Atlanta-based packaging giant WestRock nears $20B merger

U.S.- and Dublin-based companies close to inking merger as packaging demand dips since pandemic’s e-commerce boom
Atlanta-based WestRock, which makes paper and packaging, was formed by the combination of Rock-Tenn and MeadWestvaco. (2017 file photo Matt Kempner/AJC)

Atlanta-based WestRock, which makes paper and packaging, was formed by the combination of Rock-Tenn and MeadWestvaco. (2017 file photo Matt Kempner/AJC)

One of metro Atlanta’s largest companies is close to an international merger that could create a $20 billion paper and packaging behemoth.

Sandy Springs-based WestRock is nearing a deal to merge with Dublin-based Smurfit Kappa, the companies confirmed Thursday. The discussions were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which said the deal could be announced next week if talks don’t fall apart.

On Thursday, the companies said the potential merger would involve the creation of a new holding company called Smurfit WestRock, according to a news release. The resulting corporation’s global headquarters would be located in Dublin, while Atlanta would remain home to the company’s operational headquarters.

A merger would expand the companies’ reach to 42 countries across Europe, and the Americas and could support roughly 100,000 employees, the release said. That would be about 16,000 fewer employees than the combined workforces that the two companies list on their respective websites. WestRock’s website says it has about 58,000 employees across 30 counties, while Smurfit Kappa’s website says it has approximately 48,000 workers across 36 countries.

Both companies told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution they had no further comment.

Mergers are nothing new for WestRock, a corrugated packaging company that makes products ranging from pizza boxes to ice cream cartons to medicine containers. Now a Fortune 500 company, WestRock is the result of a 2015 merger between MeadWestvaco and RockTenn. The company initially established its headquarters in Norcross but moved to its current home base in Sandy Springs in 2017.

With roots dating back to 1934, Smurfit Kappa is also the product of a merger. Jefferson Smurfit, a maker of cardboard boxes and packaging materials for the Irish market, merged with its Dutch competitor Kappa Packaging in 2005. Smurfit Kappa was nearly acquired in 2018 by International Paper for 8.9 billion Euros, but the deal fell apart.

WestRock reported $21.3 billion in sales during the 2022 fiscal year and has a market capitalization of about $8.2 billion. Smurfit Kappa is worth roughly $10.7 billion (roughly 10 billion Euros).

Both companies have made multiple acquisitions in recent years. Smurfit Kappa bought Mexico-based Cartonbox and Spanish packaging company Pusa Pack, while WestRock acquired KapStone Paper and Packaging in a $5 billion deal five years ago.

The Atlanta area is a logistics hub and also is home to numerous companies that make packaging materials. Packaging companies include Graphic Packaging and Veritiv, which announced in August it was purchased by a private equity firm in a $2.3 billion transaction.

Most paper and packaging corporations have seen demand decline this year following explosive growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. WestRock’s stock value has dipped 10% since the start of 2023.

If the merger takes place, the new company would try to retain WestRock’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange, while canceling Smurfit Kappa’s current listing on the London Stock Exchange.