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The Sugar Packet: A Sweet Paper Story

Categories: Industry Insights
Sugar Packet

What do we do at Domtar? We make products people around the world rely on every day. You might think of critical documents or medical paper items. But don’t forget some of the smaller products that are just as important, even if they are less noticeable in your daily routine. Like the sugar packet.

Don’t just take our word for it. Check with the nearest coffee drinker.

Packets for sweeteners — think sugar, Splenda, Equal and others — are an example of one of the thousands of items for which Domtar produces a key component: the paper packaging.

It’s a simple — but many coffee drinkers say essential — part of every day.

Small, but Special

“Specialty papers is a small part of our company and our industry, but it is one of the most interesting,” said Peter Gilbert, director of marketing for specialty papers. “We customize products for the customer. Some of our customers need paper that can handle heat without catching fire. Others need paper that is grease-resistant or that keeps out moisture.

“Often a customer looks at me and says, ‘Here’s the converting equipment and the food-packaging application I’ve got.’ And we help them figure out what they need. Part of the value Domtar brings is our expertise in considering how the product is being used and making the paper that meets those needs.”

As an example, let’s take a look at how that sugar packet gets made.

Many of those colored pouches get their start at Domtar’s mill in Espanola, Ontario.

“Our fiber basket covers a wide area,” said Paul Kallioinen, manager of fiber procurement for the mill. “We talk to suppliers about what kinds of products we make here, and people are proud of what we do.”

The team at Espanola takes that wood and, using two pulp lines and two paper machines, produces more than 200 grades of technical and specialty papers, including sugar packets.

At 24 pounds, the paper for sugar packets is extremely light, about half the weight of typical copy paper. It is colored to match the types of sweeteners you find on the table at the diner: white, blue, pink, brown, green or yellow.

Because this paper will be in contact with food, the mill follows specific FDA guidelines. (Domtar’s Port Huron, Ashdown and Nekoosa mills also meet FDA compliance requirements for direct food contact. The Hawesville Mill may soon be added to the list.)

Other important qualities for this paper are strength, formation and hold-out. These are all important for the processes that follow: extrusion coating, printing, slitting and rewinding, and packaging.

When the paper is finished at Espanola, large rolls of it are shipped to Prolamina facilities in Wisconsin and Massachusetts, where the process of making billions of paper sugar packets continues. Prolamina and Coating Excellence, two Domtar customers that make similar pouches, were recently purchased by AMPAC to form ProAmpac.

The sheer volume of the sweetener business is astounding. Billions of packets are consumed every month. Trends sometimes shift depending on health advice or consumer taste. A reliable and large supply of paper is critical.

“Domtar has been a primary supplier to us in this market for decades,” said Jack O’Connor, a market manager with Prolamina. “It’s been a great relationship. Domtar has always produced high-quality paper and backed it up with great service.”

At Prolamina’s facilities, the paper is poly-coated on one side and usually printed on the other. After printing, it’s rewound and slit, then packed onto pallets.

From there, the printed, poly-coated rolls go to packaging facilities all over the country, where the individual sugar packets are formed, filled and heat-sealed on high-speed packaging lines that can process up to 4,000 packets per minute. Then they head out to restaurants, cafes, gas stations and other places drivers and diners fill their cups.

So next time you tear the top of one of those little pink or yellow or blue sweetener packets, enjoy the sweet sound of a job well done.