Innovative Packaging Solutions

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-By D. Barratt

Rapak Asia Pacific may just be one of the most interesting packaging solution providers active today. With its innovative bag-in-box solution – one which not only provides a truly green packaging solution that is easily recyclable and produces a very small footprint in the landfill, but also ensures an incredible longevity that competing solutions just cannot provide – Rapak is not afraid to push the envelope and aim for clever solutions.

Rapak Asia Pacific is one part of a truly global enterprise that provides products and services for many industries, in each continent – though Rapak’s niche is the bag-in-box product and accompanying production and filing machines. What began as Southcorp Packaging during the 1990s became Rapak Asia Pacific through a series of acquisitions.

The company is now a subsidiary of D S Smith, a major international venture that has recently seen a near doubling in value. “They were a 2 billion dollar multinational with interests throughout Europe, the UK, US and Australasia, up until about two months ago,” says Paul Woods, Rapak’s Australian Sales and Marketing Manager, of DS Smith. “Currently they are acquiring a major European competitor, SCA, which effectively doubles the size of the company. It’s all very exciting.”

At the time of this interview, Rapak Asia Pacific had just undergone some major changes in its operation, including a move to brand new offices and a major restructuring of its production and filling operations. “Our business here was comprised of an engineering group producing liquid filling machines for the global market, and a sales office that handled domestic sales. For a number of reasons economic and strategic, we’ve decide to move that engineering division into our head office and main purpose built manufacturing plant in Auckland.” Paul described the move as a major, but needed change that the company had to undergo to meet the ever evolving needs of the industry which will ultimately help the company to better meet customer demands.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s been a small disconnect between our bag development and our filling machine development over the years. It makes very good strategic sense to put it together under one roof. We’re calling it our centre of excellence.”

And although adaptation may be painful, it is also one of the greatest strengths of successful companies. “Good businesses adapt, I think, and that’s very important. You have to modify to market conditions and recognise opportunities and address them. That’s what we’re doing.”

But just what is bag-in-box packaging? Though the process has been experiencing growth, with such major clients as McDonalds and other QSR (quick serve restaurants), it is still a niche market which some clients do not understand. “You could compare it to wine casks on a grand scale,” suggests Paul. “We provide solutions for everything from a one litre size, right up to 1400 litre flexible IBC packaging, which is no small feat.”

Bag-in-box packaging consists of a sealed flexible bag consisting of one or many layers depending on the specific purpose that can be filled with product and fit inside of a corrugated box, specialised drum or transportable pallecon for ease of shipment, but as noted, can be repurposed to contain various amounts of product to suit the specific needs of clients in many industries. Not only can Rapak package products using a green technology that is easily shipped, but the company can also do it aseptically, which can greatly increase the shelf life of many products. “Because of our very unique Intasept® filling system, we can assure sterility pre-fill, during fill, and post-fill. This all means security for downstream use, zero contaminate for consumer, and prolonged shelf life.”

Paul describes Rapak’s packaging solutions as “niche”, but that hasn’t stopped the company from experiencing record sales for the last three years in a row. “Bag-in-box has been a low and slow player in the Australian environment for many years. But in the last couple of years, people have seen the benefit of bag-in-box over the competition.” As customers come to recognise the many benefits of the system, sales can only be expected to continue to grow.

“A major recent achievement has been our work with the McDonalds restaurant chain, which includes the development of a specific type of dispenser product which makes the dispensation process very simple and clean.” McDonalds restaurants use the application for their shakes and smoothies, as well as for other products, and benefit from the ability to mix and prepare products with as little human intervention as possible, keeping the food products fresh and uncontaminated. Not only has McDonalds been a happy beneficiary of Rapak’s bags, but other major restaurant chains, dairy providers, oil, fruit, and juice producers, and many others have also found an ideal solution in Rapak. “Whilst the food industry is definitely a focus we also offer a number of innovative solutions and service many customers from different industries including pharmaceutical and chemical,” Paul says.

Having an excellent and intelligent product is important for the success of the business. “As much as you need a credible product, you also need good people.” Paul stresses the importance of all the people involved – both the customers and the staff – and the connections and relationships that can be forged.

“Relationships are critical in what we do. I have a word that I practise all the time, and that’s called partnering – suppliers, customers, everyone has an equal share in success of the operation.” This is a practise Paul works toward each day within the company, and admits that some may find the idea confusing. “The lifeblood of any company is its people, and it’s important to really partner with your own people. That may sound silly, but it’s true.” Partnering with employees within the company allows everyone to feel valued and involved in the daily operations of the business and creates a greater sense of cooperation and ownership within all levels of the operation.

When discussing the successes of Rapak’s process and products, Paul identifies several key contributing factors, including the eco-friendly nature of the products, the aseptic quality of the process, portability and the longevity bag-in-box packaging provides clients. Bag-in-box packaging makes excellent sense in today’s world where ecological concerns are very real and clients want to be a part of the green movement. Rapak offers a solution that is readily recyclable, leaving a very tiny ecologic foot print in the nation’s landfills. “The green aspect, or the recycled aspect, is very important to us, and it is important to customers. They are coming to us and asking for it.”

Paul identifies the firm’s aseptic guarantee as a great attraction for clients whose products require an entirely sterile environment. “We have a very particular niche within bag-in-box, which is aseptic packaging. We have an ISO9001 and ISO14000 accredited purpose built bag manufacturing plant in Auckland that incorporates a high level clean room, we partner with specialised irradiation services and manufacture a world renowned aseptic filler technology known as Intasept®. That means that we can absolutely assure a sterile, fully microbial and bacteria free environment,” which means that clients within the food, medical, and other industries can rest assured that their products will be filled and delivered in exactly the state in which they are required.

And it is the shelf life that Rapak’s solutions provide that may change the way food is manufactured and moved throughout the world, with a potentially significant impact for developing countries. “The longevity that we can provide for some product is amazing. With the growing emphasis on the global movement of food and banking food, our solutions can prolong shelf life significantly.”

Paul describes the process by which normal pasteurised milk, packaged by Rapak aseptic bag and filler technology, can be kept fresh for as many as three months and when UHT processed, can keep over twelve months at ambient temperatures. The implications are stunning, including the possibility that thousands of new markets could be opened up helping entire populations to receive fresh proteins and nutrients that would otherwise not survive the transportation process outside cold storage.

“Our solutions will have a major impact on the movement of liquid foodstuff throughout the world, and especially into third world countries,” Paul suggests, when asked to consider the potential impact of bag-in-box technology in the near future.

So, what does the future hold for Rapak and its ingenious packaging solutions? The answer is, of course, to become the world’s leading supplier of bag-in-box solutions. And this is no hollow boast, or pie in the sky dream; it is a goal that Rapak fully intends and expects to become a reality.

Coupled with Rapak’s aspirations is that of their corporate parent “Our goal is to become the leading provider of recycled packaging for the entire world. It’s not a hope statement; our DS Smith CEO Miles Roberts has delivered this idea to the shareholders and the board as a mission.” And there is no reason that Rapak, and its solutions, shouldn’t lead the industry. It’s an idea whose time has come, and that makes excellent economic and ecologic sense.

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January 18, 2019, 3:27 AM AEDT