Shelton’s Inline Plastics may not be feeding the world — but it’s doing its part.
“There are a lot of people out there and they all have to eat,” said Inline President and owner Tom Orkisz at its 42 Canal St. East corporate headquarters. “And more and more they’re looking for packaging that’s convenient and of good quality.”
The firm, which was established by Orkisz’s father, Rudolph, and uncle Gene, in 1968, specializes in plastic food containers of various sizes — products with names like Surelock and Safe-T-Fresh that may not necessarily be familiar to most consumers, but are likely to have been used by anyone purchasing a package of produce, snacks or “grab-and-go” meals from their local store or deli.
With tamper-resistant tear-strip locks and made of 100 percent recyclable plastic, Inline has been growing by about 13 percent annually in both volume and revenues, Orkisz said. The privately held company will manufacture and ship about 8.5 million cases — each case containing 200 to 300 pieces — this year, he said.
Inline recently observed its 50th anniversary with an event attended by Mayor Mark Lauretti, state Sen. Kevin Kelly, Shelton Economic Development Corp. President Paul Grimmer and Shelton Board of Aldermen President John Anglace. Though it started as R&G Mold and Pattern Co. in Bridgeport — the name was changed in the 1980s — it’s been in Shelton since 1984.
“They were working in the mold-making industry in Bridgeport,” Orkisz said of his father and uncle, Polish immigrants who quickly realized they could make more money by designing their own plastic wares on the side. “Their employer found out about it and didn’t care for it,” he grinned. “So he fired them. But that gave them the grit to go into business for themselves.”
Although the Orkisz brothers started with custom work, by the early ’80s they came to realize that the future lay in the packaged food trade. “It was higher volume, more steady and sustainable for the foreseeable future,” Tom Orkisz said.
Stew Leonard’s — still a customer today — was Inline’s first customer in the grocery trade, he said, as it was searching for more secure packaging for its baked goods. “Stew basically challenged them to come up with something better.”
What would become the Surelock line solved the problem, “and pushed them even further into packaging for food.”
Although the younger Orkisz went off to work as an engineer for several years upon graduating from college, “I grew up in the business. I ended up coming back to the company in the early ‘90s and got pretty involved in management and sales, learning the other roles at the company.” Following his father’s death in 1997 — Gene had died in the mid-’70s — Orkisz stayed and continued to grow the business.
Today Inline employs about 750 people. They’re in Shelton and its research, development and engineering center is in Milford, and at manufacturing facilities are in Salt Lake City and McDonough, Georgia. “The costs of shipping from here eventually led us to open the others around the country,” Orkisz said.
Opening an additional plant in the Southwest will likely take place over the next couple of years, he added. In the meantime, Orkisz said he expects to hire up to 100 people this year across the company’s locations.
Although Inline once had its own facility in its founders’ native Poland, it ended up divesting itself of ownership, although it still licenses its product there, Orkisz said. He allowed that another try at expanding into Europe could eventually be in the cards as well.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve stayed independent and family owned for 50 years,” he remarked. “We view ourselves as a product leader — we’re not the cheapest out there, but our features mean our customers get a bigger bang for their buck. And we’ve grown organically, not through acquisition, by being an innovative company.”
As for the next generation of Orkiszes, he said that his daughter Alicia will start in August as the firm’s general counsel. “She wants to learn the business,” he said, while his two sons “will have an opportunity here if they’re so inclined. You can’t force them.”