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Updated: December 11, 2023 Focus on Manufacturing

Saco packaging manufacturer Tanbark gears up for growth

Photo / Tim Greenway Melissa LaCasse, co-founder and CEO of Tanbark Molded Fiber Products, at the company’s factory in Saco.

Tanbark Molded Fiber Products, which started manufacturing operations in Saco in July, is a rapidly growing designer and maker of high-end sustainable packaging made from Maine pulp and paper.

Led by co-founder and CEO Melissa LaCasse, the company employs 17 people full-time and three part-time, with plans to hire three to four more production employees in the near term — mainly material handlers and machine operators.

“Over the next year, we will at least double our staff as we look toward executing on our expansion strategy,” says LaCasse, winner of the 2022 Gorham Savings Bank Launchpad and 2023 “Greenlight Maine” business-pitch contests. Tanbark’s Saco factory, visited by Gov. Janet Mills this summer to tout a new business incentive program, spans 10,000 square feet.

LaCasse, who co-founded Tanbark in 2021, says that starting a manufacturing company during the COVID-related supply-chain crisis was challenging.

“Starting Tanbark and beginning production has been the hardest thing I have done in my career,” she says, “but it has also been the most exhilarating.”

Tanbark aims to offer a compostable alternative to single-use plastic starting with clients in the food and beverage industry, since those businesses are among the first hit by packaging regulations, according to LaCasse. Clients include Luke’s Lobster and grocery retailer Hannaford.

“We have customers who have compostability standards they have to comply with in other markets and it is driving a larger packaging change,” LaCasse notes. “We also have customers who have internal goals to reduce plastic, who also know regulation is coming.”

Tanbark is also issuing quotes for several low-volume projects for products including health and beauty, toys and games and household items, as well as mid- to high-volume projects in food and beverage, she said.

As for Tanbark’s niche, LaCasse says her company specializes in “ancient future technologies.”

“Going back to these older manufacturing processes, such as molded fiber packaging, and innovating on what has traditionally been possible, is an exciting place to be,” she says. “I imagine we are going to see more and more manufacturing companies in North America entering a similar space.”

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