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Two key customers convinced packaging thermoformer Associated Packaging Technologies (APT) to branch into Ireland in 2002. With food processors lining up for its ready-to-eat meal trays, APT is adding personnel and equipment.

Matt Defosse

March 1, 2004

3 Min Read
Ireland - with Apt in Carrickmacross

Two key customers convinced packaging thermoformer Associated Packaging Technologies (APT) to branch into Ireland in 2002. With food processors lining up for its ready-to-eat meal trays, APT is adding personnel and equipment.

Carrickmacross, about an hour north of Dublin, only has about 4000 inhabitants—but nearly 450 work at Rye Valley Foods, a processor of frozen meals. Less than 30 minutes distant, a facility run by H.J. Heinz makes similar meals. The proximity of the two was key in bringing APT to Ireland, explains John Giordani, VP sales, marketing, and technical sales.

"We were already supplying both from our plant in Ontario," he says, and wanted to improve the firm''s responsiveness. To do so, the processor acquired a former equestrian center in Carrickmacross and converted it into an extremely modern 50,000-sq-ft thermoforming facility. In April 2003 it added a 45,000-sq-ft warehouse to further speed just-in-time delivery of trays.

Unlike many other European thermoformers who process shorter runs with frequent tool changes, APT sticks to in-line sheet extrusion and thermoforming to maximize output per line, notes Jim Forde, plant manager. Also unusual for a European shop is the size of the equipment APT uses. The company has one flatbed Lyle thermoformer running multi-cavity tooling for high-volume tray production, while a second, custom-made rotary thermoformer processes shorter runs. A third line with a smaller Lyle unit is being added in April, says Forde

A third line with a smaller Lyle unit is being added in April to allow the firm to market trays for smaller jobs with requirements of only 50,000 trays monthly, says Forde. APT standardizes on Davis-Standard extruders and Lyle thermoformers at its plants. Though the Irish site runs tooling supplied by vetted U.S. manufacturers, Forde is currently talking to English toolmakers.

APT was formed in 1993 to make metal food trays but soon added plastics processing. In 2000 private equity firm Castle Harlan bought a majority share and freed the funding needed for two new plants—the Carrickmacross facility and another in the state of Missouri in the U.S.; both opened in 2002. Total sales from the four manufacturing sites are in excess of $100 million, and the firm claims to be the world''s largest processor of CPET trays to the chilled and frozen food industries.

Demand for ready-to-eat meals, chilled or frozen, is growing rapidly as work and other responsibilities allow little time for people to cook, regardless of their inclination to do so. John Bray, European sales manager, says the U.K. is Europe''s leader for these meals with demand growth of 10% to 15% annually, but that demand elsewhere in Europe is likewise jumping.

Working with an unidentified European additives supplier, APT has patented its CPET formulation, which makes its trays for frozen meals more durable than those of its competitors. Independent testing agency Pira has substantiated the lower breakage levels.

"The challenge we have is to pioneer the benefits of a stronger tray," says Bray. Forde, who notes that, as food packaging lines get faster and more aggressive, the trays'' strength becomes an ever-more significant attribute.

Bray joined APT last year, bringing with him a lengthy food industry background, which Giordani points to as an extremely important asset for APT as it looks to penetrate Europe''s tangled web of private labels, brand names, and regional brands.

"The growth of our business is in the U.K. now," says Bray, but he spent time in mid-February drumming up business at potential customers in the Netherlands and Germany. The Ireland plant already ships to a customer in France as well as to Nestle in Australia. [email protected]

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