By Eric Peterson | Sep 20, 2015
Food and Beverage Packaging
The DeLine family has been manufacturing boxes in Denver for more than a century.
I.A. DeLine kicked things off making ornate chocolate boxes in 1912 and his son, E.F. DeLine, launched a corrugated cardboard factory in the 1930s. "My grandfather learned the trade from my great-grandfather," says Dave, who joined the company full-time in 1989.
E.F. sold the corrugated operation to Mead in the 1960s and his son, Jim DeLine, started DeLine Box with his wife, Kay, a few years later, against his dad's advice. "He was just questioning if it was the right move at the right time," says Dave.
It turned out to be the right move. Today DeLine Box is the "last private full-line box company in the region," says Dave. "It's a little scary but it also gives us an opportunity."
DeLine Box bought its cardboard at first and made boxes for a largely industrial client base, including the Kodak facility in Windsor and Columbia House's fulfillment facility in Colorado City.
Jim Davis joined the company in the early 1980s and now runs a sister plant in Colorado Springs, Packaging Express. "Between the two of them, they were able to divide and conquer," says Dave.
DeLine Box has doubled in size since the early 1990s, he adds. "We installed our own corrugator in '96. That was a big change for our business, and helped springboard us into a little bit larger organization."
Another big growth catalyst: installing a five-color Göpfert printing press in the early 2000s. "That was the second press of its like in the world," explains Dave, noting that it remains in service today. "Before that time, direct printing onto corrugated was difficult and the repeatability of it was questionable. . . . Now we can do it much quicker and in smaller quantities."
The investment has allowed DeLine Box to move from industrial customers into consumer-facing food and beverage brands. Orders for craft beer boxes have grown with clients like Ska, Tommyknocker, and Bristol, while food -- "popcorn to bars to produce to meat," says Dave -- has emerged as the largest market.
As the company's shifted industries, DeLine Box has also broadened its geographic market. "We've expanded out of state quite a bit," says Dave. "Now we ship coast to coast."
Sustainability is a company focus. "We can run papers in any substrate that are 100 percent recycled materials," he adds.
Recycled paper requires only a tenth of the water of virgin paper, he notes. "Just using our resources better and for longer periods of time, I think that's going to be our saving grace as an industry. People will see industry as clean and sustainable, and say, 'I want it in the U.S.’"
The downside: "Those papers aren't as forgiving as virgin paper, so we had a bit of a learning curve."
A dual feeder allows DeLine to make shelf-ready boxes with less waste. "We can feed three pieces and glue them into one box," says Dave. "It's almost like origami. . . . We're probably one of a half-dozen or a dozen companies in the country who can do it."
The payoff? "You don't have to use the high-priced, pre-coated white materials for the whole package. That's not as sustainable -- let's face facts."
Dave says growth "has been good in recent years," crediting Sales Manager Peter Davis (Jim Davis' son) and GM Jeff Putt. "The market itself is not growing. It's shrinking in the U.S. due to offshoring."
"Pre-2000, there was a lot more industry in the state," he says of the pivot, calling it a matter of "survival." "Twenty, thirty years ago, 25 percent of U.S. GDP was manufacturing. Now it's below 15."
Challenges: "The economy is always a challenge," says Dave. "Finding new and young talent is something of a challenge. Continuing to invest in the business and making the right investments going forward is always challenging."
"The pace of business has gotten much faster,’" he adds. "Look at Columbia House. With the onset of the Internet, within a year or two, the business model had completely fallen apart. You don't want to be a buggy whip maker when the combustion engine comes along."
Opportunities: "Anything to do with the Millennial sector," says Dave. "That goes across a bunch of different sectors. It's just about getting the right packaging in front of those people."
Needs: "We're updating our corrugator machine this fall," says Dave, citing expected improvements in production speed, material strength, and range of products. "It's a big investment. . . . I think you have to replace technology with better technology as time goes along."