New Canadian folding-carton industry stalwart looking to make instant impact as turnkey packaging-solutions provider
Reaching for the stars is not just wishful thinking when the stars are as perfectly aligned as they are for MAX Solutions in the company’s bold quest to be a leading player in Canada’s highly competitive folding carton industry.
With its recent acquisition of the family-owned Ellis Group of companies last fall, the U.S.-headquartered specialty packaging producer has many good reasons to feel confident about its big strategic move north of the Canada-U.S. border, having inherited a vast wealth of leading-edge production equipment and machinery, a highly trained and dedicated workforce, and an impressive client base of blue-chip CPG (consumer packaged goods) customers built up under the Ellis family’s 40-year-long ownership.
With three Ontario-based state-of-the-art operating plants in Pickering, Mississauga and Guelph, the newly acquired assets provide a robust launching pad for the privately-owned MAX Solutions—founded in 2021 by longtime paper industry veterans Mark Shore (chief executive officer) and Dennis Kaltman (president and chief operating officer)—to accelerate its rise to the elite ranks of North America’s specialty packaging industry segment.
With over 75 years of industry experience and leadership between them, the two life-long entrepreneurs are certainly no strangers to recognizing a good opportunity when one comes along, as vividly illustrated by their amicable Ellis Group acquisition.
“The company founder Bill Ellis had a lot of success building up his company over the years along with his children, Cathy and Dave, over the last 40 years, so when we heard that the business was up for sale, we were very interested,” Kaltman told Canadian Packaging magazine in a recent interview.
“When we first decided to start up MAX Solutions, the Canadian market was something we thought about a lot,” Kaltman says, adding the new assets perfectly fit into MAX Solutions’ strategic plan to become a leading supplier of value-added folding cartons, labels and specialty rigid packaging.
According to Kaltman, the landmark deal provides plenty of synergies and opportunities for MAX Solutions to become the one-stop packaging solutions provider it wanted to be right from the outset.
With that in mind, Kaltman says the new owners will be actively pursuing the idea of adding new label manufacturing capabilities to its Canadian locations, which is something MAX Solutions already has in place at its two original greenfield manufacturing facilities near Philadelphia, Pa., and Charlotte, N.C.
“There is a reason why we have the word ‘Solutions’ in our company name,” Kaltman points out. “We’re not here just to provide a product: we want to be able to provide customers, particularly those in the healthcare industry, with a complete packaging solution,” he states.
“Customers like dealing with less suppliers, not more,” Kaltman reasons, “so if you are only good at doing one thing, you are not as valuable as someone who can make all the things they need across the board.
“The quality requirements for cartons and labels are the same,” he asserts, “so if you put in the quality system for both, it adds value to the customers, as well as for the salespeople selling our products and services to them.
“It creates more opportunities for us going forward,” says Kaltman, citing the company’s commitment to making positive “multidimensional” impact on four key stakeholder groups:
- Customers, by investing in next-generation technology to support their growth by always putting forth the best solution regardless of format, material or process.
- Teammates (employees), by creating a great environment to work in and empowering them to learn, take on new opportunities and reach new heights.
- Communities where the company operates, by supporting the local “home” economies through employment opportunities and training programs.
- Environment, by creating the most efficient production flows; innovating ways to simplify the supply chain; designing solutions that are recyclable and minimize waste; and investing in technology and materials that reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
As Kaltman relates, MAX Solutions prides itself on executing complete and highly customized packaging concepts with its talented and creative in-house design team, top-notch project managers, and long-standing vendor relationships to live up to its corporate mission.
According to Max Solutions, the company’s primary core competencies include:
- Speed to Market. From designing production floors for optimizing manufacturing flow and efficiencies to investing in hybrid presses that run multiple imaging concurrently, the entire process is designed reduce downtime and provide quick turnaround. According to the company, this includes utilizing highly integrated software for a seamless integration of upfront pre-press workflows.
- Contingency Planning. The company’s strategically selected plant locations are outfitted with with duplicate technologies to reduce the risk inherent in production planning. According to MAX Solutions, its Cloud-based software systems make it easy to adjust production plans quickly, while mitigating any security issues.
- Zero Defect Quality. The company’s massive investment in new-generation technologies enables it to deliver Six Sigma product quality levels on everyday basis. All of its printing presses feature built-in color control and inline inspection and power registration, while its high-performance folder-gluers feature the most advanced reject detection and ejection capabilities in the market.
- Sustainability. The company’s carbon-neutral presses are designed to the highest levels of energy efficiency to minimize emissions, scrap and process waste, coupled with the “leanest” manufacturing standards to shorten the supply chain and reduce fuel consumption, including the use of electric-powered forklifts for internal operations.
As one would expect, the company is no slouch when it comes to product innovation, with the patented Paper-Foam material—supplied via a joint-venture with Dutch producer PaperFoam BV—providing an effective biodegradable and compostable alternative to plastic packaging inserts, thereby ensuring full product protection and integrity for with minimal environmental impact.
Combined with expert in-house die-cutting and tooling capabilities, the company’s repertoire covers the entire gamut of high-impact finishing processes, including specialty embossing, inline Braille embossing, specialty coatings, inline cold-foil application, hot-foil stamping, cello windowing, holographic primography, and security tag labeling, among others.
According to Kaltman, such versatility and diversification made the Ellis Group an especially attractive proposition for connecting with top brand names in the high-end market segments for beauty and personal-care, food and beverage, confectionery, healthcare and pharmaceutical, consumer electronics and, more recently, medical and recreational cannabis markets.
As Kaltman relates, “We were very impressed by the wonderful job they (Ellis) did in maintaining the service levels to their customers during and coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And that’s a testament to the people working there,” he states, “as well as to being such a service-oriented company.”
Despite the often-cited industry M&A trend whereby companies often buy out their competitors primarily to reduce competition, Kaltman insists that MAX Solutions is totally committed to growing its new Canadian assets in a way that generates new employment opportunities at all three former Ellis locations—both on the production floor and within management ranks.
Says Kaltman: “Ellis has built up a lot of brand equity in the marketplace, and it is our intention to build on that brand equity by not only continuing to do what they have already done so well, but by being able to offer even more value to the market.”
Similarly, Kaltman says that MAX Solutions is fully committed to retaining strong bonds with the existing supplier base that includes household industry names such as Metsä Board, Heidelberg, Sun Chemical and BOBST, among others.
According to Kaltman, the Canadian market for folding cartons has a lot of good things going for it at the moment—especially with the ever-growing emphasis on sustainability and related plastics substitution—to provide MAX Solutions with a unique opportunity for significant growth in market share and reach.
“It’s a great market to be in,” he states, “and we look forward to expanding our presence in it.
“While the shortage of labor is the one thing many people are talking about nowadays, in my experience Canada is in better position in this respect than the U.S.,” Kaltman says.
“I really believe that there are a lot of young people here who want to work in the print and packaging fields,” says Kaltman, noting that the realities of the smaller Canadian marketplace make it an ideal home turf for the sort of mid- and small-run production that MAX Solutions prefers to focus on.
“We are not aiming to be a company that runs a press for three weeks straight to produce one cereal box design,” he states.
“Our value proposition is rooted in our ability to address design complexity, short-run efficiency, high-SKU (stock-keeping unit) count, and generally to solve whatever problems our customer may have,” he sums up.
“We think of ourselves as a value-added solutions provider,” Kaltman concludes, “and that is what we strive to be each and every day.”
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