One wouldn’t expect a Colombian packaging giant to come to Virginia for a cup of coffee, but that’s sort of what happened. Grupo Phoenix, based in Bogota, Colombia, employs more than 4000 people producing rigid and flexible packaging, as well as polystyrene resins, in 10 plants in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, and—as of last year—in Dublin, Va. The newest addition, soon to represent a $40 million investment, started production last October in Southwest Virgina to extrude and thermoform high-barrier portion packs of ground coffee for single-serve coffee machines. As explained by North American CEO Jaime Lederman, the company had been supplying the formed cups from Bogota to Green Mountain Coffee’s plant in Knoxville, Tenn. But as demand increased, Phoenix decided it made more sense to produce them locally.
A little more than seven months after opening its doors in Virginia, Phoenix Packaging Group LLC (grupophoenix.com) is entering its first expansion phase. Lederman says the plant’s current 100,000 ft2 will expand by another 120,000 ft2 in a second building intended mainly for warehouse space. Today’s roster of 75 employees will grow to 150 by the end of July and to 240 by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the plant is filling up with new machines.
It started with a single high-barrier sheet extrusion line and a separate thermoformer. The seven-layer sheet line has six extruders from PTi/Processing Technologies International and a die from Cloeren Inc. The sheet consists of colored and uncolored HIPS, EVOH, adhesive (split into two layers), polyethylene, and regrind. The die is designed to economize on materials by keeping adhesive layers out of the edge trim. Sheet is extruded 1492-mm wide and is slit into two rolls to feed the 746-mm-wide, trim-in-place pressure former. This model RDM 75K from Illig LP has a tilting mold with 91 cavities that swivels 90° to eject the cups into stacks.
Expansion plans include another identical line and three more RDM 75K thermoformers. In addition, the plant is broadening its product line to include monolayer polypropylene cups for Chobani Greek-style yogurt (currently supplied from Latin America). Plans call for six monolayer sheet lines from PTi and Cloeren, each with in-line thermoforming (more Illig RDM 75K units). Plant manager David Serrato notes that Phoenix also has installed the first of two eight-color offset cup printers from Polytype and plans for two sleeve labelers and three diecutters.
What could be next? Lederman notes that Grupo Phoenix makes a lot of disposable products from PLA biopolymer—but not yet in the U.S.