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Joe Robinette

The Robinette Company creates packaging for household names such as Quaker Oats, Moon Pie and many others.

- Alumni

On the shelves of your kitchen pantry, there is likely a product in packaging by The Robinette Company. Founded in 1987 by Joe Robinette (Accounting, ’69), the Bristol, Tennessee, company creates packaging for household names such as Quaker Oats, Moon Pie and many other companies.

Robinette’s entrepreneurial journey began in his father’s business. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and completing six months of active duty training with the National Guard, he worked full-time for the company, which produced small paper bags for food products and larger multi-ply bags for agricultural products. When his father sold the company in 1985, he was hired by the new company to run the business in Bristol.

As the company grew, it decided to close the Bristol plant and reallocate all the assets to other locations, offering Robinette a job running a plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

“My wife and I and our three children were pretty well entrenched in the Bristol community,” Robinette says. “Having experience in a smaller, family-owned business and a large, public company, I preferred the former.”

Robinette rented a building, hired six employees, bought a small printing press and began building his business, printing packaging paper for flour milling companies.

“Once again I was making decisions on a local level and not being controlled by a larger public company,” he says. “Today, we employ over 350 people and sell to customers nationwide.”

The Robinette Company now is the supplier to several consumer packaged goods companies with well-known national brands.  

“Many of the products you see on the grocery shelves today are in Robinette packages,” he says.

These packages include laminated roll stock, printed films and paper, woven polypropylene bags and more, with products ranging from baking supplies to cat food.

“In the next year, we are expanding our product offerings to include SUPs (stand-up pouches),” Robinette says. “Many food and pet products are transitioning to this package, and with our high-end graphics and printing capabilities we intend to make a major thrust into this market.”

To facilitate this push, the company is bolstering its laminating and slitting department and setting up a state-of-the-art pouch line.

“These investments will propel us well into the next decade,” he says. “We will increase our market share in both the human food and pet food markets.”

Looking back on his time at UT, Robinette says his accounting degree gave him a good foundation to analyze financial statements and evaluate capital expenditures.

“It prepared me to interface with financial institutions with accurate proposals,” he says. “I also made friends in the Knoxville area that helped me in the startup phase.”

He encourages current students considering entrepreneurship to work and study hard, prepare for rapid changes in technology and always question the data.

“In order to be successful, you have to look behind the numbers and not take for granted what's on the surface,” Robinette says.