printing solutions, especially for the growing e-commerce segment.

Closing out the speaking portion of the program was Kim Alexis Newton, founder of Alexis Enterprises LLC, a manufacturer of custom-made quilts. She recounted the start of her company and how she has successfully worked with AICC member Vanguard Packaging in creating their online packaging solutions.

After the program closed, members traveled to tour Lawrence Paper Company in Lawrence, Kansas, followed by SMC Packaging Group’s Arrowhead Containers division in Kansas City. Justin Hill, president, and Russ Packard, vice president, of Lawrence Paper welcomed the group to their plant. SMC Packaging Group CEO Kevin Ausburn and Arrowhead Containers General Manager Vern Bennett hosted members at Arrowhead.


Attendees were welcomed on tours of Lawrence Paper Co. and Arrowhead Containers.

Sponsors of the Packaging Xperience were Equipment Finance Corp.; SUN Automation Group; Pamarco; Poteet Printing Systems; and tour hosts Lawrence Paper Co. and Arrowhead Containers. For more information about AICC’s Packaging Xperience or any other AICC educational programs, contact Taryn Pyle at or Chelsea May at