Tea Time

The Plascon Group recently obtained a patent and started light production on a disposable urn liner that has the potential to brew new jobs in Traverse City.

The Plascon Saftea™Liner is specially designed to match the shape of decanters used for ready-to-drink ice teas and coffees. Several major chains are already testing it, including McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Dairy Queen, KFC and Chili’s.

“It’s mostly designed for chain restaurants, whose goal is to improve food safety,” said CEO David Peterson of Plascon Group, a Traverse City-based company made up of manufacturers of specialty plastic packaging for the food service, institutional, pharmaceutical and bulk packaging industries.

If all goes as planned, the liner will create a myriad of new jobs.

There are other liners on the market. So, how is Plascon’s different? Its packaging bags are made from tubing produced in HACCP-controlled conditions, meaning the interior of the bag is never exposed to contamination during production. By comparison, bags made from sheeting are produced from flat stock that’s folded over and sealed, or from two sheets sealed together, creating a higher risk of contamination, according to Peterson.

Also, the liner bags can be made in different sizes (from half-gallon to 330-gallon) and shapes.

“Our liners can be custom-shaped to meet the different shapes of tea urns currently out in the marketplace,” he said. “Our competition has a one-size-fits-all product, which does not fit all. The fact that our bags are made from a tube, and not sheeting that exposes them to contamination, is a huge plus.”

An Ohio company that calls on chain restaurants approached Peterson about creating a new decanter liner.

Since Plascon already supplies packaging and equipment for the food service and food processing industries – including its Cook Chill bags designed to protect foods from oxygen and moisture while preserving taste, texture and aroma – it was not a stretch for Peterson and his engineer to come up with a new one.

Its advantage: it takes less than one minute to change over, compared to an estimated 10 minutes to disassemble, clean and reassemble an urn and spigot. The tea tastes better, too, since it’s free of flavors from cleaning chemicals, said Peterson, a self-professed “huge tea drinker.”

“I drink tea all day long,” he said, noting that tea will mold in regular restaurant decanters if not cleaned regularly or emptied often.

The liners are assembled and packaged by Grand Traverse Industries (GTI), a Traverse City-based company that employs approximately 220 people with significant disabilities and 70-75 staff in five locations across seven counties.

The liners created 12 additional jobs for current employees when light production began last month, according to GTI’s CEO Steve Perdue.

“Twelve is a great start for us, but we talked about huge potential down the road,” he said. “It’s perfect work for our folks. To have a business partner like Plascon is a dream.”

GTI has partnered with Plascon for 10 years to manufacture plastic bags. GTI purchases the machinery and film from Plascon and produces the bags.

“What we do is buy millions of feet of film to convert to liners to sell to our customers,” Perdue explained.

They produce trashcan liners for the State of Michigan (they hold the contract), as well as local organizations such as Munson Medical Center, Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Traverse Resort.

“They’re a great group and Steve is an outstanding individual,” said Peterson, who employs GTI workers on a regular basis at Plascon’s Traversefield Drive facility.

While Plascon cherishes its valuable partnership with GTI and recently started a project with Graceland Fruit, it mainly does business all over the world and as far away as Africa.

In January 2013, it opened a new office and warehouse in Cambridge, England managed by two full-time, locally-hired employees. Sales at Plascon Packaging UK are on track to double in 2014, Peterson said. Last year, the facility achieved British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Food Safety Certification as a warehousing facility. (BRC is a leading global quality and food safety certification program.) Plascon Group’s flexible packaging manufacturing plant in Traverse City recently achieved the same certification.

In 2012, the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce named the Plascon Group the Hagerty Small Business of the Year. A year prior, it was a Michigan 50 Companies to Watch award winner and dubbed one of the Best of Michigan Business winners by Corp! Magazine.