It's in the bag! John Irace continues family tradition at Packaging Concepts


Our continuing series of profiles of theatre industry concession executives turns to the supply side of the business this month with an in-depth look at John Irace, president of Packaging Concepts Inc. (PCI). A distributor selling food-service and industrial packaging products, PCI was incorporated in 1972 by John’s dad, Joseph Irace, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. John worked for his father during the summer while attending the University of Wisconsin Platteville. He met his wife Sandy in 1973, finished school, and moved to Lake Geneva in 1975 to work full-time for the company.

But Joseph soon decided to sell the distribution business and moved to St. Louis in 1982, where he changed the company’s specialty to flexible packaging. In 1983, the family lost their mother; John joined Joseph in St. Louis in 1984 and began learning the business of printing, slitting and pre-form bag-making.

PCI has always been a family business: John is the oldest of eight children who have contributed to the business in some way. John’s sister Barbara joined the company in 1984, followed by Tony in 1985. The family business took on a new direction and Joseph hired a business acquaintance, Abe Mendenhall, in 1986 as general manager and mentor. Abe had been general manager of American Packaging in Philadelphia. He retired from PCI in 1998 and is still a mentor and on the PCI board of directors.

By 1993, PCI was operating in three market segments: microwave popcorn bags, flexible packaging, and carry-out food packaging for grocery stores. In 1994, they manufactured the first leak-proof popcorn bag for AMC Theatres, followed by their first movie graphic bag for Disney’s The Lion King. They subsequently attended their first ShoWest in 1994 and became hooked on the movie theatre business.

PCI is the largest producer of private-label microwave popcorn bags and ships to 36 countries. They supply the theatre industry with movie theatre popcorn bags along with a full line of concession packaging. PCI is completely integrated with a graphics department, digital printing plates, ink blending, process printing, and a unique heat-seal bottom bag which are all part of their offering. With their flexible packaging roll stock, they print and laminate substrates to customer specifications with state-of-the-art converting equipment with in-line video monitoring and shop floor data collection and have print capabilities of up to 10 colors.

In 1999, John, along with Tony and Barbara, purchased PCI from their father and continued to grow it. In 2004, they broke ground on a new 135,000-square-foot plant, which was completed in May 2005. John’s father instilled important values of how to grow and nurture a business. Some of these lessons were: “Your associates are your most valuable asset.” “Consider your vendors as important as your customers.” “If you commit to doing something, make sure you follow through and do it.” 

John has assembled a great management team and has been concentrating his own time on customer relationships, strategic growth opportunities through acquisitions, and new product development and implementation. Two years ago, PCI partnered with Saint Louis Community College on implementing 5S lean manufacturing, an in-depth program involving all levels of management and manufacturing. They have been very successful at lowering waste and manufacturing costs by working in teams to identify areas of improvement. “Our associates have the answers, and listening to their ideas is making PCI a more competitive company,” Irace says.

Three years ago, PCI initiated a Wellness Program. The PCI Fourth Annual Wellness Fair, taking place on Dec. 2, will have six stations set up for blood draws, nutritional information and advice, club fitness membership sign-ups, a wellness incentive point system challenge with a chance to earn two premium holidays on employee paychecks, and safety-at-home topics.

Service to the community is very important to PCI and the Irace family. PCI has chosen to support charities that foster the betterment and health of children. Family Resource Center, Our Little Haven and Ronald McDonald House are three local charities they support. They have also partnered with many theatre customers to support the Variety Club Children’s Charity tents around the United States. John believes “it is our responsibility to be good stewards in the community and offer back time, talent and treasure.”

PCI successfully transitioned from a first-generation family company to a second generation and is now employing the third generation with John’s two sons Adam (13 years at PCI) and Dan (two years). Both enjoy the business and are transitioning into management roles. Last year, Adam was promoted to VP, technical director, and Dan, after working two years in the production plant learning the processes, is being transitioned into a sales and marketing role. John feels very blessed to have a loving family that cares for one another and has been able to grow the family business together. PCI is a well-respected member company of our industry, and we hope this profile has given you better insight into the man at the helm.