Production Manager Trina Craven says a wellness boom spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic has business bustling at her family’s packaging manufacturer.

Family-owned C&M Plastics was founded in 1992 by Sandra Craven and Mike Cerio after Sandra moved her small family to Arizona from the East Coast. “[She was] attracted to the sunny weather and new opportunities,” says Trina. “And when [she] moved out here, [she] realized that the fillers for the nutraceutical companies had a need for packaging. At that time in the 90s, there were way too many fillers and not enough bottles. They took that opportunity and started C&M plastics.”

Photos Dean Henthorn

Today, the original founders are mostly retired, and the company is run by their daughters Michelle, who is also vice president of operations, and Melanie. Trina is Michelle and Melanie’s cousin, and they invited her to move to Arizona from Florida to join the company in 2019. “I started out on the floor and worked my way up to this position,” Trina says. “It has been great.”

Proudly marketing the business as women-owned and women-run, the Cravens serve 12 active client accounts out of their 20,000-square-foot facility. “Out of those 12, we have three big main customers that put in very large orders with us,” Trina explains. “They’re kind of like our gears that keep the wheels turning. We make about 12 million units of our products every year, and we bring in about $1.5 million in revenue.”

C&M Plastics’ main product is its high-density polyethylene (or HDPE) white packer bottles, which make up an estimated 80 to 90 percent of sales.

“We also have a custom side,” says Trina. “They do gallon jugs and other containers for the food and beauty industries. When clients are looking for a very specific type of bottle that we don’t offer yet, we can work with our mold makers and build one.”

While Trina says many of the company’s competitors have switched to fully automated manufacturing, C&M Plastics believes humans make a better product. “We take pride in still having humans — and not robots — packing our product,” she continues. “We stand very strongly on our quality. And we feel like our quality failures and our procedures are followed through more thoroughly because we actually have human eyes on our products.”

The manufacturing process for extrusion blow molded bottles is straightforward, Trina notes. “The machine has a heated source — a heated screw, per se — and resin gets sucked up through a vacuum into that heated screw,” she says. “It then gets melted down and comes out of the parison (a hollow tube). Our aluminum or steel molds come up and catch that melted resin. They are cooled by a water system. Then blow pins come down and blow air into that hot plastic, which forms to the cold mold and makes the bottle.”

Next, the bottles travel a conveyor belt where the excess plastic is cut off by a spin trimmer and knocked off by a deflasher. “The bottle then falls into a packing tray where our employees will do quality control,” Trina says. “They look for any contamination, nonconformances, or anything else wrong. The bottle then gets packed into our boxes and shipped off to the customer.”

At this time, C&M Plastics’ customers remain primarily in nutraceuticals. “They are big companies that formulate their own vitamins,” Trina says. Thanks to this client base, the company thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic. “People were increasing the supplements they were taking,” she continues. “They were taking their vitamins. Wellness kind of took off. Our customers, being the people that make those supplements and vitamins, took off as well. In turn, this sent our business up. I believe our lead times were eight months when they are typically just four to six weeks.”

Challenges: “The job market is crazy,” Trina says. “It’s really hard to find employees that want to stick around for more than a couple of weeks. And then the raw material market has been a little rough, especially when it comes to paper. We use corrugated boxes, and that has been kind of a scary thing as well.”

Opportunities: Trina says that C&M Plastics has been in talks with a few new clients and is hoping to expand its product offerings. “We’re looking into getting a few more bottle sizes and hopefully, in turn with this, gaining a little more revenue to get up to that $2 million mark,” she continues. “We’d also like to move into the canister business. Canisters are just a little different than the bottles we offer now. We’re hoping that with that new product we can attract companies in the CBD industry. They’re similar to nutraceutical companies and would be a great opportunity for us.”

Needs: Trina says that C&M Plastics needs additional technicians to keep up with the company’s rapid growth. “We only have one main technician,” she explains. “She’s kind of expended at this point. But it’s really hard to find someone with knowledge and experience to come in and have a permanent home on our team.”