Consolidation in the European packaging industry continues apace and the US company Chesapeake has been at the forefront of this process. In a bid to offset increasingly consolidating, capital intensive and cyclical markets, Chesapeake had the foresight to start selling its US-based commodity paper, forest and corrugated packaging products in the mid 90s. Rodney Abbott reports

It invested the sale proceeds in several acquisitions that have transformed the company into a value-added paperboard and plastics packaging products leader with a focus on specific end-use markets. In March 1999, the catalyst for this change was the acquisition of Field Group plc, who had been struggling to realise its true value as a floated business on the London Stock Exchange.

Chesapeake gave Field the financial ability to expand its presence in the key markets it serves. The acquisition of Boxmore International in February 2000, which was combined with Field Group, significantly strengthened its position in the pharmaceutical sector as well as extending its product range into uncharted territory – namely plastics.

The packaging sector still offers many challenges but they are surmountable as marketing services manager Bob Houghton explained: “Against a background of stronger tender activity, the main task for the industry over the next five years will be to effectively communicate the true value of its total service to customers.

“This includes design, innovation, quality and technical ability but it is important customers are aware that these services may need to be withdrawn if the price falls too low.

After Field and Boxmore became the First Carton Group other key acquisitions have taken place in the labelling and printing sector. These include Berry’s in May 1999; Lithoprint in September 2000; the in-house carton printing operation of British American Tobacco in January 2001; and Green Printing & Packaging in March 2000.

Today, Field Group specialises in the design and production of high-quality printed cartons, leaflets, labels, composite tubes, rigid set-up boxes, vacuum-formed packaging, transparent packaging and plastics folding cartons. It operates from 39 locations and its primary markets include pharmaceutical and healthcare, international and branded products, food and household, luxury products and tobacco.

Innovation is key to Field’s success. As Bob explained: “We seek to provide innovative and imaginative solutions that are practical and realistic.

“The value of design innovation, therefore, extends beyond the obvious market sectors such as confectionery and cosmetics.

“It is equally important in creating effective packaging for food and household items. Our innovative design principles are also demonstrated by packs that make the optimum use of materials and provide maximum efficiency in product packaging, palletisation and distribution. In contrast, Boxmore Plastics, operating from seven locations, specialises in rigid plastics containers, pre-forms and closures.

“Its primary markets include pharmaceutical and healthcare, food and beverage, as well as speciality chemicals.”

The company claims to sell more paperboard [cartons, leaflets, booklets and labels] products in Europe than any other supplier as well as enjoying a strong presence in several niche markets for plastics bottles, closures and caps. Chesapeake is second only to Mayr Meinhof in carton production in Europe. As a paperboard converter, Chesapeake now claims to have no equal on the Continent. I asked Mr Houghton how he saw the group developing over the next few years.

“Our focus will be to develop our global presence,” he said. “We have established several pan-European supply networks to serve key markets such as pharmaceuticals, tobacco and confectionery and we would like to extend these further.

“Chesapeake already has operations in 10 countries including China and South Africa and a key objective for the group is to extend this presence further.

“The last few years for the group have been exciting and we have managed sustainable growth.

“We are firmly set on a course of continuing our approach of providing quality, expertise and value to our total customer base.”

Starpack Sponsor

“Field Group seeks to play an active and supportive role in the wider community, especially through educational links. We

place particular emphasis on assisting schools and further education and are pleased to sponsor the IoP Student Starpack competition.

“This initiative, joining learning and hands-on creative expression, is an excellent way to encourage and reward young talent within our industry.”

Field Group sponsors several university courses and recognises that there are mutual benefits. The sponsorship of a department at Leeds University has strengthened the group’s technical ability.

Studies include ink mileage, taint and odour, UV flexographic printing to name but a few. Similarly, support at Queens University in Belfast, particularly for plastics packaging, has continued to demonstrate its value.

Bob Houghton, Marketing Services Manager, Field Group plc.