Green as a plant
21 April, 2006
Sylvia Macdonald travelled to Asturias in Spain to find out why supplier Linpac has decided to target the British market with its new range of bakery packaging
Nowadays, packaging is not what it’s cut out to be – it’s a whole lot more! After the packaging has been cut, shaped and formed, the leftovers can be recycled or used to make everything from microchip carriers to currency containers, paper bags to poop scoops.
Recycling is one of packaging supplier Linpac’s major philosophies. The company is a market leader in packaging to just about every sector in the UK – apart from bakery. But all that is about to change, as I discovered en route from Asturias airport in Northern Spain to Pravia to visit the first of two Linpac plants.The area is known as ‘green’ Spain, which could account for the ‘rocks’ hitting the car windscreen, as my hosts and I drove up through the verdant hills. At first I thought it was a genuine fall of rock, then I realised the deafening deluge was actually the world’s biggest hailstones, the size of a fist. There is a price to be paid for all that green.But as Barbara Laing, Linpac’s marketing assistant, points out, the location of the company’s site, which is close to air, sea and roads, makes it ideal for fast export and doesn’t affect either the timescale, price or quality. Hail-stones not withstanding, dispatch takes place every day.The move to bakeryBarbara explains why the company has now decided to target the UK bakery market. “Linpac is a multinational company, but moving into bakery has been a big project. In the six years since the turn of the Millennium, we have equipped and dedicated two whole factories to producing bakery packaging and gained major orders throughout Europe, the Arab Emirates and further afield,” she says.Customers range from Ireland’s Cuisine de France for French sticks to France’s Carrefour for croissants – and many other supermarket in-store bakeries, plant bakeries, Viennoiserie makers and cake suppliers.Barbara says: “We are a British company, founded 36 years ago. Linpac Plastics has 26 manufacturing sites worldwide, supplying packaging for fruit, meat, and a host of sectors. In 2000, the company started targeting the European bakery market. Now we are ready and equipped to target Britain.”As we begin our tour she states the three aims of Linpac’s bakery packaging:1: Protection – of the product;2: Preservation – no damage and extended shelf life;3: Presentation – giving a good, clear view of the content.Next she takes me round the company’s first of two factories in Asturias; it is extremely clean and equipped with eight high-speed machines, providing four-colour printing, single or both sides. The packaging falls into three defined areas: paper, film, or a combination of both. These are used for French sticks, ciabattas, baguettes, pain de campagne, ronde de pain and, potentially, the great British bloomer, plus every shape bread you can think of, as well as morning goods.Bespoke manufactureBecause there are so many possible shapes, sizes and combinations the Linpac factory makes its own tools, so bespoke is as common as standard. It also boasts its own art anddesign department.On a French stick, for example, the retailer’s own branding could range left, right, both or off-centre. The film can be perforated or not, centred or not, and the sleeve can have a gutter or not, depending on the thickness of the bread. The permutations seem endless, the designs striking and colourful.For those customers who want biodegradable packaging, the film can be made with polylactic acid, which is made from corn starch. It is slightly more expensive but, as with Fair Trade coffee and tea, companies with a conscience are increasingly seeing it as a worthwhile option.Normal project timing is three to four weeks from idea to execution and dispatch. The number of sleeves, bags and covers produced at Linpac’s Quintana site amounts to some 500 million a year, but the 2,300sq m factory, set on a greenfield site, has plenty of room for expansion. Importantly, the packaging itself is suitable for any flow-wrapper on the market.Efficient management As we walk around the factory, we hear that German supermarket Rewe has just placed an order. This good news seems to send the machine next to me into overdrive, but I learn that small bags can be doubled up so they go through in half the time. “Efficiencies are paramount,” stresses Barbara. “And everything is geared to providing a ‘first class service’ and a personal service to the client.Many overseas customers are in-store bakeries, plant bakers or wholesale manufacturers, but smaller orders are still valued and are channelled via distributors. Linpac has over 80 in the UK alone.It turns out that Barbara is not the first point of contact for British customers. That role falls to Adam Barnett, UK business development manager, who is located at Linpac’s main factory in Featherstone, near Leeds.Later on, Adam says: “Our aim is to provide intelligent packaging solutions to clients to improve their competitiveness and provide optimum packaging in terms of cost, with minimal environmental impact.Clearer pictureAbout four miles away as the crow flies, or in April as the rain falls, Linpac’s Clearpac factory is set on another greenfield site, surrounded by pine forests and low-flying clouds. Here, general manager Giuseppe Zagatti, who speaks fluent English, shows me around a plant that makes thermoformed clear packaging for bakery.He says: “This type of packaging is used for celebration cakes, gateaux, morning goods, croissants, doughnuts, muffins and Danish, as well as pies, and just about any baked product that lends itself to the stiffer clear mould rather than the paper and film made at the first factory. Customers include in-store bakeries and bakery food manufacturers throughout Europe.On a visit to three supermarkets, ranging from the upmarket El Corte Inglés to the plentifully stocked Carrefour, I see the range of products wrapped or packaged in Linpac packaging. Ironically, what stands out is not so much the packaging but the product and the logo of the seller. But that is what has helped Linpac’s Clearpac factory to become the leader of thermoformed products in Europe, with 35% of the market.Here, too, the emphasis is on recycling and health and safety, and not just on the factory floor. Computer users have a big poster showing how they should sit, the angle of their computers, and a dozen exercises to avoid neck or shoulder strain. I spend a few moments reading it. On the way out, health and safety-conscious Jose puts a colour photocopy in my hands. He misses nothing.Targeting the UKAfter my brief visit I learn the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plain; for two days it barely lets up in Asturias. But I have learned, too, about a vital part of the bakery chain, that Linpac is fully ready to target the British bakery packaging market, that it is making strong efforts to recycle, that good health and safety shows care for employees and communities, and that good packaging enhances and protects bakery products.Oh yes, and how to sit correctly at a com-puter. Altogether a pretty good package.Health and safetyJose is responsible for health and safety at the Asturias sites.Every potential accident is assessed and given a rating, ranging from A – ‘deal with now’ – to C – ‘change in a defined time’. Linpac’s mantra is: ‘Our people are our asset’. Every Linpac factory is awarded bronze, silver or gold status annually by independent auditors. The financial reward is spent in the local community, providing new facilities or supporting worthwhile ventures. Last year, Jose’s Asturias bakery packaging sites both won gold.RecyclingEverything possible is reused or recycled at Linpac Factories. The company is the biggest producer of APET (amorphous polyethylene terphalate) in Europe. A reclaim system, installed for APET, can chop up and recycle the product used in clear packaging.