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Colpac – 85 years of packaging innovation

2022 marks the 85th anniversary of Colpac. Throughout our campaign to celebrate and mark this significant milestone, we look back at the heritage of our company, our processes, and our people, all of which has contributed to making Colpac a global success today. We are a community of people passionate about the industry we work within and creating packaging solutions which respond to the trends which are reshaping the world around us.

Here, we speak to our CEO Neil Goldman on what has shaped the business, and the continual efforts of our team to meet and exceed the evolving needs of the marketplace.

Since Colpac was founded in 1937, the business has witnessed many changes, from globalisation in the ‘70’s to the internet in the 90’s and the fast-paced adoption of technology which followed. How has Colpac responded to external changes?

Working in a dynamic, ever-changing market is something which has existed throughout the history of Colpac. It is our ability to be flexible and agile to maximise the opportunities which come from these changes which has shaped us and continues to underpin the business.

As a global business, we are continually horizon scanning at home in the UK and across the world to spot the trends in food, materials and manufacturing that will shape the food packaging of tomorrow. We work as a partner with our customers to create the best solutions for them, recognising that they have so much more than food wrapped up in their packaging.

Also, our foresight into the market has strengthened us over the years, enabling us to spot the opportunities early. A perfect example of this was when we showcased 6 plain white paperboard food packaging prototypes at the very first Fast-Food Fair in Brighton in the early 1980’s. You could say that point in time marks the birth of modern day Colpac.

The Colpac brand is synonymous with creating paperboard food packaging solutions. Has this always been the case, and at what point did you recognise the value focusing on paperboard as a material?

Paperboard has always been what we are about – even back when we were making rigid boxes. We have always recognised and supported the benefits of a material which is inherently sustainable both in terms of being easily recycled, and coming from renewable carbon sources i.e., trees.

What is important to us, and what we are continually striving towards, is the ability to improve the performance of the paperboard material we use. The demands on packaging are ever increasing. From sustainable sourcing and reducing plastic, to packs that work at all stages of the supply chain, from freezing through to the consumer reheating at home and reducing food waste. The market demands sustainable all-purpose packaging. We continually invest in research and development, looking at materials and manufacturing processes to enhance paperboard as a material and its capabilities.

An example of our innovative use of materials would be the launch of our ColMAP™ range in 2012. Modified atmosphere packaging that extends shelf life by combining paperboard with film lamination, creating a seal where the oxygen is removed. This prolongs the shelf life of the contents and reduces food waste.

The environment has always been close to my heart personally, and as a business we were supporting local wildlife trusts long before it was mainstream to do so. For decades, we have embedded sustainable objectives into our operational practices and work to mitigate our impact on the environment. This was recently reflected in our decision to create an ESG Manager position. Talia, who holds an MSc in Environment, Politics and Society, and has worked as a COP26 Nature Campaign Policy Advisor for the Cabinet Office, now joins us as ESG Manager to build a stronger voice for Colpac. Through this, we hope to help shape legislation and other sustainable initiatives, to develop food packaging for the future.

Back in the 1990’s Colpac’s ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ campaign for biodegradable packaging was ahead of its time. Today however, the market is saturated with sustainable packaging solutions. How do you ensure that Colpac stays ahead of the curve and on top of new materials launched onto the market?

It’s interesting, as biodegradable is not a word which we commonly use today. However this was of the time and our response to a growing movement. Today, as a company, compostable is more widely used as a term rather than biodegradable, as we utilise materials that are commercially compostable to the EN13432 standard, where they are converted to soil enhancers and bio pellets that can be used to complete a circular system.

Our programme of continual innovation and investigation into the viability of new boards, films, and coatings, leads to creative new packaging solutions. All of this is made possible through our highly agile manufacturing plant, and our long-standing history of collaborating with third party organisations to turn a good idea into a product which adheres to the quality standards and the accreditations required by the market.

We are self-aware enough to know that, in a highly saturated and complex market, we do not have the perfect sustainable solution. We invest heavily in our manufacturing capabilities and innovation hub, to fully understand the properties of the recyclable materials available to continually develop our products and pioneer food contact applications. Sustainability is continually evolving, and our customers are being challenged on other global issues such as food waste, so it is vital that they are able to ask questions and interrogate the details of their packaging. We are here to listen and respond.

Colpac has a global reach. How do you manage your international supply chains while minimising the environmental impact? 

As the business has grown, so too has our global reach and our products are now sold throughout 60 countries. It has been vital to sustain these relations, and that keep our finger on the pulse of these international markets and the different challenges each faces. To manage these relationships, a large number of our team are multilingual, and we have representatives working within the UK, Europe, North America, the Middle East, Australasia, and the Far East. To facilitate these markets, and ensure continuity of supply, we have warehousing and distribution centres located in the UK, Belgium, USA, and Canada, which supports our objective to keep transportation to a minimum. Currently, our NPD teams are making our products lighter and smaller to maximise space efficiency, which will make them even easier to transport, while driving down environmental impact.

Carrying on this thread of minimising our impact on the environment, onshoring is another avenue we are fully exploring. Throughout our history we have, for the most part, manufactured locally in the UK, and we are investing heavily in additional capabilities in the UK to produce what we previously have imported.

Colpac was founded in the post-war era when packaging was simply functional. Over the years, while still fundamental, functionality has been surpassed by design, durability, and sustainability. Packaging can determine the success of a brand and it is frequently updated and refreshed by companies – how does Colpac keep one step ahead and continually evolve to meet these different needs?

Fundamentally the role of food packaging is to preserve and protect its contents, but it also plays a significant role in helping our customers, enhance their brand, and improve sales performance. Therefore, it is important to consider all aspects of the supply chain in the design of food packaging. The trend of high-end restaurants expanding to provide at home dining is a good example of this. A meal at a restaurant is generally something which is served on a plate with great attention to detail in a restaurant, representing the brand’s ambiance and hospitality values. Translating this experience into a delivered food at a customer’s home is a challenge, as it is important that the restaurant, its standards, and brand travels with them through the delivery. Packaging plays a huge part in this process and the selection of the right packaging to display and transport the food is important to successfully achieve this. For instance, you wouldn’t put expensive, Michelin Star rated food into a simple burger box. Being able to react quickly to changes in the market and respond to customer demands has been an essential component of our success. I believe that this derives from the fact that we have remained an independent company operating from one main manufacturing site, which has afforded us the luxury of being able to offer an immediate response at every level.

Much emphasis is put upon the materials used within the construction of food packaging to ensure that they are sustainable and disposed of correctly. How is Colpac supporting the correct disposal of its packaging?

This has long been an area that we have incorporated into the design of our packaging. What is the point of creating a recyclable pack if it can’t be disposed of correctly? We consider the entire recycling waste chain and the infrastructure which is in place both here and internationally. We work with bioprocessing and recycling companies to ensure that packaging can be disposed of without going to landfill. We are developing solutions to communicate with end users on how to recycle packaging which will be announced later this year.

What are your thoughts on the future of food packaging?

Sustainability, and the evolving legislation and trends surrounding this, will continue to have a significant impact on the future of food packaging. For us it will be the continuation of our approach to seek to understand our customers’ needs, combined with our insight and knowledge of materials which will enable us to create future solutions. We are all on this journey of understanding together, striving to make a better world for generations to come.

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