Solo Cup is not just the maker of the iconic red solo cup, it's a major player in the disposable consumer products industry. The company makes single-use cups, plates, cutlery, take-out containers, and other similar products, under the Solo, Sweetheart, Creative Carryouts, and Bare brand names. Solo's plastic, paper, and foam items are sold through retailers and foodservice distributors around the world. In addition, Solo makes specialty party supplies, upscale disposable products, and plastic and paper packaging for manufacturers of snack foods and dairy products. In mid-2012, Solo was acquired by rival Dart Container in a deal valued at $1 billion.
As part of the transaction, Dart paid $315 million in cash and assumed about $700 million of Solo's debt. The family owned and operated Dart continues to offer products under the Solo brand, including its popular red cups. The deal created an absolute juggernaut in its industry: before the deal, Dart already controlled about half of the global market in foam cups. Before being acquired by Dart, Solo was majority-owned by the family of its founder, Leo Hulseman. It was also a portfolio company of Vestar Capital Partners.
Solo has facilities in the Americas and Europe; it nets most of its sales in the US. The company's position in the single-use product market benefits from relationships with major food service distributors Sysco and Bunzl and national food chains such as Starbucks and McDonald's which account for about 80% of the company's sales. To a lesser extent, Solo caters to consumer retail outlets, including Target Stores, Wal-Mart, and Costco. Packaging supplies are sold to food companies, too, like Blue Bell Creameries and Nissin Food Products.
Manufacturing alliances and acquisitions, moreover, have helped to expand Solo Cup's broad array of offerings and ability to compete for a larger slice of the retail disposable market. In March 2010, Solo acquired Georgia-based InnoWare Plastic, a maker of take-out containers, from Minnesota-based Norwest Equity Partners. Solo made the acquisition via a $24 million stock-purchase agreement. The new line, sold under Solo's Creative Carryouts brand, strengthened its product portfolio offerings.
Solo's concentration in the US foodservice market, however, exposes the company to downturns in consumer spending crimped by a sluggish economy. Despite posting gradual bumps in revenue, Solo hasn't been profitable for four straight years (2008 to 2011). Specifically, the company suffered around $100 million in net losses for both 2010 and 2011. It was stung mostly by the high costs involved in manufacturing its products, an increase in raw material costs, an asset impairment charge, and mounting interest expenses that has eaten into its gross profits.
In response, in 2011 the company sold off its Springfield, Missouri manufacturing facility and also closed plants in Maryland and Massachusetts. The move followed cutbacks in 2009 in Solo's corporate workforce (amounting to less than 10%) and the closure of an Illinois manufacturing facility. The company also consolidated its headquarters from three buildings to one. – less