Inside the newly renovated Berry Plastics headquarters is a Mini Cooper. The red convertible was lifted into the 90,000-square-foot building during the construction phase that finished in February 2011. The car has never been started. It doesn’t have gas in the tank. It doesn’t run. Its purpose for sitting two stories above the pavement inside the largest private company in Indiana: to serve as a prop in a faux garage. “Prop” seems appropriate. Curt Begle, the 6-foot-9-inch president of Berry’s rigid closed top division, jokes that his outstretched frame is longer than the tiny car. As he stands next to it, along with not-much-shorter colleague Adam Unfried, president of the rigid open top division, the car nearly seems like a toy. Yet, the Mini Cooper is real. It shines in one of Berry Plastic’s display rooms and represents a big concept.
Nearly one year ago, Berry Plastics unveiled the garage along with other exhibition rooms including a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and outdoor patio — all stocked with the proper household products just as a home would be. These rooms, designed by Hafer Associates, demonstrate to Berry’s clients what their products would look like in cabinets, on shelves, in the shower, or in their cars. The Mini Cooper’s interior showcases two thermoform drink cups — the kind served at fast food joints — a pack of gum, and an unopened box of snack crackers. Each is packaged in plastic.
The concept is from former CEO Ira Boots. Featured in the February/March 2008 issue of Evansville Business, the now retired Boots helped Berry grow from $4 million in annual net sales to more than $4 billion. He acquired 30 companies along the way. “Under Ira’s leadership,” says Jon Rich, Berry’s current CEO, “Berry grew from a small, Evansville-based, plastic molding company to a national leader in the packaging industry.” Although Rich’s plans for Berry focus on continuing that growth, to mimic Boots’ prosperity is a tall order. “No matter what I do, I’m not going to duplicate Ira’s success,” Rich said at the September meeting for the Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville, a business incubator. He’d have to make Berry a $4 trillion company.
Still, early in his position of heading Berry Plastics, Rich has made the company bigger again. In the early fall of 2011, company officials announced the acquisition of LINPAC Packaging Filmco for $19 million. The Ohio company, which was a subsidiary of a United Kingdom plastics giant, championed packer processing film (think of the plastic wrap surrounding meat sold in groceries). But the best proof of Berry’s growth resides on the corner of West Franklin and Oakley streets where the 90,000-square-foot expansion is a part of the world headquarters. Employees barely had time to sit down in their new offices by the time Rich announced in June 2011 that Berry Plastics would soon look for 120 new hires over the next three years. The customer service, finance, and general administration positions would add to Berry’s 16,000 employees worldwide. The corporation, says Rich, is “a classic American success story.”
From laundry detergent containers near the washer to lip balm tubes on nightstands, the number of Berry Plastics products has grown exponentially since 1967. Originally Imperial Plastics, the company received a name change when Florida-based citrus grower Jack Berry Sr. bought it in 1983. It since has developed into a leading manufacturer of injection-molded plastic packaging, thermoformed products, flexible films, and tapes and coatings and has earned an extremely diverse clientele. Berry Plastics’ largest client constitutes only 3 percent of the business.
Additional clients have created the need for more employees. That job announcement in June includes careers beginning with salaries between $30,000-$40,000 plus benefits. This declaration followed the 2009 expansion of the thermoforming operations, which brought 360 production-related jobs to Evansville.