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Packaging a Sustainable Future: A Q&A with Brian McPheely, Chief Executive Officer, Pratt Industries

Packaging a Sustainable Future: A Q&A with Brian McPheely, Chief Executive Officer, Pratt Industries

Some companies queue at the door of ingenuity. Others charge through, pushing the innovation gate open to lead the way for a more sustainable future both nationally and globally. There are many players throughout the supply chain in the world of agriculture. Each brings their own strengths from growing and handling to transporting and packaging, and all before the produce even reaches the shelves at retail. The success of this process doesn’t rest solely on one star player. However, having a leading and dynamic company such as Pratt Industries on your team can alter the game.

A critical component of the supply chain lies in the packaging and the vision behind it, strengths Pratt excels at utilizing for its sustainable corrugated products. And within this power lies the potential to make a global impact.

The U.S. agricultural industry continues to be a leading player in the world’s growing arena. Pratt Industries stands at the ready with the desire to push the boundaries of sustainability with innovation and sharp minds to lead the team. I recently got the chance to pose some questions about this part of the supply chain with Brian McPheely, Chief Executive Officer, to find out how Pratt Industries is shaking up the world of fresh produce.


Lilian Diep: In this industry, there are many trends and changes a company needs to navigate, especially in packaging. What helps Pratt Industries be so well-equipped to handle and process these needs along the supply chain?

Brian McPheely: We understand agriculture—the long hours, the fast-paced, non-stop nature of packing houses—and the entire supply chain, including the demands of modern-day retailers and the impact that their policies have on growers and shippers. We also understand food safety and ways to maximize protection against potential food safety risks with regard to packaging.

For more than 20 years, our company has been focused on the manufacturing of sustainable corrugated packaging. Over the last decade, environmental sustainability has become critical for fresh produce companies when making packaging decisions. As the fifth-largest corrugated packaging company in the U.S., we possess one of the most modern containerboard manufacturing and distribution systems in North America. What has propelled this growth has been the vision of our Owner and Executive Chairman, Anthony Pratt, who has pledged over $2 billion to grow this company while adding thousands of American jobs. Each of our plants is strategically located to service growers, packers, and shippers of fresh produce of all varieties in the United States and Mexico.

Four areas of focus that have helped propel our growth in the fresh produce industry over the last decade are our commitment to supporting customers’ automation needs through packaging machines, our industry-leading print capabilities, our growing national footprint and equipment, and our just-in-time inventory management model.


LD: These four focuses are the pillars Pratt Industries stands on. How has focusing and developing these areas helped the company grow into what it is now?

BM: Service and support of our customers have been the biggest reasons we’ve continued to grow and be successful year after year. Our core expertise within the agricultural segment is listening to and caring for our customers. We’re good at that, and our customers appreciate it.

At Pratt Industries, we are also helping to lead the way in assisting the agricultural industry in its growth. We see an opportunity for the U.S. agricultural industry to be a major supplier to the world’s growing populations. Anthony Pratt has an excellent quote to help the agricultural industry grow its exports, “Export Food, Not Jobs,” which sums up his stance best as he continues to challenge the U.S. food industry to double food production sales, which would create millions of American jobs. Food security and food safety are issues in many parts of the globe. With the U.S. leading the world in the manufacturing, growing, and safety of food products, we see a major opportunity in exporting food, not jobs. We proudly support the Global Food Forum, which brings together industry and government leaders to share information and remove barriers that get in the way of doubling U.S. exports.

“We see an opportunity for the U.S. agricultural industry to be a major supplier to the world’s growing populations.”

Brian McPheely, Chief Executive Officer, Pratt Industries

Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that our customers’ fresh produce arrives at its destination in the best condition possible and in a container that they are proud to put their logo on. From custom-designed multi-color print options to two-color standard options, we have a solution to fit every variety-specific need.


LD: Why is agricultural packaging an important line of business and what do you hope to provide to your customers in this space?

BM: Our intention is to provide grower-shippers with the most advanced corrugated packaging solution available in the fresh produce industry. We are experts in corrugated packaging for fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Our team has the experience, technical know-how, and industry relationships necessary to ensure that our customers’ products are packaged in the safest and highest quality single-use corrugated container available on the market.

Not only are we providing our customers with a sustainable corrugated package, but we’re also supporting many of them with automated box set-up equipment and the mechanical support they need to make their packing operations as efficient as possible.

Our team of experienced mechanics keeps the machinery running smoothly in packing houses throughout the country. They are incredibly important to our agricultural packaging group because they’re in our customers’ packing sheds every day providing preventative maintenance to the equipment and remedying potential issues.


LD: Nowadays, there is a lot of discussion and movement around how to bring sustainability to the forefront. What are some ways Pratt Industries has adapted to serve the agricultural market in this regard?

BM: As consumers’ preferences change, so does the packaging. We pride ourselves on bringing innovative solutions and ideas to our customers through box redesigns and style adjustments to support them as they look to provide new items for their retailers. Pratt Industries invests heavily in the design process and lab testing to make sure that our customers are getting a box that performs exactly as it should for its particular application. In one instance, we successfully moved a large grower-shipper customer who was packing product in a standard tapered tray into an open-top display tray, which significantly improved print quality on the box, increased the box’s stacking strength, reduced the amount of paper used, and saved the customer a significant amount of money in the process. That’s innovation and a concrete example of Pratt rising to the challenges that our customers face.


LD: For over 20 years, Pratt Industries has grown significantly in terms of its process, distribution, and portfolio. What are your plans for the company in 2020 and beyond?

BM: This year, we’re looking to grow with our customers throughout the United States. In California, we recently built a new state-of-the-art facility in Lathrop. The partnership between the Lathrop plant and our existing Salinas plant, formerly Robert Mann Packaging, is one that we believe is primed to benefit customers throughout the state. When you combine the expertise of our Salinas team’s years of experience in the California produce industry with our new corrugating plant in Lathrop, the options and possibilities available to our customers are endless.

“Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that our customers’ fresh produce arrives at its destination in the best condition possible and in a container that they are proud to put their logo on.”

Additionally, we have invested heavily in our Georgia plant where we have doubled the size and production capacity of the facility. The same has been done at our North Carolina and Pennsylvania plants. These expansions will support the growth of our business in the Southeast and Northeast and should benefit our fresh produce customers in those regions. We also continue to grow and thrive in the Texas and Mexico markets.


It’s amazing how one component can prove to be so critical to an entire supply chain. From fields to shelves, the grower, shipper, retailer, and consumer all rely on packaging to protect the precious commodities inside. For it’s not enough to be the standard anymore—consumers and partners alike expect innovation in a sustainable fashion. Who better to put on the starting lineup than Pratt Industries? 

Packaging a Sustainable Future: A Q&A with Brian McPheely, Chief Executive Officer, Pratt Industries