Trending Content

Box Plants, Bourbon, and Business—and a Little Berra

By Michael D’Angelo

November 13, 2023

We’ve just closed the AICC Annual Meeting. Thank you to all who attended and made the event the networking and educational success it was. With more than 500 of you in Louisville, there was a lot going on. The session speakers were well received. The breakout sessions were engaging and informative. AICC visited three outstanding box plants: Independent II, Premier Packaging, and Greif/Corr-Choice. Many thanks to the teams at each. There were also off-site trips to the Kentucky Derby Museum and bourbon distilleries.

The meeting’s theme was “Box Plants, Bourbon, and Business,” and all three were in abundance. Let’s talk about the third “B”—business. (Although, I am always up for a box plant conversation, and I learned enough about bourbon in Louisville to be dangerous.)

Overall, our industry’s volumes are down from the highs of pandemic-induced demand. Two of the Louisville meeting’s opening focus session speakers disagreed on whether the fall back is to 2017 or 2019 levels. But both agreed that the near-term outlook for converters is one of improvement.

Tim Bergwall, group president of paper packaging and services at Greif, spoke of the three opportunities for growth he sees in the industry today: the reshoring/nearshoring of manufacturing; the continued demand for e-commerce; and plastic replacement. U.S. manufacturing construction rates are at their highest level in years, and capital is flowing to the U.S. Orders for e-commerce goods continue to grow year on year. States around the country are banning single-use plastics and enacting other restrictions that open the door for paper-based replacement.

George Staphos, managing director of equity research at Bank of America (BoA), shared BoA’s outlook that the U.S. economy is not going to see a recession in the coming months or year. He also reported that demand for containerboard will be flat or rise “modestly” between now and 2025, while capacity “keeps pace.” Staphos mentioned the industry’s role as a leading economic indicator. Things slowed in containerboard-related activities ahead of the general economy, and the industry is positioned to lead the way up.

Those of you who know me know I like to quote “The Bard of the Bronx,” Yogi Berra, whenever I can. It seems appropriate here. Berra once famously said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Being in the room, hearing directly from industry experts helps.

That’s why meetings such as the one just held in Louisville and AICC programming in general are important to AICC members. It is all peer-driven from real-life experiences. AICC’s chairs generally close the meetings with the advice to take what you’ve heard and learned at a meeting back to your plant and share it. Make sure the lessons don’t just sit in a notepad on a desk or in the depths of your mind.

Because if you don’t put what you’ve learned from boxmakers, suppliers, and AICC into action, you may make another Yogi-ism become fact: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

Michael D’Angelo
AICC President