While Evergreen Packaging has been a fixture on West Main Street for over 50 years, many are unaware of how massive the Turlock operation is — producing thousands of milk and juice cartons on a weekly basis.
Evergreen Packaging opened its Turlock location in 1957, which operates as one of nine Evergreen plants and mills throughout the country. Located on the corner of West Main Street and South Tully Road, the Turlock beverage packaging plant cuts about 30,000 tons of cardboard per year to make fiber-based liquid packaging used throughout 14 western states, western Canada, Hawaii and parts of Latin America.
Ed Burton has been with Evergreen for 30 years, he said, and has served as the Turlock plant’s manager for the last 15. While the plant has seen plenty of change since opening in the late ‘50s, much has remained the same, Burton said.
“Everything behind us on this street used to be farmland. We’re one of the only industrial facilities still on the east side of (Highway) 99; everything else has moved onto the west side,” he said. “We’re still doing the same thing…but the bigger change has been with our customer base.”
Turlock serves as the perfect location for a company that makes milk containers and this rang especially true during the plant’s early years when it was surrounded by small, mom-and-pop dairies. The last 15 years have seen smaller dairies purchased by large companies, with different industries consolidating into even bigger monopolies. An example of this was the merging of Foster Farms Dairy with the Crystal Creamery brand in 2007.
Despite some switch-ups over the years, there’s never been a better time to be in the beverage container industry, Evergreen Marketing Director Erin Reynolds said, with an upward trend in healthy beverages resulting in an accompanying desire for sustainable packaging.
“The beverage market is really evolving, and one thing we’ve seen in consumer data is a real alignment and consumer desire for healthy beverages, and a more deliberate focus on the package itself,” Reynolds said. “Consumers who want healthy beverages really like the idea of those beverages being in cartons…we really feel like the trends are in our favor.”
Eco-friendly options are also an important “trend” to follow, as climate and environment concerns dominate topics of discussion across the country. From recently switching to LED lighting throughout the plant to ensuring their materials come from responsible forestry practices, sustainability plays an important role in Evergreen’s day-to-day functions.
According to the 2019 EcoFocus Trend Study, 67 percent of grocery shoppers say supporting sustainable forestry is an important priority, and 65 percent say that choosing paper packaging helps them feel as if they are supporting those practices. Earlier this month, Evergreen partnered with the Appalachian Woodlands Alliance as a founding participant in the Smallholder Access Program — a two-year pilot project designed to increase access to forest certification and provide critical resources for the forest products industry.
“A lot of our commitment to sustainability is around forestry and making sure where we get our wood from, that it’s obtained in a very responsible manner,” Reynolds said.
All of Evergreen’s products are recyclable, and the company even serves as a founding member of the Carton Council which ensures communities have access to carton recycling.
“Anything we can do to help the environment, we do,” Burton said.
Evergreen also does what it can to be involved in the community, Burton added. The company has been a member of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce since its inception, he said, and even offers tours to third grade classes at Wakefield Elementary School as part of a decade-long tradition.
“The kids really love it, and always tell us it’s the best field trip they go on when they come here,” Burton said.
Burton oversees over 100 employees at the Turlock plant; by the end of September, there will be 125 hourly workers and 17 salaried employees. All of the plant’s employees live within a 25-mile radius of Turlock, he said, with a majority living in town.
A three-percent turnover rate has allowed Burton to develop a consistent team that he can depend on, earning his plant the title of “shining star” among the national company’s multiple locations. When it comes down to it, the plant’s success has a lot to do with its location, Burton said.
“From my tenure in being here, the thing I’ve seen has been the great work ethic we have found in the people here in Turlock,” Burton said. “To come here and see such a great work ethic in the people has been amazing.”