When the Electrolux Group rolled its last freezer off the line in St. Cloud, WestRock had a big problem.
A big portion of revenue for its 110-employee St. Cloud box-making plant was because of Electrolux, which closed in November.
Atlanta-based WestRock, by necessity, went ahead full steam in finding new customers to keep the plant open.
The sales team went after food companies, a move that now has the plant looking to add people, said Jeff Laney, WestRock business unit sales manager.
It ran an overtime shift this past weekend.
"Electrolux shutting their plant in St. Cloud was a big hit," Laney said. "But food has picked up. So it's offset any decreases elsewhere."
The plant serves, directly or indirectly, General Mills, Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, Best Buy and a large product-delivery firm that ships to consumers' doorsteps, Laney said.
The increase in food and consumer paper-goods packaging needs during the coronavirus epidemic also is keeping revenue stable as the plant's other business falls.
"For any type of [nonfood] industrial customer, their business is going to slow a lot," Laney said.
WestRock, which has $20 million in annual revenue, also has pulp, paperboard or corrugated paper factories in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Fridley and Fargo.
Officials said it also is hiring elsewhere.
Food producers, box makers and packaging-equipment firms as a whole are at full tilt as grocery and hardware store business, both online and in-person, has increased. The stores are considered "essential" and have been allowed to stay open.
As a result, all "those who are directly involved in the supply chain of the food industry are really scrambling to produce as much as they can, to keep their machines up and to be able to keep [critical store] shelves full," said Wayne Serie, chairman of Vistage Minnesota, a group of 375 Minnesota business owners and company executives.
Other paper producers, such as toilet-paper makers in eastern Wisconsin, also have ramped up production to keep up with consumer demand.
Liberty Diversified International's rumbling Liberty Carton shipping-box factory in Golden Valley also is seeing a change in business due to the coronavirus.
"We are definitely seeing a big pickup in the food and beverage and the e-commerce businesses that we serve," said Jack Fiterman, LDI vice president of business development. "Anybody in food and beverage, we are very busy right now. But for any other type of industrial customer? Business is probably going to slow a lot. The question is, is food and beverage going to replace the loss of business from nonessential" sectors?