- "No single property is decisive – what matters is the sum total of all characteristics".
Deep in the endless, beautiful forests of south-east Sweden is Nybro. Within a 20-kilometre radius, you can find 15 glassworks, many of them renowned internationally – this is the Kingdom of Crystal. It’s also classic emigrant country. Almost everyone here has relatives in Minnesota.
Tying it all neatly together, it only makes sense that one of Sweden’s most famous branded products is poured into glass bottles and shipped off to the US in corrugated board boxes made by Smurfit Kappa using BillerudKorsnäs’ white top kraftliner.
The preferred product
The Nybro plant is an integrated operation resting on three pillars: a board production plant for corrugating and converting board, a preprint facility where liner is flexo-printed prior to converting, and an offset print shop.
BillerudKorsnäs is involved in the flexo preprint part. The preferred product is Korsnäs Design, which is used in the transport/display units for overseas exports of Absolut Vodka.
“The volumes are considerable”, says Carl-Oscar Carlsson, Business Area Manager for Smurfit Kappa LithoPac. “Millions of square metres of board are involved. The liner alone amounts to more than 4,000 tonnes a year.” Besides the vodka, Smurfit Kappa handles Carlsberg beer and certain other Carlsberg-owned brands, Kraft food brands such as Marabou and Gevalia, and Babybjörn children’s products, just to name a few.
A great finish
Design has often been described as the Rolls-Royce of white top kraftliners, featuring a unique print surface that produces print results at a quality level you would only expect from offset-printed liners. Technically, this is due to a top layer of white chemical pulp and a double coating that make up the fine print surface, as well as the strength and stiffness that minimise the risk for washboarding.
“Yes, it’s true that Design offers fine print results”, says Carl-Oscar Carlsson. “But it’s never just a matter of printing. No single property is decisive – what matters is the sum total of all characteristics. We don’t sell print, we sell function. Here, the customer has chosen a packaging material that is tuned to the brand. If you are Absolut Vodka, for instance, you never want to be number two. You set out to be number one at all times. So you choose a packaging material that’s in harmony with your number one position.”
Specifications part of the expertise
No surprise there. Basic brand management truths apply. But does the customer decide what material to specify for the packaging you make?
“Only exceptionally. We always prefer to handle specifications”, Carlsson explains. “It’s part of the expertise that customers buy from us. We know exactly what parameters in a liner, for instance, that offer the right level of printability, the right runnability in our converting processes and the right function in the finished product.”
Strength is a prime factor
So what properties are important for good runnability in your process?
“The short answer: the properties that Design offers”, says Carlsson. “But there is a longer answer too. The brown reverse side of the liner is one of the important factors. The liner is glued onto a simple fluting and then it is imperative that the liner’s gluing side has a surface with the right absorption properties to produce plane, flat board. This is just as important as the smoothness and the coating on the print side. Another factor is strength. Design doesn’t crack when punching or scoring. This is because the material is made of long virgin fibres. Any material made of recycled fibres has shorter fibres and the surface cracks when you work it.”
Friendly and committed people
When talking about their work, people at Smurfit Kappa refer to performance and passion. A package is not just a package, it’s a “communication channel, en ergonomic tool, a packed unit, a brand builder, an environmentalist, a piece of craftsmanship, and thus a fun challenge for cooperation.”
This means that service levels, relationships and human interaction come into the process in a big way, beyond the strict parameters of product specification?
“We get outstanding service from BillerudKorsnäs. I don’t get paid to say this. Where praise is due it comes for free. We never have any reason to complain about the service. Their plants are not too far away, which of course simplifies logistics. Shipments come by truck. This is because our location, Nybro, is off the major transport flows and can’t be supplied efficiently by rail. We receive regular deliveries every two weeks or so from a consignment warehouse. But what really sets BillerudKorsnäs apart in terms of service is the people. Our contacts in Gävle are friendly, competent and committed. They care. Our cooperation goes back 25 years. Just like we have worked with Absolut Vodka since 1979. Good relationships grow deeper and wider for each passing year.”
Two processes, one result
“One last thing – talking about developing relationships. The latest news is our plan to expand our business with BillerudKorsnäs. This will benefit some of our customers immensely. For their volume products, we use Design, the flexo-printed liner. For their smaller volumes, the brand line extensions, we use BillerudKorsnäs Supreme, which we print in an offset process. And the result looks exactly the same! No difference in whiteness and no perceived difference in print quality. This is absolutely unique. This gives us a uniform finish for the entire product line and we don’t have to spend money unnecessarily on flexo clichés for the smaller volumes. It’s a schoolbook win-win situation.”