How ICG Members are Keeping the Supply Chain Rolling While Giving Back
In the very early days of the current health crisis, the Independent Carton Group (ICG) met in Park City, Utah for its Spring Meeting. On March 11 and 12, while members discussed how empty their flights were and what the status of drupa 2020 might be, their spirits were high and that “can do” attitude, which is in the DNA of all ICG member leadership, was already evident. At this time, the state of Ohio was just banning gatherings of more than 1,000 people and cases of the virus in the U.S. were at 1,100, with just a hand full of deaths reported. As a matter of fact, March 11 was when the World Health Organization first declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
While the group was treated to a fantastic tour of All Packaging’s plant in Salt Lake City, the country and the world were moving to much broader shut down measures. Talks among members were focused on how they would cope and push through any challenges that would arise. Discussions included how companies managed following September 11, and an attitude of “we will get through this too” was the prominent buzz in discussions around the dinner table that evening. As the meeting concluded on the 12th and members began their travels home, it was obvious that everyone had been in contact with those at home and at work and that plans were in the works for how their companies were going to cope with whatever was to come.
In mid-April ICG members were adapting to the “new normal” in many ways. By this time it was readily apparent that their businesses were critical for a functional society during the COVID-19 crisis and deemed by the government as “essential businesses,” allowing workers to report to work. Some had to shut down for 24 to 48 hours to sanitize their facilities and get reentry plans in place, which included taking employees' temperatures prior to their entry into the building through a new, one way, traffic pattern. Staggered shifts were implemented to keep passing contact at a minimum and working compartments were designated with break rooms for each compartment, again to minimize contact. Meanwhile, many office workers were shifted to working from home.
As the country began hitting its stride adjusting to the challenges of working in various stages of social distancing and quarantine, ICG members were busy serving the needs of their customers, many of which are supplying critical medical and food products. At Outlook Group in Neenah, Wis., they were focused on meeting the spike in demand to deliver packaging for critical customers producing food and medical products, such as thermometers.
“We have added hourly workers, most of whom were laid off from local businesses, and added overtime to our schedules to meet the needs of critical customers,” Jim Woller, market development manager for Outlook Group, said. “As well, we’ve taken on first priority business from companies converting to the production of hand sanitizing products in our flexible packaging and folding carton categories.”
In one of the hardest hit areas of the country, Accurate Box in Patterson, N.J., and its 300 employees have been working hard to keep their customers, many in the club store food sector, supplied with critical packaging.
“Many of our customers are struggling to manage their needs and many are ordering 30% more than normal while we are producing with many of our employees out due to the illness,” Lisa Hirsh, president of Accurate Box, said. “There are a lot of multi-generational families living in very tight quarters in our area and we have led a drive to help get critical supplies to these families. It’s been a wild ride for our company and for the entire region.”
In Lake Forest, Ill., Colbert Packaging has been working to address the escalated needs of its pharmaceutical and healthcare customers, which make up the majority of its client base. Over the years, Colbert has proactively developed and maintained a Business Continuity Plan (BCP).
“Having a robust BCP is a great asset for us in these challenging situations, and these times help us to continually refine the plan and be better prepared for the next challenge,” John Lackner, president of Colbert Packaging, said. “Benefits of being an ICG member are apparent in this situation in that we have been able to leverage collective input to enhance our BCP based on the leanings of other members. We are also getting great service from our suppliers who have come through with critical components based on the power of the ICG."
The company participates in a scholarship program with the Elkhart Urban Enterprise Association, and while schools were closed they hired several college students in the program, allowing them to gain valuable learning experience and an income while official classes are not in session. Colbert also contracted with a local seamstress to make masks for its employees.
Anyone scrolling LinkedIn these days will see how companies are helping their communities cope with the pandemic. The folding carton industry and ICG members are no exception. With the growing and critical need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by healthcare workers and first responders, Diamond Packaging of Rochester, N.Y., Vista Color of Miami, and Zumbiel Packaging of Hebron, Ky., are three ICG members that have participated in the design, production and delivery face shields locally and internationally.
“We saw an opportunity to help in this challenging time … We’ve been working on designing, redesigning, and improving the face shields to come up with something that can truly benefit all the brave people out there on the front lines every day and taking chances for themselves and their families,” Karla Fichter, owner and CEO of Diamond Packaging, said.
Diamond has donated more than 10,000 face shields to UR Medicine Home Care in Webster, N.Y., and nearly 200,000 more to hard hit areas in different states. Diamond is also supporting essential businesses by producing folding cartons for pharmaceutical and health care companies.
Vista Color has jumped into producing PPE as well, designing and making face shields for local hospitals in the Miami area. Vista Color was featured on Miami television station Channel 10 WPLG on April 14 for its efforts. Jess Hernandez, president of Vista Color says that a big reason the company came up to speed so quickly at the beginning of the crisis is having brought on a compliance director two years ago.
“We had a good plan in place for such an emergency and now we are refining that plan for the next time,” Hernandez says.
In Northern Kentucky, Zumbiel Packaging has joined with more than 40 packaging firms from 20 countries, creating “Fiber Shield” to create single use face shields for medical professionals all over the world. As of April 29, the group has donated more than 1,250,000 face shields globally.
“Our industry wanted to do something to support the fight against COVID-19,” Ed Zumbiel, president of Zumbiel Packaging, said. “So when we realized that face shields were in short supply, and that we could in fact manufacture them with our existing production assets, we turned our organizations loose.”
From a press release by FiberShield.org: “The most amazing part of this story, according to Zumbiel, is that ’virtually everyone in the packaging ecosystem has jumped in to offer raw materials, production assistance, and logistics support to the companies who are producing shields.’ It is truly a global, humanitarian effort, the likes of which the packaging industry has never seen.”
Jay Willie, Executive Director of the ICG is proud of the 20 member companies.
“This is a group of the best run companies in our industry and by seeing how they are dealing with the challenges of the COVID pandemic and still finding ways to give back to their communities is a real testament to their leadership,” he says. “I am equally proud of the ICG designated supply network that partners with our ICG members. They are successfully meeting the increase in material demands as consumer essential products and stock piling have tightened some markets. Both the ICG members and its suppliers attributed much of this success to following the workplace guidance of the CDC.”