Investing in Planet-Friendly Packaging

Clear Lam Packaging Inc. is a mid-sized, family-owned packaging company with an enviable growth rate of over 20%/yr, unusual at a time when many mid-sized packaging companies are being bought out and disappearing. The secret, Clear Lam believes, has been its aggressive investment in R&D.

Clear Lam has a $1.2-million research lab and owns over 40 patents and patent applications on things like barrier food-package structures and methods of filling and gassing the contents—a patent estate that might be expected from a far larger player.


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The company, founded in 1969, was originally a converter, then four years ago made a strategic decision to focus on new-product development. This required extending its traditional printing, laminating, and thermoforming business backward into film and sheet production. Clear Lam wanted more control over film quality and the ability to develop unique, environmentally friendly film structures and packages.

Clear Lam invested heavily in new production equipment. This included lines from Welex Inc. and PTi Processing Technologies, Inc. to make thin PET, PP, and polylactic acid (PLA) sheet up to 68 in. wide for in-house thermoforming and cast forming films for packaging pastas, meats, cheese, and frozen foods. Clear Lam also bought blown film lines from Kiefel Inc. and Hosokawa Alpine American to make three- and five-layer barrier films up to 120 in. wide for laminating and thermoforming. Clear Lam also set up its own film extrusion and converting business in China to support multi-national customers.



Clear Lam has three plants in Elk Grove Village, plus a fourth opening this month in Salinas, Calif., and three plants in Nanjing, China. It has over $170 million in sales and employs 750 people worldwide. Clear Lam spends $250,000 a year for market research on consumer preferences in packaging. The firm became so convinced that consumers want environmentally friendly packages that it embarked three years ago on a major effort to develop biopolymer and biodegradable structures. Clear Lam is now one of the largest U.S. extruders of PLA sheet and converters of cellophane film.

The company trademarked the brand name Earth Clear to encompass all of its eco-friendly packaging, allowing customers to convey the environmental message to consumers. Earth Clear covers Clear Lam packages made of sustainable, recyclable, and degradable resins, as well as those based on resource-saving technologies such as “cubing”—designing packages to occupy less space on a shelf or in a truck. This year, Clear Lam launched degradable five- and seven-layer packages for foods with shelf-life requirements of two to 18 months. After their useful life, the packages are designed to degrade within three years.

The firm’s latest invention is a flexible, stackable film “can” with a reclosable lid, called PrimaPak, slated for introduction next year. PrimaPak is intended to replace metal cans, glass bottles, and jars. Yet it can be fabricated from a single roll of multilayer coextrusion/lamination. “The container weighs a fraction of traditional packages,” notes CEO James Sanfilippo, “and allows for as much as 31% more product on retail shelves.” 

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