By Mike Vieira | Nov 13, 2022
Custom-printed flexible packaging
Genova started working at Poly Print at the age of 10 and has filled just about every position in the contract manufacturing company over the years, only taking time out for school and to earn his college degree.
His parents founded the company and are still active in the business. Genova's father, who holds the title of President, previously worked in the packaging industry in California. In 1992, after a trip to Tucson to purchase the assets of a failing company, the senior Genova and his partners decided to acquire the entire business, change its name, and relaunch it.
The relative ease of opening a company in Arizona, rather than in California as originally intended, was the deciding factor in moving the family to the state. Genova says, "In 1992, [my father] needed two permits and a license to open in Arizona, whereas in California, you needed over 40."
While Poly Print's focus hasn't changed much since the beginning, the company's scope and product line has greatly expanded over the decades. "The overall vision was just to be the leader in flex-graphic printing, and to be the 'go to' company for flexible packaging solutions," Genova says. "Originally, we were mostly just packaging salty snacks and candy categories. But since then, we have made a major expansion with that footprint. We're still mostly within food packaging, but each segment of food is like its own industry in itself. They operate differently, the way they do business is different, and the materials are different. And we expanded into beverages, like bottle labels, coffee, and tea, and into produce, pre-packed salads, resealable pouches, and a lot of institutional foods."
According to Genova, expertise in food and beverage packaging is an important part of Poly Print's success. "In our industry, that's probably one of the most difficult technical pieces of knowledge because to the outside, and even to our customers, it all looks the same," he says. "It's all plastic packaging, but there are so many varieties and options out there that all serve very, very different purposes depending on the product going in there."
The purpose of packaging is not simply to hold the product, Genova explains, but also to prevent food-borne illness and extend the shelf life of the food or beverage inside. For example, the specific chemistry of the materials used differs for produce versus potato chips. "That's the part that we're very familiar with," he continues, "and we will help a customer with that. We have to get it to work on their equipment, and it's got to be able to go through the distribution lines without getting destroyed in the process, so it can be a little tricky. That's a very strong area of expertise that we have."
Poly Print measures their output in pounds, manufacturing between one million and one-and-a-half million pounds of packaging material every month for customers from coast to coast. That translates into tens of billions of packages for the market every year, and includes long runs of staple products, as well as shorter runs of packaging for new or test market products.
The new types of packaging that the company has added to their capabilities have required extensive investment in equipment technology over the years, but that investment is precisely what has allowed them to break into new areas and remain leaders in the industry.
More intricate printing, along with sustainable, recyclable, and compostable packaging solutions, is also an important part of the market today, and Poly Print has been on the cutting edge in offering these options to customers. The company is even involved in a pilot program with the City of Tucson to recycle their plastic waste into other products such as bricks, park benches, and other building materials.
Poly Print is considered a custom printer, and as such, their ideal employees have graphic design backgrounds as well as some mechanical aptitude for working with the giant-sized printing equipment. Genova says that finding those people has always been, and continues to be, one of the most difficult tasks in running the company. Since other printers that do this type of work are few and far between, finding experienced people locally is a very big challenge, so often training new employees is a necessity.
The company keeps a very large inventory of the various plastic films, inks, and adhesives needed to manufacture their products in their 77,000-square-foot facility. "We're such a vital part of the food supply chain because without packaging, they can't pack a product. So, we focus on 100 percent on-time delivery," the Genova says.
Poly Print buys as much of their raw materials from domestic sources as possible. However, they also purchase from Mexico and South America as well as India and Thailand. "We are big on American made, but they've got to make it here first," Genova says. Because of their forward thinking and purchasing power, massive disruptions in supplies were overcome in 2021 with minimal impact on their output. However, 2022 has been a time of large price increases for materials according to Genova.
Challenges: "We have the same concerns everyone else does when it comes to the economy," Genova says. "I don't know if anything is recession proof, but people have to eat. So, it's a very stable industry in that way."
Opportunities: "As long as we're on top of the recycling efforts and the sustainable efforts, which we are, we're in a good spot," Genova says. "We'll continue to invest, continue expanding here, and we may expand our footprint into other states."
Needs: To attract new people to the industry to ensure a viable workforce into the future, and to beat back the threat of competition from overseas, particularly from China, as labor and material costs increase here.