Published in the Dutch packaging magazine VM…
ECPA-members more often co-creators: The co-packer as back-up
Ingo Meierhans, chairman of the European Co-Packers Association (ECPA) and owner/director of the Meierhans Group, looks back on a hectic year, during which co-packers helped food producers in the midst of the corona crisis. ‘In case of emergences, our members can respond very quickly.’
‘During the first corona wave co-packers and co-manufacturers had to deal with a huge demand for producing and packing of disinfectants.’, says Ingo Meierhans. ‘Our factory received between 5 and 10 requests per day. After 2 weeks there was no more ethanol to be found and after 3 weeks all packaging for this kind of product were sold out. This situation around disinfectant products stabilised after 2 months. Then the demand from the food industry increased and that is still the case.’ The European co-packing community is undergoing the second corona wave a lot more relaxed. There is less pressure to supply products very rapidly and there are no long queues at the borders. However, in general everybody is producing at full capacity, as there is an increased demand for food products from the supermarkets.
‘Especially assembled products for home cooking are popular, because consumers are cooking more and more at home and experiment with new products. In Germany for example noodles are very popular.’
A clear finding of this corona crisis has been that many companies do not have a back-up plan ready for when their factory would be closed due to a contamination, says Meierhans. ‘Many companies come to co-packers with their questions. They are looking for possible capacity in case of a closure.’
Co-packers are well aware of all quality- and safety demands surrounding production of food products. The ECPA-members have seriously invested in quality certificates such as HACCP and FSSC 22000. This has paid of in the corona crisis, says Ingo Meierhans. ‘I do not know of any co-packer who has had to shut down because of a corona contamination, whilst for example many big meat processors did have to shut down last year.’
‘Co-packers do take this situation extremely serious and take all the necessary precautions. They organise sufficient ventilation, have staggered breaks, have a regular hand washing policy and obviously wear all necessary protective clothing. It is all about discipline and giving the good example. I wear my ffp-mask all day when I’m at work, because this is what I expect from my staff.’
The outlook for the new year are good for the co-packing community, says Meierhans. ‘The demand for co-packing keeps growing. Many companies have experienced during the corona crisis tat their production is vulnerable and that co-packers are flexible partners, who can accommodate for this vulnerability. Also big companies are now approaching co-packers more often. These brand owners focus more and more on building a brand and leave the production to co-manufacturers and co-packers. If for example Unilever, Procter & Gamble or Henkel come with a new brand, they often talk to 3rd parties for production.’
This trend is also visible in the USA, according to research by the sister organisation CPA (The Association for Contract Packager & Manufacturers). ‘The CPA report has identified clearly that brand owners are now switching from linear to flexible production systems. Co-packers can help there’, says Meierhans. ‘Our role changes from a co-packer who helps out with temporary external packing to a strategical innovation partner. A partner who ensures shorter supply times and capable of producing small production batches.’
One of the challenges for co-packers is the recruiting of good staff. ‘Co-packing is often seasonal. Finding temporary and good staff is not easy. Also in previous years achieving quality certificates and accreditations was a costly affair. This costed heavy annual investments of well over 50.000 euro. Without any guarantee of orders. Meanwhile the ECPA-members have reached such a high level, which makes it so much easier to achieve these certificates.’
Contribution of ideas
Just like in every other market meanwhile, sustainable packaging plays an enormously important role, says Meierhans. Customers often ask co-packers for solutions to pack their products more sustainable. ‘Sustainability is a hot item for the consumer. However, packaging material suppliers do not always have sustainable solutions available, or the solution is to expensive or offers reduced shelf life. Helping our customers with this quest is really a challenge.’
This topic well underlines that the role of the co-packer has developed during the last few years from an external temporary producer to an innovation partner or better said a co-creator. This is why many ECPA-members have invested in knowledge. ‘We have our own inhouse packaging experts who can help the brand owners with innovation. Producers are using this more and more.’
Quality brand ECPA
The European Co-Packers Association (ECPA) has about 70 member companies. To become a member of ECPA, a co-packer has to comply with certain demands. Interested potential members have to be a least 3 years active as co-packer, have a certain minimum turnover and have enough production capacity.
The members are all listed on the ECPA-site and easy to find based on location and specialities. Through the ‘enquiry button’ website visitors can easily send a packaging request. This will then be sent to all members who can individually respond.
They help during times of crisis, support brand owners with market introduction and with their knowledge and experience they can advise during the development of a new product: co-packers. A speciality that has developed throughout the last decades to a mature industry and which in Europe is represented by ECPA.
ECPA started collaboration with CPA (Association for Contract Packagers & Manufacturers) as of June last year. This offers many advantages for both Associations. CPA-members or customers who want to expand into Europe, will get support from ECPA and also the other way around. Furthermore both Associations share research reports, organise webinars and share a stand at major international packaging exhibitions.
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European Market Report
As presented at our conference in Eindhoven (Spring 2019) we have published a new version of ECPA's market report. The 2018 Market Survey, which was conducted between September 2018 and March 2019, is ECPA’s 3rd report.
On 22 and 23 May, the European Co-packers Association organised the 3rd Industry conference which was held in Eindhoven, Netherlands.