The world's biggest packaging, International Paper - which published its annual report in the first week of February - recorded net sales of $20.5bn in 2020


Of those to publish annual reports in February 2021, three of the top five best performing are involved in the paper packaging business (Credit: Shutterstock/Media Whalestock)

At the beginning of February, some of the world’s biggest packaging companies published their annual reports displaying how they performed in 2020.

Like others in a range of industries, packaging companies have been impacted by Covid-19 in 2020, with many seeing net sales going down when compared to 2019.

For most in the industry, however, these figures have grown from the second to the fourth quarter of 2020, with some even seeing their quarterly net sales returning to what they looked like pre-pandemic.

We look at how five of the world’s biggest packaging companies that published their annual reports in February performed in 2020 based on net sales.


How five of the biggest packaging companies performed in 2020

1. International Paper – $20.5bn

International Paper, which published its annual report in the first week of February, recorded net sales of $20.5bn in 2020 – a just under $2bn drop when compared to 2019.

Net sales between the second and fourth quarter of 2020 did grow, going from $4.8bn to $5.2bn.

The majority of the money generated in total net sales by International Paper came from its industrial packaging segment, making $15bn in this area.

In 2020, the firm made $3bn in net sales from its printing paper products, $2.3bn from the cellulose fibres it generates, and $192m in corporate and inter-segment sales.

International Paper’s chairman and CEO Mark Sutton said: “Our performance while navigating through the impacts of the pandemic in 2020 reaffirms my admiration and appreciation for our employees and their on-going commitment to take care of each other and our customers.

“Above all, the health and safety of our employees remains our most important responsibility.

“In terms of results, International Paper delivered solid earnings and outstanding cash generation in the fourth quarter and full-year 2020.

“Our performance demonstrates the strength and resilience of our employees, our diverse customer base and our world-class manufacturing supply chain capabilities.

“In 2020, we returned $800m to shareholders and reduced debt by $1.7bn to enhance our financial strength, while continuing to strengthen our packaging business through targeted investments.

“As we enter 2021, we anticipate continued strong demand for corrugated packaging pulp and are poised to grow earnings, as we take actions to build a better IP and accelerate value creation for our customers and shareholders.”


2. Ball Corporation – $11.7bn

Published at the start of February 2021, the glass packaging business Ball Corporation recorded net sales of $11.7bn in 2020, an increase from the $11.4bn it made in 2019.

The firm made $9.7bn of this money from the beverage products it sells in north, central and south America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa – an increase from the $9.2bn it made in 2019.

The majority of the rest of this money came from the $1.7bn made from its aerospace segment – which sees it provide instruments, spacecraft, tactical hardware, data exploitation solutions and innovative technologies for civil, commercial, aerospace and defence applications.

Ball Corporation’s chairman and CEO John Hayes said: “We finished 2020 with positive momentum.

“Significant demand growth for our aluminium packaging products and aerospace technologies continue, full-year comparable diluted earnings per share increased 17%, and our strong balance sheet and cash flow operations underpinned $1.1bn of capital investments to address sustainable growth across our global operations.

“Our company continues to be well-positioned, and our focus remains on our employees’ safety, our customers’ success, the efficient startup of various multi-year, EVA-enhancing capital projects, and training and development of our workforce to ensure value creation for our stakeholders in 2021 and beyond.”


3. Crown Holdings – $11.5bn

In 2020, metal packaging giant Crown Holdings recorded net sales of $11.5bn, a small decrease from the $11.6bn it generated in 2019.

A lot of this money was generated from its American beverage segment, making $3.5bn in net sales in 2020, a small increase from the $3.3bn it made in 2019.

The majority of this was made up of a combined $3.4bn from the sale of its European food and beverage products, $2bn from its transit packaging, and $1.1bn in its Asia-Pacific markets.

Crown Holdings’ president and CEO Timothy Donahue said: “The company’s performance for both the fourth quarter and the full year was exceptional.

“Segment income during the quarter advanced 39% over the prior year.

“Driving the strong results were robust global beverage can volumes, particularly in north America, and food can volumes combined with excellent manufacturing performance throughout the organisation, including meaningful cost reduction initiatives within transit packaging.

“For the full year, we achieved record segment income in 2020, with a gain of 7% from the prior year.

“Operating cash flow exceeded $1.3bn, reflecting a 13% over 2019. The company generated a record $756m in free cash flow allowing us to reduce our year-end 2020 net leverage ratio to 3.9x.

“With opportunities for profitable beverage can growth combined with significant in European food and transit earnings, Crown is well-positioned for an excellent 2021 and the years beyond.”


4. Smurfit Kappa – $10.3bn

In the second week of February, Irish corrugated packaging giant Smurfit Kappa published its annual report for 2020.

According to this, the firm generated revenues of €8.5bn ($10.3bn) in 2020, a drop of 6% when compared to the €9bn ($10.9bn) figure it made in 2019.

Smurfit Kappa’s group CEO Tony Smurfit said: “Smurfit Kappa is pleased to report an EBITDA of €1.5bn for the year 2020, ahead of our stated guidance.

“Both Europe and the Americas had strong demand in the fourth quarter offsetting significantly higher input costs, predominantly in recovered fibre.

“In what has been the most challenging year in recent memory I would like to acknowledge the tremendous efforts by all our 46,000 employees, and thank our more than 65,000 customers for their continued support.”


5. Stora Enso – $10.2bn

In 2021, Finnish pulp and paper company Stora Enso announced in the second week of February that it had recorded sales of €8.5bn ($10.2bn) in 2020 – a 14.9% drop when compared to the €10bn ($12.1bn) it made in 2019.

About €3.7bn ($4.4bn) of this was generated by its packaging materials and solutions segment, while €2bn ($2.4bn) was made by its forestry services.

Most of the rest of the sales was generated from its biomaterials – €1.1bn ($1.3bn) – wood products – €1.3bn $(1.5bn) – and paper – €1.9bn ($2.2bn) – businesses.

Speaking in Stora Enso’s 2020 annual report, its president and CEO Annica Bresky said: “Little did we know, entering 2020, what an extraordinary year it would be for the world.

“It was shaped by an uncertain political and economic landscape, but above all the pandemic.

“In these challenging times for societies, companies and individuals, Stora Enso has remained resilient.

“Our business is built on renewable raw material, serving global markets with products that help consumers make eco-friendly choices.”