Established in 1949 by Lord Macfarlane and first floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1973, Macfarlane Group has since grown its international presence with locations found throughout the UK and in Europe: “Three specific areas of business are central to the group’s operations,” explains chief executive officer, Peter Atkinson. “At its heart is packaging distribution, which sees Macfarlane Group distribute products to the business market across the UK. The second is packaging manufacturing, where the group designs and manufactures transit packaging for high value items, particularly in the electronics and aerospace industries, and then there is its labeling business, where the group designs and produces labels for the consumer goods industry.”
There are several key areas where the group differentiates itself from its competition: “First and foremost, Macfarlane Group has always maintained a high focus on its customers, working in close harmony to deliver the solutions and products each requires,” Peter enthuses. “One look at the group’s customer retention state over the last decade shows the strength it has in this area.
“The second key aspect, especially important when it comes to packaging distribution, is supplier relationships. In such an area of business, where Macfarlane Group is regularly purchasing products from major packaging suppliers before redistributing them into the market place, the nature of these relationships is absolutely critical. Lastly, and most importantly, much of the group’s success comes as a direct result of its people. Since day one Macfarlane Group has recognised the need to target and recruit the best people across each of its businesses. These individuals are then supported by its commitment to training and personal development.”
For many years one of the leading figures in the field of packaging and labelling, the group’s ability to deliver fully integrated, innovative solutions to its customers has seen it gradually making a name for itself in several European countries: “In Europe one will primarily find Macfarlane Group’s labeling business where it exports labels to countries including its major markets of Scandinavia, Germany, Ireland and Poland to customers including Kerry Foods, Kraft and Procter and Gamble,” Peter continues. “The product that has really helped the group progress in Europe and also the USA is its Reseal-it resealable label.
“Delivering a number of essential sealing qualities, while maintaining product freshness, this is a label type that has proven to be a much more practical option, particularly when it comes to items such as sliced cheese and meat, and is only now starting to make inroads into the UK consumer goods market.”
An innovative approach to product development, the likes of which has led to the creation of products including the Reseal-it label, has long been a staple of the group, and as Peter goes on to highlight, is as important in today’s market as it has perhaps ever been: “For many years packaging manufacturers have had to respond to the fact that, mostly from an environmental perspective, packaging has not been seen in a positive light.
“In response to its customers’ concerns, Macfarlane Group has been working for some time now to design and deliver packaging solutions that are not only fit for purpose, meaning they guarantee to protect their contents and avoid damages, but are also made from the most environmentally friendly and sustainable materials available. Furthermore, this is all done in such a way that limits the ultimate cost burden to the customer.”
As Peter highlights, Macfarlane Group’s approach to green packaging is driven by its simple philosophy to reduce, reuse and recycle: “The starting point when it comes to any undertaking made by the group is to make sure the packaging it is providing does the job required, while not being over specified, which means using the minimum amount of materials necessary to do the job properly. Obviously it is still important not to simplify this process to such a point where the packaging is so flimsy it results in damage to the product.
“The next component involves ensuring the packaging is made up of materials that come from sustainable environments and do not create a large carbon footprint. An example of this can be found in the corrugate the group sells. Ninety-eight per cent of the corrugate sold by Macfarlane is made from recycled materials, meaning that trees are not being felled to make these boxes, rather they are being made from boxes that are being redeveloped and rebuilt into some of the more familiar products the group distributes.”
At the same time that packaging companies have begun to devote greater resources to green solutions, the industry itself has had to face the challenge of significant price inflation. The business conditions that have seen items like a cardboard box increase in price by around 40 per cent in the last 18 months have also created a situation where companies like Macfarlane Group now achieve growth by winning existing market share from its competitors: “Although some areas, such as internet retailing, are showing some growth characteristics, the key to maintaining a strong market position in today’s climate is to be competitive,” Peter says. “In these difficult times customers want suppliers that can be relied upon, that are trust worthy and can bring new ideas to the table, factors that all play to Macfarlane Group’s strengths.”
Despite the challenges it faces on a daily basis, the group proudly announced sales and profit growth in 2010, did so again in 2011 and expects the trend to continue throughout 2012: “Despite the economic climate, these statistics reaffirm the belief that Macfarlane Group has the correct business formula in place that will allow it to progress through those difficulties,” Peter states, before addressing the group’s plans for the months ahead. “Looking forward, from a product perspective, the prospects for the Reseal-it label provide an exciting opportunity, which the group is primed to take advantage of. Meanwhile the group is now in the process of establishing a supply chain in China for Presentational Packaging products. This is a very interesting development for Macfarlane Group and one that will create new growth opportunities.
“Whether in China, the USA or in Europe, everything the group does and hopes to achieve links back to its focus on the customer. Success in the future will be driven by the group’s ability to choose the right sectors to operate in, to become experts in those fields and to be able to do absolutely everything in its power to meet and exceed the needs of its clients. These are things the group has successfully managed to do repeatedly up until now, and there is no reason to believe this will change anytime soon.”
Products Packaging products and labels