Arjowiggins – Turning Over A New Leaf
We learn how a company with centuries of history is making paper relevant in a digital age.
You might be reading this article in the print edition of Business Focus Magazine. However, it is just as likely you are reading our digital edition. More and more of our content, our news, our books, our entertainment, is moving into the realm of the digital. But there are still those for whom paper will always hold a special place in their heart.
It’s a digital world, but I love the feel of paper, the touch of it,” says Christophe Jordan, Managing Director of the Translucent Papers division at Arjowiggins. “Paper is part of the history of the developed world. One of the measures of the level of development of a country is the volume of paper it consumes per capita. It’s at the heart of our life.”
Learning about Jordan’s history and family, it is perhaps easy to see why paper is a topic he is so passionate about.
“My family have been papermakers since 1786,” he tells us. “We started as French papermakers, owning a well-renowned mill. My father was a paper engineer in the industry, so I inherited his passion and love of the material.”
Being in the sector since 1786 means that Jordan’s family connection to the paper industry is however slightly younger than that of Arjowiggins itself, whose oldest mill was founded in 1698 (Guarro Casas in Spain) and is still running.
Arjowiggins is a major player in the fine and technical paper market. While its history spans four centuries, only a year ago the company underwent a management buyout, becoming a fully independent Scottish company with its headquarters in Aberdeen. The Group is structured around those headquarters and the company’s four paper mills in Scotland, England, Spain and China.
“We remain world leaders in many niche markets. We are very flexible, thanks to the size of the Group and that as well as being the operational managers we are also the owners,” Jordan points out. “Our strategies can be implemented quickly even though we’ve been manufacturing paper for over 300 years. We have a long history of quality papers, and with the new set up we bring experience and dynamism to the industry.”
A Clear Vision
With Arjowiggins having so much history behind them, one could be forgiven for thinking their business was rooted in preserving the old ways, rather than working at the technological (paper) cutting edge. However, Arjowiggins’ latest product is not only at the vanguard of paper R&D, it has also got vital applications for sustainability.
“We’ve been making translucent papers, what we normally call tracing paper, for more than 80 years. We made a concerted effort a couple of years ago asking ourselves what role we can play to solve the challenge of replacing plastic,” Jordan explains. “We can make a transparent paper, but to be a true replacement it also needs all the barrier properties of plastic.”
Two and a half years ago Arjowiggins started development on a translucent paper that would also work as a barrier, and this paper was embedded with some key barrier properties similar to plastics.
“It looks almost like a tracing sheet of paper but provides an impressive barrier to oxygen, grease, mineral oils and aroma,” Jordan says.
The initial applications of this paper have been in food packaging– primarily in pouches, sachets and wraps for nuts, snacks or even salad and the transparent windows of sandwich packs. However, the new paper is already seeing interest from other sectors.
“There’s the cosmetics industry, which we didn’t target as our first potential market but which is now showing interest because paper is a fantastic barrier for oxygen- better than any plastic!” Jordan says. “We’re also seeing applications in the consumer electronics industry. We’re replacing plastic wrap, but keeping the luxury look of seeing through the wrapping.”
Of course, this technology, and more, are the fruit of Arjowiggins superb Research and Development department, something you might be surprised to find in a 300-year-old paper manufacturer.
“It’s absolutely key,” Jordan insists. “What we’ve been able to do is retain a very strong Research and Development team. We could have lost that when we went from being a large company to a much smaller group, it would have been easy to say, ‘Okay let’s drop the R&D and do what we’ve always been doing’. But in the paper space, we have always been at the leading edge of innovation, so we made a conscious decision to keep those resources, to keep all that know-how.”
With that team in place, Jordan sees a bright future for Arjowiggins. Food packaging is far from the only area where paper can replace plastic.
“We’ve developed a paper that can replace plastic as a substrate for printed electronics,” Jordan reveals. “To take a relatively easy example- hotel key cards are plastic with an embedded chip which you hold up to the door of your room. We are proposing alternatives to that made purely from paper. That’s quite a breakthrough in a totally different space.”
At the same time, replacing plastic is far from the only way paper can help create a greener future.
“We’re looking at more and more materials made from sustainable fibres. All of our papers are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified and we all know papers that are 100% made from recycled fibres, but there is also a push from the market for sustainable alternative fibres, hemp fibres, bamboo fibres, any kind of fibre from sources other than wood and that are fast-growing,” Jordan explains.
Arjowiggins is well placed for the future, continuing a centuries-long legacy for the company, and Jordan’s family.
“I’m so grateful to be part of the story of this group,” he says. “The Arjomari name, that then joined Wiggins Teape to become Arjowiggins, is linked to the family mill we had in the 19th century, so it’s an honour to now be one of the owners of this group.”
And while these new applications are exciting, Jordan also points out that recent events have demonstrated the value of the tactile and haptic experience paper offers.
“As human beings, we like and need some tangible contact,” Jordan explains. “We can see with COVID, it’s difficult because we need that social contact, we need to touch, and I feel like paper appeals to the same instinct.”