International Paper announced plans to invest $135 million to expand fluff pulp production at its Riegelwood N.C. Mill. The investment will convert the mill to 100 percent fluff and softwood pulp production, adding an incremental 400,000 tons of capacity, with ongoing flexibility to shift between the two products. When the conversion is complete, the company will have the capability to produce up to 1.4 million tons annually of high-quality fluff. The new fluff pulp capacity is expected to ramp up mid-year 2016.
“The investment at Riegelwood proactively repositions assets to serve our customers in the growing global fluff pulp market and best positions International Paper to increase shareholder value,” said Mark Sutton, chairman and CEO, International Paper.
Fluff pulp, which is projected to grow globally at an annual rate of 3 to 4 percent, is used in a variety of applications including baby diapers, feminine hygiene and adult incontinence products. “This new capacity will support the growth of IP customers across the globe,” said Mike Amick, senior vice president, North American Papers & Pulp and Consumer Packaging. “Riegelwood is ideally located with access to fiber and proximity to shipping ports critical for supplying a global customer base.” With the current expertise at Riegelwood, combined with world-class pulp operations in Franklin, Va., Georgetown, S.C. and Pensacola, Fl., International Paper is set to build on its proven track record of success in the fluff pulp market.
As a result of the Riegelwood Mill conversion to 100 percent fluff and softwood pulp, the company will reduce its coated paperboard capacity by 350,000 tons, sell the Carolina® brand to MeadWestvaco (MWV), and focus the business on supplying customer demand in the food service and packaging markets. The sale of the Carolina business, which represents the majority of the coated paperboard volume reduction, is expected to close April 30, 2015. Terms of the sale were not disclosed. Carolina is a premier coated bristols brand used in a variety of applications including greeting cards, book covers and marketing collateral. The sale captures the brand’s value, supports International Paper’s plans to expand fluff pulp production at Riegelwood and streamlines and strengthens its coated paperboard business.
“International Paper’s printing papers and coated paperboard businesses remain strategic to the company and these moves capture value while allowing for strategic repositioning and growth,” Amick said. International Paper is well positioned to support current and future coated paperboard customer demand from its two world-class mills in Texarkana, Texas, and Augusta, Ga.