2008 is set to be a big year for Nampak Cartons, which is going all out to develop its packaging business, supplying retailers in particular with packaging for chilled and frozen food, and the ever increasing food to go sector. Nampak Cartons is part of Nampak Europe, which has extensive interests in the European paper and plastics packaging industries, and is one of the leading and most technologically advanced packaging manufacturers, trusted to supply packaging to well-known brands. Nampak Europe’s parent company Nampak Limited is one of the Top 20 worldwide non-integrated packaging groups, employing over 20,000 people across the UK, Europe and Africa, with sales of £1.36 billion. Two of the key people in Nampak Cartons are Peter Richardson, Sales & Marketing Director of Nampak Cartons Gillingham and Crewkerne, and Tom Reid, recently appointed Managing Director Nampak Europe. They spoke to The Grocery Trader.The Grocery Trader – What operations does Nampak Europe cover?
Tom: Nampak Europe was created following the acquisition of various European plastics businesses during the 1990’s and from the global merger of Malbak Limited and Nampak Ltd in August 2002, and combines the trading names M.Y. Healthcare, Nampak Cartons and Nampak Plastics to form one of the largest packaging businesses in Europe.
GT – What proportion of Nampak Europe’s business is Nampak Cartons?
Tom: Cartons are 60% of Nampak’s total European business, based on turnover. Nampak first came into Europe in 1994, and over the next decade consolidated its position in the plastics business here. It is now the leading producer of plastic milk bottles in the UK.
GT – What Nampak Cartons operations are there in the UK?
Peter: Nampak Cartons has three operating locations in the UK. We have short-run operations in Gillingham and Crewkerne, for which I have Sales and Marketing responsibility, and a sister company in Leeds, which is predominantly branded business.
GT – How big in turnover and staff is Nampak Cartons in the UK?
Peter: Our Gillingham and Crewkerne factories have a £30 million turnover, of which 99% is food packaging, mainly for retailer brands. We have around 300 staff in Gillingham and Crewkerne.
GT – Who are the Nampak Cartons management team?
Peter: The team comprises me as Sales & Marketing Director, Steve Anton, Operations Director and Rodney Robinson, Business Development Director. We also have a team of managers looking after HR, planning and logistics, finance, design, QA and operations.
GT – When did Nampak Cartons’ UK operations start?
Peter: The original business was first established in 1981 as Insight Cartons, a business set up by Terry Neil with two other directors, Dick Elston and Keith Harris. The first premises were in Rochester before the new purpose-designed factory and offices were built on the Gillingham Business Park. Originally 58,000 sq ft in size, this was increased with the addition of a 22,000 sq ft state-of-the-art warehouse a few years ago. In 1994, Insight Cartons was acquired by the MY Group, at which point the Crewkerne operation was added to the carton business, comprising 56,000 sq ft. The business became Nampak Cartons in 2002. Despite these changes, the company culture has remained much the same – a commitment to provide a fast and flexible service to customers, which we have always seen as the ‘plus factor.’
GT – How flexible are you?
Peter: As flexible as the customer would like us to be! We believe strongly in a ‘can do’ approach. This means understanding what our customers need, their own challenges and constraints, and working to deliver a fast and effective solution. Everyone here is committed to a customer-focused approach. For us, customer service is about the total experience – it starts from the moment an enquiry is received in our sales office, through to delivery of the final high quality products. Flexibility also means that we can meet exceptional customer requirements and deliver cartons within very tight deadlines.
GT – When did you (Peter and Tom) become involved?
Peter: I joined in 1989 as National Sales Manager, when it was privately owned, running out of the old factory in Rochester.
Tom: I’ve been with Nampak over 20 years. I’ve had many roles over that time, and run many businesses, including Corrugated, Canning and Plastics. I’ve just recently become involved with Cartons, where my priority is to heighten the total customer focus.
GT – How much has Nampak Europe invested in technology in recent years?
Peter: Over the last few years, Nampak has invested over £12 million in its European carton operations, and 2008 sees the start of a strategic five year plan with continuing investment at Gillingham and Crewkerne, to ensure that the carton business stays at the forefront of its field.
GT – What types of carton do you manufacture?
Peter: Currently the majority of Gillingham and Crewkerne’s business is short to medium runs of cartons, as used by the major retailers for frozen and chilled foods and bakery and confectionery products. Designs include crash lock cartons, sleeves, skillets, cartons for celebration cakes and different types of packaging for the food to go sector. Food to go, covering sandwiches, paninis and so on, has seen the greatest volume increase for us over the last two years.
GT – What proportion of Nampak Cartons’ packaging sales comes from each of the different categories?Peter: Chilled and food on the go is the largest portion, representing over half our business.
GT – Does Nampak Cartons supply retail customers in Continental Europe?
Peter: Most work we do in Gillingham and Crewkerne is for UK customers, but we have a small number of accounts in Benelux, including some retailer-branded. We also supply European customers from our Dutch factory, in Hoogerheide.
GT – Roughly what volume of packaging do you produce in a set time period at Gillingham and Crewkerne?
Peter: We convert about 15,000 tonnes of board per annum across the two sites.
GT – Where would you position yourselves in a food packaging supplier ranking?
Peter: We are the number one supplier, based on our sizeable share of the market. There are over 100 food packaging suppliers in the UK, and we’re recognised as the market leader.
GT – How do you go about winning new Cartons business?
Peter: We have a team of sales managers throughout the UK. Business comes in through recommendation, expansion of the existing customer base and new business prospecting. Our Business Development Director, Rodney Robinson, co-ordinates and leads our approaches.
GT – How are you set up to handle individual customers?
Peter: From a sales perspective we work as a team, though I like to build a personal relationship with our clients.
GT – Cartons are a highly competitive market – what sets you apart from other packaging manufacturers? What’s your USP?
Peter: Our forte is our quality, our service and our lead time for both conceptual design and finished packaging. Being customer-focused is the cornerstone of our company culture, and an integral part of our commitment to deliver a fast and flexible service.
GT – What in house design facilities do you have within Nampak Cartons?
Peter: We have in an house design studio, who respond to customers’ requirements. Our studio’s speed of turnaround with concepts and designs often plays a decisive role in winning projects – we regularly respond within 24 hours. Our design studio in Gillingham is highly regarded as the source of inspirational ideas for new packaging concepts. Martin Laker, our Design Manager, works with customers to produce innovative solutions, using the latest CAD technology. There is also a bespoke software programme – DesignTrax – which does what it suggests, tracking a carton’s progress from design through to delivery.
GT – What production technology do you have in place?
Peter: Production technology across the company’s two sites includes six six-colour Komori presses, seven Bobst cut and crease machines, ten gluing machines and five window patchers.
GT – What other investments are you making in technology?
Tom: In my previous roles, I have always challenged the system to maximise customer focus, and as Managing Director Nampak Europe this quest will continue. To this end Nampak Cartons are in the process of installing a new ERP computer system and prioritising a sizeable capital spend within the cartons business, that will greatly enhance our supply chain and elevate our customer service levels into uncharted waters.
GT – How does this investment in technology compare with that of other UK packaging suppliers?
Tom: We are putting these investments in place to position us ahead of our competition, and our spending programme is as ambitious as our plans for success.
GT – You’re working in a pretty complex field. How do you ensure clients fully understand the process and help them get the best results?
Peter: To help our customers understand carton design and production, we run our own Carton School at Gillingham. This is a unique initiative in the industry. People spend a whole day looking at the design and production process so that they are fully aware of all the details required when specifying and ordering cartons. It has proved very popular with Nampak’s customers and is another aspect of the customer service commitment. Company representatives also attend a regular Research & Development forum to brainstorm and develop new carton concepts.
GT – Do you work with external designers on design solutions?
Peter: Occasionally we’re asked to do so by customers or retailers, but most solutions are arrived at within our business.
GT – How important is innovation in your business?
Peter: It’s crucial! As the leading player in the industry, Nampak prides itself on developing innovative new concepts, and especially for the food-on-the-go market, which in the UK is estimated to exceed £10 billion per annum.
GT – Have you won any awards for your packaging?
Peter: We have won numerous awards for our creative packs, including Starpack awards on several occasions, with a recent gold for ‘Best in Creative Cartonboard Packaging’.
GT – What was the particular pack that won that award?
Peter: It was a food to go sandwich pack, for one of the major retail customers.
GT – How environmentally friendly is Nampak?
Peter: We’re totally committed to being environmentally responsible. Meeting customer needs and responding to changing requirements includes providing solutions to environmental issues. Nampak was the first carton company in the UK to achieve Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation. This allows the use of the symbol on packaging made from timber and forest products from well-managed forests that meet FSC standards. In terms of carbon footprint, huge strides have been made to reduce waste, examining all possible routes where recycling can be achieved. Nampak was also one of the first carton companies in the UK to use alcohol-free founts at both sites.
GT – What have you done to improve the environmental impact of your supply chain?
Peter: Vince Brearey, our Logistics and Planning Manager, has done a great deal of work in this area including introducing double deck trailers to maximise pallet heights for delivering cartons to customers. Our new fleet of delivery vehicles also conforms to Euro 3 regulations, which vehicles have to comply with from February in order to deliver inside London’s Congestion Zone.
GT – What other industry standards do you work to?
Peter: In addition to FSC Council of Custody certification, Nampak Cartons also holds BRC, IOP and ISO 9001/2000.
GT – What’s the biggest carton packaging contract you can handle?
Peter: We have an average run of 15,000 sheets per order, but we have the ability to manage both smaller and larger print runs.
GT – What’s involved in arriving at a packaging solution for a customer?
Peter: The process starts with a brief from the customer, which comes via the sales manager into our design studio. Depending on the complexity, we sit down with the different departments and put forward various packaging concepts and solutions. I like to keep involved, again depending on the individual opportunity.
GT – How quickly can you supply mock-up packs and samples?
Peter: We generally respond within 24 hours.
GT – How quickly can you go live on a contract?
Peter: It depends on the pack’s complexity and whether or not it’s a one-off spot order. We regularly get calls from customers wanting urgent jobs, which we achieve within two or three days. We can also take on business being transferred from existing suppliers to Nampak, and assign a “take on” team to ensure a smooth and seamless transfer to our operation.
GT – What external factors do you affecting demand for Nampak Cartons’ products and services in 2008 and beyond?
Peter: The carton industry has a strong future, but there are two aspects which will affect demand, loss of UK manufacturing and environmental pressure. Migration of UK manufacturing to Europe and elsewhere means less requirement here for carton board. Everyone involved with carton packaging, from manufacturer to consumer, must practise the three ‘R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle. As a business we also face pressure over our carbon footprint and our use of road transport. Environmental responsibility is an area we actively embrace.
GT – Finally, where do you see the Cartons business going from here?
Peter: This year will be another exciting one for us, expanding our business and continuing to provide the highest levels of customer service. An ongoing programme of investment will ensure we remain at the forefront of our industry. In terms of market focus, we see the food-on-the-go sector continuing to grow at a rapid rate. With our state-of-the-art in-house design capability, I am confident that we will continue to provide innovative and creative pack designs for this rapidly expanding market.