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Master Packaging: Mastering the Art of Excellence

By AICC Staff

May 24, 2021


Celebrating Master Packaging’s 25th anniversary are, from left: David Lint, vice president of sales; Mary Jean Irving, president and CEO; and Mike Auffrey, vice president of manufacturing.

Mary Jean Irving, president and CEO of Master Packaging in Dieppe, New Brunswick, Canada, was admittedly a bit hesitant when her father suggested she get into the box business back in the 1990s. Her outlook has certainly changed, as the company celebrates its 25th year in business. “It’s a very interesting business,” says Irving. “We have been blessed with an exceptional team of people, outstanding support of customers, and a lot of great suppliers. Like any business, we have had our share of challenges, but we are very pleased with our accomplishments.”

The privately held Irving Group of Companies has a long and storied history in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. “My family’s been in business since the first sawmill was opened in 1882, so almost 140 years now serving customers,” Irving reports. “One of our core businesses is built around forestry, so it was a natural fit to open Master Packaging and contribute to the family value chain—from seed to shelf. We have land where we plant two trees for each one we harvest. The wood feeds our pulp and paper divisions, which include a tissue, newsprint (SC), and pulp mill along with a corrugated medium mill.”


Master Packaging’s folding carton plant in Borden-Carleton, Prince Edward Island, is housed in a 300,000-square-foot facility.

Master Packaging’s corrugated division occupies a 400,000-square-foot building in Dieppe (pronounced, dee-EP), while its sister folding carton division is housed in a 300,000-square-foot facility in Borden-Carleton, Prince Edward Island, a neighboring province.

Founded in 1996, the corrugated division started as a sheet plant in Borden and then, in 1998, expanded into New Brunswick, where they built the corrugated plant and installed a new corrugator. The original sheet plant in Borden continued to operate and was converted into a carton plant in 2004. “We built the corrugated and folding carton plants from the ground up, a complete greenfield installation for both,” Irving says, admitting, “We didn’t have a lot of regional expertise to rely on.”

Irving credits Corrugated Synergies (CSI) as their consultants who provided significant help during their startup. Today, in its 25th year, the company boasts world-class facilities and equipment that includes a 110 BHS high-speed corrugator along with wide-web flexo presses, KBA offset presses, and a full complement of state-of-the art finishing end equipment in both plants.

In the past three years, Master has invested over CA$70 million into its corrugated division and another CA$30 million in its folding carton plant to support future growth. “We are very proud to partner with some of the best equipment manufacturers in the world,” Irving says. “We continue to invest in the business in order to meet the ever-changing needs from our customers and to help with improving overall efficiencies.”

The Market and Mix

New Brunswick, along with Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, are known as the Canadian Atlantic Provinces. The region has a resource-based economy dependent largely on forestry, agriculture, and fishing, but it also includes tourism,

a good-sized manufacturing segment, and a growing service sector. The corrugated division is described as having a “seasonal component,” with agriculture and the fishery driving peaks into demand. The carton division also sees some variability in demand, but the mix is largely around consumer products and value-added retail products, so demand is more evenly distributed. The plants are close to the Northeast United States, and they also ship into Québec and as far west as Ontario. These have turned into core markets for both divisions that are served regularly by a dedicated group of carriers to each geographic segment.

David Lint is vice president of sales at Master Packaging. He says the foundation of business for both divisions is really food, beverage, and consumer products. While there has been some movement to more decorated cartons and retail-ready-type features, a large portion of the business remains in brown box in the corrugated plant. Says Lint, “A number of our customers use both folding cartons and corrugated, so there is a real opportunity for us to provide one-stop shopping for their needs.”

Litho labels are also a growing part of Master Packaging’s mix, says Mike Auffrey, the company’s vice president of manufacturing. “We leverage the folding carton plant to produce labels on our world-class KBA presses and then laminate here in the corrugated division,” he says.

The Company’s Vision

Master Packaging’s stated mission is “to be the leader in packaging solutions.” The company ensures that they deliver on their vision through what they call the mission of “three P’s”—purpose, people, and process.


Master Packaging’s purpose is “to be a valuable asset to our customers.” When asked to define “valuable asset,” Irving, Lint, and Auffrey all offer noteworthy interpretations with which any independent in the industry would agree. “Without our customers we wouldn’t be in business,” says Irving. “We pride ourselves on our technical expertise and providing 24/7 support and comprehensive, end-to-end solutions from creative, production art, prepress, plates, and finally the finished product with exceptional quality, service, and responsiveness.”

Auffrey adds his perspective from the manufacturing side of the business: “Being an asset to our customer is something that is part of our culture here,” he says, referring to Master Packaging’s collaborative approach to improving quality or implementing lean manufacturing practices not only in their own plants, but in their customers’ plants as well. “This is part of our value proposition to our customers—they are our partners.”

Lint offers a simple example that illustrates the partnered approach they take with their customers. “A customer had requested an outside glue joint—we can certainly give them an outside glue joint, but our job is to understand the reason why they want it and explain the cost implications that are associated with their request,” he says. “Increased setup times cost money, and it is our job to ensure our customers understand what drives costs into their packaging.”

“We want to have a very close relationship with our customer,” says Irving. “We want to make our customers successful; and if they’re successful, we’re successful.”


Master Packaging’s second “P” in their quest to be the leader in packaging solutions is people. “I like to focus a lot on people,” says Irving, “because people are a quality of the business that I value very much. With good people you can drive improvement and add value as a supplier.”


Master Packaging’s 110 BHS corrugator was installed in 2017 in their corrugated plant in Dieppe, New Brunswick.

Master Packaging has a very disciplined approach for recruiting, training, and retaining good people. It begins with careful recruiting and onboarding practices designed to identify talent and attitude early on. The company’s continual reinvestment in new technology has also helped attract a new generation of tech-savvy employees. Says Auffrey, “The challenge we’ve had in recruiting in the past is that entry-level positions in the plant are very physical, and our investment in automation gave us the opportunity to reduce some of these manual tasks and focus on leveraging automation and technology.”

He says that Master attracts a lot of young people with post-secondary education, either from community colleges or universities. “They’re coming in; they’re bright and curious, and for running these modern presses and corrugator, you need that kind of skill set.”

Once a recruit is inside the door, Master employs a determined onboarding process in each of its plants. “We have a dedicated trainer in each plant. His or her sole mandate,” says Auffrey, “is to onboard and to follow those new recruits through a disciplined and structured training program.”

Employees enjoy frequent opportunities to cross-train to increase their skills and increase their value to the company. Says Auffrey, “We have a very simple process for evaluating our people. It’s based on attitude and performance.”

Auffrey adds that this training is plantwide, saying, “We don’t just cross-train in one area. If you’re a flexo folder gluer operator, we’re going to cross-train you on the corrugator. We have a great number of long-term employees who have cross-trained in many parts of the plant who are extremely valuable to the operation.”

Lint and the company’s HR group also use a tailored approach when hiring sales representatives at Master. “We train them our way, and we get them inside both plants to learn about the operation. They are selling a solution, and they need to be very well versed in all aspects of the business,” he says.

Master Packaging’s involvement in AICC has assisted with its efforts to design and implement its companywide education and training program. AICC’s online Packaging School, for example, plays a major role in the company’s ongoing employee education and training. “Every week you’ll find employees taking advantage of the online courses,” says Lint.

Adds Irving, “Because we are so far away from universities and packaging schools, it has helped us a lot being able to take advantage of webinars and online courses. They have helped tremendously.”

Irving calls this attention to recruiting and training an investment. “We do a lot of cross-training here,” she says. “We invest a lot in our employees because we feel they’re a significant part of the team. We listen to them. They’re working on the floor; they have a lot of great ideas. We’re very proud of them because they really want to do a good job.”

This investment in people contributes significantly to Master Packaging’s ability to be a valuable asset to their customers. “Every month we get together as a team to review opportunities for improvement in all departments,” Irving explains. “It doesn’t matter how small it is. It promotes accountability and discussion; we see it as a very important part of our overall quality program.”

Lint agrees, saying, “We’re driving continuous improvement in every aspect of the business monthly. There’s a lot of accountability around here.”


width=415The third “P” within their mission is process. Master’s recent capital investments into their facilities, equipment, and technology work in unison with process improvements; all are designed to lower costs and provide value to the customer.

Auffrey sees technology, in addition to people, as the driver of quality and value to the customer. “We’ve retrofitted older equipment to be more modernized so we can get the one-, two-box setup,” he explains, adding that “by conveyorizing and automating our plant, we’re able to reduce our waste.”

Auffrey also praises the capacity and speed of Master’s BHS corrugator in lowering costs and improving quality. “Modern corrugators today have good-quality systems where your starch consumption is lower, the heat is lower, and so you’re running a cooler corrugator,” he says. “All these things drive cost down and waste down.”

Irving adds that education and communication are also important for employees to understand processes. “A number of years ago, we began an initiative to create awareness on waste, sharing with employees the cost of a roll of paper and also implementing a plantwide incentive program,” she says. “I knew the message was getting through when one time I was walking through the plant, somebody was about to step on a sheet, and another employee came up, grabbed it, and said, ‘That is not waste.’ So we knew we were making headway there.”


In Master Packaging’s Customer Experience Room, customers collaborate with Master’s design team to maximize box performance and graphic impact.

The Next 25 Years

“Full steam ahead,” says Irving when asked about Master Packaging’s next 25 years. “We’re flexible, so we’re open to new opportunities. We see an opportunity coming with industries pulling away from plastics, going to fiber-based packaging, so we’re focused on that right now and where that’s going and how can we service our customers for the future on that.”

Like every other company in the industry, Master has felt both challenges and rewards as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the physical environment of the plants, Irving says that most administrative employees are still working remotely and that those in the plant are following an approved operational plan that ensures that testing protocols are in place for all who enter the plants, as well as physical distancing, wearing of masks or PPE, and increased sanitization in all areas if the business. Meetings are virtual. “Everybody adapted very quickly,” she says. “We didn’t miss a beat. We just miss seeing people.”

On the sales side, Lint says that the challenges were different depending on the region. “We traditionally spend a great deal of time in our customers’ offices and plants, so we really missed the face-to-face interaction and working with our technical team to drive improvements in our customers’ plants. We did move a lot to virtual meetings, but certainly the lack of site visits was a challenge, along with reacting to spikes in demand from customers,” he says. “The only thing that was certain was the uncertainty of their demand. We did a phenomenal job and were able to look after the increase in customer demand.”

Ever vigilant, Irving and her team at Master Packaging are also developing a contingency plan for cyberattacks. In response to recent high-profile attacks within the containerboard and corrugated industries, she says they are working on contingency planning to ensure that they can operate the plants manually for a number of weeks to be prepared for such an event.

Master Packaging’s 25-year anniversary is a noteworthy milestone. For a company that started with two greenfield plants and without a lot of industry expertise, their pride in becoming one of the largest privately held independents in Canada is a great success story. The company’s mission to be the leader in packaging solutions is supported by its purpose, its people, and its processes. All are woven together into a culture that provides exceptional quality and service to its customers.

To mark the 25 years, Master Packaging is celebrating the significant milestone all year long. They have prize draws on the 25th of each month, culminating in November, when they will have 25 grand prizes each day, with a final Super Grand draw on the 25th for a brand-new 5.0-liter 460-horsepower Ford Mustang GT. “Recognizing your people is key,” Irving says. “We celebrate the wins. We have a lot of fun.”

PortraitSteve Young is AICC’s ambassador-at-large. He can be reached at 202-297-0583 or


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