Batavia, Ohio, near Cincinnati, shares a surprising connection with Espoo, a city just outside of Helsinki, Finland. Both host major Huhtamaki operations, a Finland-based company that first entered the U.S. market more than 20 years ago.

Consumers know several of the company’s products well, like Chinet®, a line of single-use tableware. But many people may not realize that Huhtamaki is one of the largest manufactures of all packaging for consumer goods and foodservices and how it’s impossible to purchase certain products without Huhtamaki’s lasting imprint — whether it’s the to-go morning coffee cup, the vessel for fries at the drive-thru, or the cartons holding ice cream in the freezer.

This article highlights why Huhtamaki decided to transform an automotive transmission facility into a new manufacturing and distribution center critical to the company’s future success.

Growing in the U.S. as an industry leader
Huhtamaki’s story is a powerful one, shaped by many strategic acquisitions and expansions. The company’s North American headquarters is located in De Soto, Kansas, and it operates 17 different production units across the United States, employing more than 3,400 U.S. workers.

This presence grew out of a series of acquisitions starting in the 1990s when Huhtamaki acquired Sealright, Keyes Fibre Company and Plastics Resource into its group. The company has continued to grow since 2000 by acquiring Paris Packaging, Ample Industries, and Winterfield LLC. These transactions brought the company to Ohio, where it operates facilities in New Vienna and Franklin, both of which have seen substantial sales and jobs growth in the years following the acquisition.

 

Batavia opportunity and renewal
Huhtamaki’s North American leadership team saw a clear opportunity to capture market share within the U.S. foodservice industry, knowing the company possessed the products and technology to take advantage. What they needed was an improved ability to produce at a higher rate and distribute to customers more efficiently.

The Batavia facility gave them a blank slate to create the optimal layout for production and the location placed the products well within reach of a large portion of the U.S. population — a huge advantage for distribution.

Enter the Clermont County Economic Development organization and their desire to rebuild a former automotive transmission plant in Batavia that closed in the 1980s. The site offered 900,000 square feet of space and, as mentioned before, was centrally located to major population centers and highway systems. The site proved to be a perfect fit for Huhtamaki who went to work completely refurbishing the facility. Now with 330 employees and a facility designed for efficiency in production and distribution, this has become a real success story for Clermont County.

“What Huhtamaki appreciates most is the relationship we have with local and county government officials and the economic development organizations,” Rich Mills, Senior Director of Operations said. “No matter what may arise, we can reach out to those officials and be heard. We can always find solutions to work through challenges that may come our way. It’s important to know that our commitment to Batavia and the region is recognized and valued.”

The rebuild and launch
Huhtamaki committed to this site and went to work, investing $60 million in capital improvements and renovations to the site. Huhtamaki stripped the facility down to its structural steel and rebuilt it with a focus on safety, efficiency, sustainability, and long-term tenancy. The rebuild required 15 miles of sprinkler line, a new 900,000 square-foot roof, 30,000 gallons of fresh paint, and the remanufacturing of seven miles of concrete. 

In addition, Huhtamaki worked with Duke Energy to deploy an energy saving plan through the utility’s Smart Saver Incentive Program. Huhtamaki replaced 2,400 high-pressure sodium lights with energy efficient alternatives—the keystone recommendation of the energy plan. Aside from saving more than three million kilowatt hours annually, the new lights transformed the feel of the space—from the industrial yellow glow of the sodium bulbs to a more natural, whiter light suitable to the high-tech manufacturing space.

Further, refurbishing a facility of this size allowed Huhtamaki to design a site that incorporated the best of its workplace models, technologies, and innovative processes in every facet of the operation. This approach would guarantee improvements in production and distribution efficiencies.

Huhtamaki opened the site’s doors at the end of 2013—ahead of the project schedule. Raw materials now roll in through the back door, are converted into product with limited, unnecessary movement, and then shipped out of the loading docks to customers across the country. These efficiencies generate cost savings while decreasing waste, in line with Huhtamaki’s vision for the industry.