Boasting spectacular fjords and forests, lakes and lands peopled by the natives of Norway, Finland and Denmark, Scandinavia continues to offer the rest of Europe much in packaging philosophy. Innovation and expansion are the Scandinavian buzzwords reports Pauline Covell

Home to the global titans of the paper and board industry, not to mention carton systems that have revolutionised how milk and other drinks are sold the world over, today these northern businesses are still expanding. This expansion has created more companies of global size.

One example is the Finnish based Huhtamaki Oyj. The company’s lightening acquisition trail over the last two decades has encompassed DRG Cups, Sweetheart International and Carnaud Metalbox rigid plastics in the UK.

It has also embraced Pallares in Spain, Bellaplast (Germany), Lilypak [Australia], Guven (Turkey), Sealright, Tetra Cup, Packaging Resources and Graphic Packaging’s Malvern flexibles unit in the USA, and Mono Containers – South Africa. Then there is Van Leer in the Netherlands [of which it has since divested industrial packaging, technical films, metallised paper and fibre core operations].

Driven by strong progress in Europe and Asia on volume its net sales in the first quarter this year amounted to EUR519M. Just why did Finland produce such a player? Kalle Tanhuanpää, Huhtamäki executive vice president, marketing and development explains: “For us, it was clear that in order to be not only competitive but also influential in a major industry the organisation would have to be global.

“We are proud of our heritage as a Finnish-based organisation and the entrepreneurial spirit of our founder Heikki Huhtamäki. It is this spirit that not only leads us into packaging innovation but also to develop our network into emerging markets, such as Russia.

“Another reason is the expertise we developed in our years as a consumer goods company ourselves. Huhtamaki was an international player in branded confectionery and pharmaceuticals. Now, as a pure packaging company, we have the advantage of knowing what it’s like to be one of our customers and what makes them successful. We also have to be where our customers are. It’s vital that we partner with our customers in ways that are logical to them. Whether McDonalds, Unilever, P&G, or Nestlé, we need to be able to service them from efficient locations around the globe.”

Consumer goods represent some EUR1.2bn or 57% of global sales and rigid packaging is a significant piece of the business. Highlight of the first quarter was, however, flexibles. “We have good growth potential through all our technologies. However, films and flexibles both represent an excellent opportunity to capitalise on organic growth and market opportunities with partners and new product concepts,” says Kalle Tanhuanpää.

Packaging innovation is clearly vital. “Our R&D efforts are not in a single location but are more technology focussed. We have centres of excellence in rigid plastics, rigid paper, films and flexibles, graphics, and moulded fibre. A central R&D team, focussed on innovation, coordinates activities.

“Part of our philosophy is to demonstrate that our thoughts and ideas are similar to the thinking of our customers – that we’re on the same wavelength as partners. That’s why we feel so strongly that innovative packaging solutions actually help differentiate our customers’ brands in a competitive marketplace. This is a foundation element when we begin to enter ideas into our new product development process.

“We work together with our partners to deliver packaging that adds convenience and functionality for the benefit of the consumer. We don’t just deliver packaging. We seek to, and do, deliver additional value,” he adds.

Its Hingelock, for example, is a tamper evident and consumer friendly hinged lid developed initially for ice cream containers. From the filler’s point of view it removes the need for two lids – a heat-seal membrane and re-closeable lid nests easily and, as there is no gluing or welding needed, filling is faster.

It can be used on a broad range of tub technologies. Research reports that consumers like the large tab area for easy opening, no broken fingernails and no loose plastics pieces. They find it easy to open and re-close.

Finland’s most popular blue cheese, Valio’s Aura, has a new laminate wrap. The original aluminum material had remained unchanged for decades although consumers suggested the foil tore too easily. The project to design a new, re-closeable, tear-proof wrap took two years to develop from when Valio first approached Huhtamaki Hämeenlinna in 2000.

Final solution is a heat-sealable laminate produced in Huhtamaki’s Ronsberg, Germany plant. A very thin combination of aluminum (9 micron) and polyester (12 micron), it has been on the market since January with positive customer feedback.

The company now states it is focussed on organic growth. “After a busy decade of M&A activity and the restructuring of our European and US business, we are already realising important organic growth. We will continue to focus our energy in innovation, sales and marketing and service in order to gain additional growth. We’re also ensuring that the assets we do have perform well and are optimally utilised,” concludes Kalle Tanhuanpää.

Over on the western edge of Scandinavia, the Norwegian-based Skanem group has been very acquisitive in the last couple of years. Its owner Ole Rugland is clearly focussed on making it a real force to be reckoned with in labels. The 2001 takeover of S E Labels was one step along the route of the company’s avowed intent to become the number one supplier of self-adhesive labels in Europe.

It now has plants in the UK, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Although it has retained a paint can business, the company’s two metal can plants in Denmark at Skive and Hjallerup have been sold to Glud & Marstrand in April and the Stavanger plant was closed earlier this year. Films are also part of the scheme of things – Riflex Film produces PVC and PET film with production facilities in Norway and Sweden and sales offices established in the UK, Germany and France.

It is in the paper and board field that we have come to expect global dominance and innovation from the Scandinavians. Recently, for example, AssiDomän Frövi launched Frövi Bright, a board said to combine the strength properties of kraft board with a white reverse.

It is especially tailored for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and confectionery segments where there has been reluctance to accept the brown back of the company’s previous products. Frövi Bright has a [TCF] bleached bottom layer as well as top layer. “The combination of the advantages of a strong kraft board and a bright reverse offers new packaging solutions in smart designs. There is no similar product on the market today,” boasts Frövi. Board substances are 270-390g/m.

At the same time the company has announced an improved Frövi Light and Frövi Carry, especially developed for frozen food and multipack applications respectively. Frövi Carry is a virgin fibre carton board with a four-layer construction. It has an unbleached bottom layer and a bleached top layer, with a high quality clay coating for smooth surface printing.

High strength properties and purity are claimed, giving opportunities for weight reduction. Its tear resistance is further improved, as is shown in a recent pack converted by CGV in St Pantaléon Les Vignes, France.

After severe complaints from retailers of damage to packs of its grass seeds, Plan SPG of Avignon asked CGV to take a look. Apart from improving the construction, CGV changed from FBB to Frövi Carry 425gsm, resulting in improved moisture resistance and compression strength.

Convenience has been given to the gardener, as the packaging solution is also a sprinkler with a re-closeable pouring lip. With a three-year shelf life the pack is designed to be stored for time, often in changing temperatures and environments.

Says Mr de Jerphanion, marketing manager, Plan SPG: “Convenience packs like these are a trend. While big traditional packs are sold at garden centres, these are distributed to the supermarkets where the consumers do their weekly shop.

“The sprinkler packs represent a growing part of our production, currently 10%. For the coming season we expect a further growth of 5-10%. On the choice of board material we followed the recommendation from CGV. Since then we have had no complaints.”

Finnish-based Walki Wisa is today one of only a few global players in the business of industrial wrappers. Designed primarily for the paper industry, its products comprise printed protective wrappers for rolls and ream wrappers for copy paper. Protective wrappers for handling heavy products are also made. Production is a world-wide affair, too, with two plants in Finland, two in Germany, one in the UK, one in Sweden, one in the USA and one in China. Total annual capacity is in the region of 300 000 tonnes.

The USA and Chinese plants were opened as recently as late 2002: “In the US our ream wraps, in particular, have aroused considerable interest,” says Lauri Haapkylä, vice president of Walki Wisa Inc. Paper manufacturers are clearly shifting from wax-coating to PE-coating for their wraps. The plant’s new flexographic press can handle eight colours and has been specially modified for the printing of ream wraps.

The Shanghai facility is also off to a good start. “We have had full order books ever since we launched the production of printed ream wraps in November 2002,” says plant manager Börje Eriksson. The Chinese markets are experiencing heavy growth with both UPM-Kymmene and Stora Enso stepping up production of fine and copying papers in the country.

Back in Scandinavia in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, Walki Wisa Converflex invested in a new 8-unit Comexi flexo press last year for printing ream wraps. And, at Jülich in Germany, the company has also invested in a new flexo press that came on line in April this year. The 5-unit Fisher & Krecke line, which may be expanded by three further units, joined two other printing lines.

Stora Enso’s board finds its way to most corners of the globe. In Japan, for example, the popularity of ready to drink tea has boosted its liquid packaging materials through Nippon Paper-Pak’s use of the company’s high barrier board designed for aroma and taste-sensitive beverages.

The board is highly suited to the 1-litre family-sized cartons sold in supermarkets. Refrigerated tea now sells more than any other drinks product and, according to Markku Rauhala, sales director of Stora Enso, Japan has “made a definite difference to our sales volumes”.

Some 5 285 000 tonnes per year are sold compared with 2 343 000 tonnes of carbonated drinks and 1 537 000 tonnes of fruit juices.

Nippon tested the packaging material for such properties as the conservation of vitamin C content, which is used as an indicator of barrier properties.

Danish packaging specialist, Færch Plast, headquartered in Holstebro, is incorporating Cargill Dow’s Nature-Works PLA into its new packaging line for cold fresh foods, such as meat, salads and pasta.

The company produces packaging ranging from trays, containers and lids to heat-sealable containers for ready meals.