Bagco – It’s in The Bag

General Manager Russell Prior talks about how Bagco has revolutionised bag technology and storage in Nigeria.

Bagco was established as a wholly owned subsidiary company of Flour Mills Nigeria (FMN) plc in 1972 when it commenced operations at the Iganmu site in Apapa. The company expanded its operations into Kano and set up a manufacturing facility in Sharada in 1990 establishing a pan Nigerian supply of woven Polypropylene bags. In 2007 the flexible packaging unit Morpack was set up in the Iganmu site complex.

Over time the company has seen the technology behind its bag operations develop and expand a comprehensive portfolio of products to supply a diverse base of customers in the Agricultural and Industrial sectors both in Nigeria and abroad.

With its large installed capacity and extensive manufacturing capability, Bagco has grown to be one of the largest woven polypropylene packaging facilities on the continent able to deliver the volumes required by both large and small industrial and agricultural customers.

Initially also established to supply the flexible packaging requirements of the food manufacturing units of FMN, Morpack embarked on an expansion trajectory in 2016 to meet the demands of targeted sub-sectors in the fast-moving consumer goods space in Nigeria. This has been founded on accretive sustainable growth.

The initial expansion provided additional printing, laminating and slitting capacity. This was followed by a second phase expansion in 2020 to further increase rotogravure printing capacity and ancillary equipment. Special mention has to be given to Bimec Italy which has partnered with the company to supply slitting equipment and Nord Meccanica Italy for lamination, both contributing to the recent success of Morpack.

Where it All Began

The company was started by the late Mr George Coumantaros the founder of FMN and was his brainchild. At the time flour was packed into bags made from calico. The development of circular loom technology to weave polypropylene tape into strong functional bags had been developed by Starlinger Austria with whom the company partnered to introduce this pioneering development. In 1999 in the same vein, Bagco again partnered with Starlinger to manufacture woven polypropylene cement bags using the patented AD*STAR technology.

This was a game-changer for the packing of cement in Nigeria and later became the industry standard.

The congratulatory message from the head of Starlinger, Mrs Angelika Huemer, captures this:

“BAGCO has always had a touch of the pioneer spirit. They were among the first woven PP bag manufacturers in Africa to purchase the newly developed Starlinger circular looms in the 1970’s, and in the late 1990’s, when we started to market our patented AD*STAR block bottom valve bags, one of the first Starlinger AD*STAR projects was installed at BAGCO. During those times my late father Franz Huemer built a very good business relationship with Mr. George Coumantaros, the founder of FMN Plc. and former Chairman of BAGCO. The close relations of our companies have been continuing until today – now, for about 20 years, between John Coumantaros and me. The belief in progress and the readiness to try out new technologies paired with intelligent diversification strategies have made BAGCO Africa’s largest manufacturer of premium polypropylene bags. On behalf of Starlinger I extend my heartiest congratulations to BAGCO on the occasion of the 50th company anniversary and wish you all the success for many more years to come.”

The Bagco Kano operation originally focused on the production of its iconic harvest bags for packaging and storage of grains produced in the grain belts of Northern Nigeria, but later its manufacturing capabilities were expanded to produce one-tonne bulk bags, travel bags made from strong woven polypropylene cloth and specialised laminated packaging using laminates of biaxially orientated polypropylene film which has enabled customers to provide product offerings of international standard. The site has recently partnered with Lohia Corporation India to upgrade its extrusion technology and weaving capabilities in wide fabric and processing capability of polyethylene-based resins produced in Nigeria.

An Iconic Brand

With its position in the industry and highly effective marketing and branding in the early days, Bagco has become a household name in Nigeria and beyond. The brand equity remains high, and the envy of competitors and the strongman logo and super sack motto are recognized pan Nigeria.

Bagco has expanded its marketing tools to embrace all digital marketing platforms and continues to keep the brand alive and relevant in an ever-increasing competitive market.

“A lot of people have tried to follow in our footsteps, but we remain ahead of the competition.”

Prior has been an important part of Bagco’s development over the years. “I am responsible for the Bagco Group, my role is to lead the team and develop and deliver strategies for sustained growth, building on the consolidation and growth we have achieved in the last eight years,” he details.

The previous two years presented a number of additional challenges and headwinds created by the covid pandemic and an extremely volatile and uncertain global supply chain.

The company has long-established global and national supply chain partnerships for strategic inputs, and together with the support of the parent organisation, we managed to ensure continuity of supply throughout this critical period ensuring on time in full deliveries to all our customers.

Demand for fast-moving consumer goods was extremely high in this period and special mention needs to be given to all employees who showed tremendous commitment and support to operate the factories at the high levels required despite lockdowns and other pandemic induced difficulties.

To ensure continuity of supply and steady-state production Bagco has a fully integrated power plant providing energy 24/7, the Iganmu facility can operate on both gas and diesel, and accordingly has a great deal of flexibility. Currently, the unit is installing a 6.4 MW gas turbine to increase its power capacity and efficiency.

Foundation of Success

People are at our centre and the company places the Health and Safety of its employees as the number one focus, we are reinventing our culture to drive continuous improvement and processes to higher levels for the sustainability of our business.

Recruitment is a crucial factor when building a company something Prior is very aware of. “We look for people with ability and integrity, and the willingness to work in teams and show initiative, these are all in line with our Core Values, we want people who can add value to the company,” he explains.

Development of core skills and capability building is an ongoing program to leverage the asset base installed. “Developing future leaders is also an important focus and we have two members of our senior management team benefiting from an executive leadership program,” he further explains. Prior is proud of the local representation within the Bagco workforce, “we are proud to be a Nigerian company that is operated by Nigerians, something we feel is unique in our Industry,” he states.

Behind and in support of the people, there is a drive to optimise Processes to make Bagco as efficient and effective as possible. “We use lean manufacturing processes incorporating five Sigma and Manufacturing excellence techniques which include overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)metric hierarchy to increase productivity from the shop floor to top management.” Employee engagement is at the centre of this.

At the core of our business processes is Quality and Bagco is certified to ISO 9001:2015 standards and is embarking on introducing food safe practices across the sites benchmarked to FSSC 22000.

The diversity of our product offering is a key success factor for Bagco and its ability to deliver its selling proposition of offering total packaging solutions to the market.

This has been the result of continuous innovation and investment in technology.

More Innovation

As Bagco nears its 50th Anniversary the company remains passionate about its desire to drive the business forward and continue to innovate by further developing its product offerings and industrial processes.

As a landmark investment and diversification, the company recently installed successfully an in-mould labelled injection moulding line to manufacture high-end containers for the packaging of margarine and spreads for one of our sister companies in the FMN group. This embodies the packaging solution delivery and will provide packaging previously imported.

The equipment using high-end injection moulding and robotic label placement from Europe is a game-changer for the local market.

In our Morpack division of note are the recent upgrade of the prepress system and the successful commissioning of a high technology ink mixing facility using colourimetry and advanced computerized formulation. This is another pioneering initiative achieved with the partnership of DruckFarben Inks Nigeria which will significantly enhance the consistent quality of our flexible packaging and improve process efficiency.

In the bag operation, a new product has been launched using patented Innovative technology from the partnership with Vestergaard Switzerland. The Zero Fly Storage bag is an insecticide-incorporated woven polypropylene bag developed for post-harvest storage of agricultural commodities, including cereal grains, pulses and seeds.

The active ingredient Deltamethrin is a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) approved pesticide for controlling pests. Commodities stored in these bags are protected against external insect infestation.

Prior believes passionately this innovation and product offering will have a significant impact on reducing post-harvest grain losses and empowering smallholder farmers who are at the centre of Nigeria’s agricultural transformation policies.

Developing synergies in the agricultural space is core to Bagco’s strategy, and this is yet another development to achieve that.

Synergising for Agriculture

Leveraging its innovations in both process and product, Bagco is working with key stakeholders within the Agric space both in the Agro-Allied division of FMN and other players to assist smallholder farmers to improve yields and outputs in pursuit of the Country’s agricultural transformation. Part of this involves the data collection from targeted farmers to develop synergies with the supply of agricultural inputs like fertilizer and seed and ensure that together with agronomic support farmers have adequate inputs at the right time to improve output.

This season Bagco will be launching grain drying mats based on its recent installation of wide laminated fabric processing.  The use of these mats will help reduce mould infection and contamination of Aflatoxin which is of great public concern due to its cancer-promoting properties and improve the marketability of the grains to the food processing sectors.

Building on the Zero Fly storage bag this season will also see the launch of a Hermetic bag using patented film technology to reduce plastic waste and provide a hermetic grain storage bag which excludes air from the internal contents, thereby curtailing insect growth and maintaining the quality of the grain by significantly reducing exposure to repeated chemical treatments and reducing post-harvest losses. There is an added benefit in that the bag construction blocks the effects of external humidity fluctuations as well as the spread of fungi to non-infected kernels.

Bagco has the ability to produce this packaging on a scale and therefore has the potential to impact positively on the success of smallholder farmers in the region.

Into the Future

Bagco’s legacy and growth position the company well to continue adding value to both the parent organisation; helping FMN deliver its mission of “feeding the Nation every Day” and supplying packaging solutions to the wider market in support of the growth of the Nigerian economy.

More like this