There is a good chance you have handled these hundreds of times without ever wondering where they come from: egg cartons. Yet there is a world of innovation and challenges behind these. At Huhtamaki in Franeker, this world runs like a well-oiled machine.
Founded in 1907, merged and acquired by foreign parties several times and now part of a listed group (Finland), Huhtamaki Nederland is thriving. The egg packaging manufacturer in Franeker is responsible for the Northwest European market. "We are particularly large in the Netherlands and Germany. Although our customer base consists of packaging stations that generate turnovers of up to €350 million, we also do business directly with the retail sector.' The requirements set by retail are strict. Goos demonstrates by opening and closing a carton. 'The design prevents breakage while the eggs are automatically put in the cartons. Over the years, the cartons have acquired more curves and the flap that hangs down the side has become larger. As a result, there is more room for printing. It may not be obvious, but these cartons actually contain a fair number of tricks and hacks. R&D researches additional possibilities.'
GROWTH IN FAST-FOOD PACKAGING
Huhtamaki is one of 3 major players worldwide in the molded cardboard sector. 'There is not a lot of difference between us, so competition is fierce. That is why customer relations are all the more important.' Outside influences such as avian influenza and the Fipronil affair have a restraining effect. 'We are very vulnerable when egg issues arise, which is why we are considering focusing on other types of packaging as well. Cup carriers, for example, or cups for fast food restaurants. We also produce buffering/protective packaging.'
INNOVATION TOP OF MIND
Raw material availability is a cause for concern, however. Molded cardboard is made of used paper, which although it is sustainable, has its limitations with respect to the number of times fibres can be recycled. At the same time the supply of used paper is declining. Huhtamaki therefore has to be innovative in using other sources. This led to the invention of the revolutionary grass fibre carton. 'Innovation remains top of mind. This may be surprising, given that the egg carton principle is more or less the same as it was 100 years ago. Every company wants to be the first to come up with a completely new carton. Sugar, for instance, can be bought in pouring cartons these days. Things can change quickly in the world of packaging. That is precisely what makes it such an exciting business.'
SCANDINAVIAN AND INTERNATIONAL
In order to optimally develop that growth and to meet the challenges, Huhtamaki needs a supply chain manager. According to HRM, the new colleague will be part of a well-oiled machine. 'We are an open, informal, and pragmatic business and we enjoy getting things done. When something needs doing, it will get done. That may be a typically Scandinavian approach, but at the same time we are very internationally oriented.'