Elopak – Thinking Outside the Carton
Since we last spoke with Elopak they have had an eventful year that has reaffirmed their strategies and goals.
Elopak’s Pure-Pak® cartons offer a naturally sustainable, convenient and consumer-preferred alternative to plastic bottles. When we spoke to them last year, we learned about the vital role they are playing in supporting a low carbon circular economy in the beverage packaging sector.
Since then, on the whole, things have been going well for the company, although obviously, the events in recent months have brought new challenges with them.
“We’ve had another very strong year,” says Thomas Körmendi, CEO of Elopak. “COVID-19 has allowed us to focus on supporting our staff and customers through this difficult time, providing a safe and reliable service with social distancing measures in place. With more people working from home grocery sales have risen, meaning consumption of our products has increased. We’ve also seen the results of the operational improvements we initiated a year ago.”
The Sustainability Agenda
First and foremost, Elopak’s mission to promote sustainability has been making good progress.
“On the sustainability agenda, we’re seeing lower waste in factories, which is good financially as well as from a sustainability perspective,” Körmendi says. “We’ve done a few things that from a strategic point of view are very significant for us. We have constantly improved the performance of our factories around the world. We’ve worked very hard on a strategy to get clarity in our direction that we’ve translated into very tangible activities.”
Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global climate crisis has not become any less urgent, and it remains a huge priority for the company.
“Elopak was one of the first to sign up to the Science Based Targets initiative commitment to keep the rise in global average temperature below 1.5°C,” Körmendi says. “For us, I think this drives how we look at the company and our activities moving forward. We reduced emissions by 70% between 2008 and 2018 and use 100% renewable electricity. We’re now targeting a 55% reduction of internal emissions and a 16% reduction in emissions across the value chain by 2030.”
Indeed, innovation is at the heart of Elopak’s business.
“Innovation plays a central role in helping us meet our sustainability objectives and support our clients and consumers to make conscious environmental choices,” Körmendi adds.
“A highlight of this year has been the launch of our Pure-Pak® Imagine carton in June,” Körmendi states. “The Pure-Pak® Imagine is actually the world‘s most environmentally friendly beverage carton to date. It is fully renewable, recyclable and carbon neutral. It has no plastic screw cap, resulting in 46% less plastic, and is 100% forest-based, made from Natural Brown Board with a barrier that is made from wood-based renewable plastics.”
“It’s not about sentiment,” Körmendi insists. “Lifecycle Assessments (LCAs) of different packaging types conducted by independent organisations and institutes in Germany support our understanding that cartons have the lowest CO2 footprint among liquid food packaging today. Specifically, when it comes to one-litre packaging for fresh milk, cartons have been shown to be 83% more climate-friendly than PET, and 77% better than reusable glass bottles.”
The key to achieving those goals is a strategy, and strategy is Elopak’s strong point.
“We’re looking at the way the company is working with a long-term perspective and clarity is what’s important for us,” Körmendi points out. “Clarity and direction translated into tangible elements, one of which is operational improvements.”
“Over the course of the past year the support of partners such as Westlake Chemical has been essential in ensuring we could quickly adapt and respond to emerging global challenges. In this regard our strong working relationships across the supply chain have ensured the continuity of our operations and the maintenance of the highest standards of production.”
Responding to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic brings its own unique challenges with it.
“In the last 12-month period, clearly COVID stands out as something that was a major challenge for the organisation on several fronts,” Körmendi admits. “We saw a significant order intake, coming at an unexpected rate, which meant the supply chain needed to step up a gear to meet demand. We continue to be very focused on the safety of our colleagues, as well as ensuring the production and transportation of our cartons meets the highest hygiene standards so they arrive safely at their destination.”
It wasn’t just Elopak that was shocked by the spike in demand- so were Elopak’s own customers.
“The high order intake came from customers equally surprised by high levels of uptake. That meant lots of changes; all the planning needed to be adapted,” Körmendi recalls. “We were put to the test. COVID-19 as a challenge is bigger than anything else and the magnitude of this was unforeseen.”
While the challenges were big, so was Elopak’s responsibility during this crisis, and Körmendi quickly realised his company was performing a vital role in Europe’s food infrastructure during the crisis.
“What we did and tried to do was very clear. We play a very significant role when it comes to delivery and distribution of basic foods around Europe and other markets.” Körmendi says. “In Europe, where we tend to have a high share of the fresh food and drink segment, it’s very important to continue to deliver, otherwise consumers in these markets will experience shortages.”
“We have competitors who can deliver but there is not that excess capacity that if one big supplier can’t deliver the rest can cope,” Körmendi points out. “We play a pivotal role in ensuring consumers continue to have basic foods delivered safely and sustainably.”
The way forward for Elopak was to emphasise risk management, identifying all kinds of relevant risks related to the supply chain, the health of Elopak employees, and also risks related to customers and clients receiving visits from Elopak’s technical service to ensure filling machines could operate.
“All of these risks were identified and evaluated on a risk matrix,” Körmendi says. “Anyone who could work from home did and still does. Early on we initiated a systematic risk approach on a daily basis. This enabled us to step up to the challenge.”
A Vision of the Future
The scale of the pandemic’s impact is clearly huge, and at this point, not even fully understood.
“This is a crisis that nobody has any prior experience of. We’ve never seen a pandemic at this level anywhere,” Körmendi says. “So there is a tendency that you will, first of all, ensure operations in the widest sense of the word- your business operations and health and safety protocols continue to work.”
However, Elopak’s ultimate goals remain unchanged.
“Now we have, to the best of our understanding, things under control, you can ask what it means in respect of the programmes we had planned before,” says Körmendi. “That’s how we’ve looked at it, and in short we believe that the drive and the interest around carton packaging and sustainability will not diminish because of COVID. There is a high level of sensitivity towards our need to protect the planet because there are forces at play, whether you’re talking about pandemics or huge changes in climate, and as human beings, we are not immune to these external factors.”