RPC Group buys Amber Plastics in Australia

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Photo by Amber Plastics Amber Plastics makes injection moulded packaging using IML.

An Australian plastics industry entrepreneur has just sold his third start-up company. UK-based packaging giant RPC Group has bought Amber Plastics Pty. Ltd. for an undisclosed sum.

Amber, based in the Melbourne suburb of Carrum Downs, 22 miles south of Melbourne’s CBD, in the state of Victoria, was owned by Malcolm Prior, who will remain CEO for at least two years. Amber manufactures injection moulded packaging containers for Australia’s food industry, particularly for dairy products.

Indian-born Prior and his wife, Bonnie, arrived in Australia in 1969. Prior told Plastics News by phone from Honolulu, where he and Bonnie were holidaying after the sale, he had some plastics industry experience before migrating to Australia.

His first start up was Priority Plastics Pty. Ltd., established in Melbourne in 1976. “We were the first to do in-mould labelling in blow moulding in Australia,” he said.

Priority manufactured oil containers for the auto industry. Prior sold Priority to Melbourne-based packaging giant Amcor Ltd. It was later on-sold before becoming part of the Pact Group, another Melbourne-based packaging giant. It has been merged into Pact, so no longer trades independently.

In 1996, Prior launched Melbourne-based Baroda Manufacturing Pty. Ltd., which manufactures pails, lids and cartridges for the food service, building, oil, and grease industries. A decade later he sold it to Pact Group, because he was “getting a bit stale” with running the same business.

Prior said Baroda, named after his birthplace in India, was the first Australian company to do in-mould labelling for injection-moulded products.

When a non-compete agreement with Priority expired, Baroda also expanded into blow moulding. Prior said Baroda was “very successful because we could compete with offset and screen printing” for labels.

After Baroda’s 2006 sale, Prior remained with the company for several years. It still operates as Baroda.

In May 2012, he established his third start up with Amber. Asked the name’s significance, he said: “It was just a name I liked. I tell everyone it’s the name of my first girlfriend, but that’s not so.”

Prior said he hadn’t planned another start up after Baroda’s sale but “I didn’t want to retire, I wanted a bit of a challenge, so I went again.”

Prior bought land at Carrum Downs and built the factory, which he now leases to RPC with an option to purchase.

After his vacation, one of several overseas trips he and Bonnie have taken every year for the past 30 years, Prior will return to work. “I’ve got rid of the risk, but can keep working,” he said. “I have no plans to retire. There’s no need; I enjoy what I do.”

Prior would not name Amber’s sale price but said he was “extremely happy.”

He has committed to a minimum of two years with RPC and will then decide his future. While Prior “would rather not say” how old he is, he has about 50 years’ plastics industry experience.

RPC is a major player in the European plastics packaging sector and has been on a global acquisition trail in the past four years.

Peter McDonald, senior advisor with the Melbourne office of the global franchised business broker network, Transworld Business Advisors (Mergers & Acquisitions), who managed the Amber sale, said Prior approached Transworld last August.

“We targeted a number of buyers. We had bids from more than one, but narrowed it down to RPC, and began exclusively dealing with them in October,” he told Plastics News.

Prior said there were three interested parties from Australia and two from overseas. The “very strong reason” he selected RPC is its commitment to retain all Amber’s 40 staff. About 20 of them have previously worked with Prior at Baroda.

He expects RPC will expand the business, but thinks it likely the Amber name will remain. RPC “might be well known in the UK, but not in Australia,” Prior said. “But they own the Amber name.”

McDonald said Amber will be part of RPC’s Superfos division, which began after it bought Danish plastic packaging company Superfos in 2011.

McDonald said RPC’s Vision 2020 growth strategy helped Transworld identify it as a potential purchaser. Launched in 2013, the strategy’s four targets include growing outside its European base.

McDonald said RPC is very active in acquisitions and purchased its first Australian company last December, Synergy Packaging Pty. Ltd., which manufactures PET and HDPE bottles, jars and containers, and closure options for the personal care, haircare, cosmetics, beauty, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage industries. Synergy is based in Tullamarine, in Melbourne, Victoria.

Established in 1991, RPC is now a global polymer processor in packaging and non-packaging markets, with an annual turnover of more than £3bn (€3.5bn).

In February, RPC purchased Letica Corp., based in Rochester, Michigan, US, in a deal valued at up to $640m (€598m), adding 13 plants for manufacturing rigid plastic packaging and foodservice products and 1,750 employees to its five existing RPC facilities in the United States.

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