Sale is one option for Evergreen Packaging in Pine Bluff

Pactiv Evergreen, owner of Evergreen Packaging (shown here), will be considering several options as it ponders the future of the Pine Bluff mill. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Byron Tate)
Pactiv Evergreen, owner of Evergreen Packaging (shown here), will be considering several options as it ponders the future of the Pine Bluff mill. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Byron Tate)

The owner of Evergreen Packaging in Pine Bluff will explore "strategic alternatives" for the mill that could include a sale, according to corporate officials.

During a March 7 earnings call with several investment analysts, executives with Pactiv Evergreen Inc., which owns the Pine Bluff facility, discussed the future of the plant.

Adam Samuelson, an analyst with Goldman Sachs, asked Pactiv CEO Michael King to elaborate on his comments about the Pine Bluff mill, which has 770 employees.

"You talk about exploring strategic alternatives for Pine Bluff, but that's obviously still your principal supply of liquid carton board," Samuelson said, according to a transcript of the call. "And so is the idea there that as you kind of look at potential alternatives, like the idea would be that mill is still operating, and if there's a sale or a divestment of some sort, that would come with some sort of supply agreement for your converting operations?

"Yes," said King. "... Pine Bluff and Waynesville [N.C.] both are critical to our ability to operate successfully, and they'll remain critical in whatever future strategic alternative we select. Sale is certainly one avenue we could go down, but we continue to own the mill. We're committed to operating the mill and give it all the food, water, shelter it needs to support our core converting operations. So, I think you said it right. Anything we do there, we're certainly going to protect our core converting business on the carton side there. And certainly Pine Bluff and Waynesville, to a degree, are critical in those considerations."

The conversation comes at the same time that Pactiv Evergreen announced strategic actions to restructure its beverage merchandising segment and reorganize the company's management structure.

"The company expects to close its Canton, N.C., mill and its converting facility in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, with operations at both facilities expected to end during the second quarter of 2023," said Beth Kelly, director of communications with Pactiv Evergreen. "At the same time, the company will continue to explore strategic alternatives for its Pine Bluff, Ark., mill and Waynesville, N.C., facility. In addition, the company plans to reorganize its management structure by combining the beverage merchandising and food merchandising businesses effective April 1, 2023."

Kelly said the moves will position the company to remain competitive in the liquid packaging market.

"These actions are consistent with our stated strategy of focusing on our core competency in converting to enhance and accelerate our position as the market-leading North American food and beverage packaging company," she said.

There was no timetable given for when a decision would be made on what alternatives Pactiv Evergreen might select for implementation at the Pine Bluff mill. The alternatives, as King said, could include a sale, but they could also include other options.

Said Kelly, the decision comes down to "what makes the most sense for us to continue operating Pine Bluff. In any case, Pine Bluff is, and will remain, critical to the success of Pactiv Evergreen's supply chain."

Byron Racki, president of Pactiv's beverage merchandising unit, first went to Canton to deliver the news about that plant's closure and then came to Pine Bluff recently to talk to employees here.

Allison Thompson, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, called Evergreen Packaging an "incredibly important business to our area," adding that company employees and officials are heavily involved in the community.

Pactiv Evergreen announced in July 2021 it was exiting the coated groundwood paper business and would "permanently cease" production of coated groundwood paper at its Pine Bluff plant.

That move, which was finalized toward the end of 2021, closed the No. 1 machine at the mill. The much larger No. 2 machine, which continues to operate, makes coated paper used in milk and juice cartons, among other items.

Pactiv Evergreen said in 2021 in announcing the closure of the groundwood paper line at the mill that the company will continue to "strategically invest" in the Pine Bluff mill, "which will remain an essential facility in the Pactiv Evergreen operations network, serving the fiber-based beverage packaging market."

"With the decline in the coated groundwood market, our decision to exit this business enables us to reinvest resources into our strategic core competency of liquid packaging board as well as other more profitable segments across the enterprise," King said in a press release at the time.

International Paper Co. announced in 1956 that it was going to build a paper mill in Pine Bluff. In 2007, the company that created Evergreen Packaging bought the Pine Bluff mill.

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