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Universal Flexible – a truly unique flexible packaging solution provider >>

'Unique' is a word that gets sorely abused in marketing circles, but it certainly describes Mr Tinku Durrani, the young entrepreneur whose Leicester-based company Universal Flexible Packaging is currently the UK's only contract packer offering Amcor Flexibles' pioneering 'Flexcan' technology to customers nationwide from its brand new, purpose-built Leicester factory. Tinku Durrani spoke to The Grocery Trader.

The Grocery Trader - How big is UFP now?
We are growing at about 15% per year and have a forecast turnover of £4 million this year. We currently employ 35 staff.

GT - You've recently opened a new multi-million pound factory. How big is the new facility?
It's 26,500 square feet, with a large production area and offices on the first floor. The site has EFSIS certification at Higher Level. The company is ISO 9000 accredited, and we're working towards Investors in People certification.

GT - You have also included a large training room/meeting facility in the new office building, aimed at outside companies. How do you see this service working?
It's a purpose-built area of 2,000 square feet, with a boardroom style meeting room and full IT facilities, which we'll be marketing to our customers and outside companies to use for sales conferences and training events. We have a number of 'virtual clients' - people whose businesses are internet based. We envisage that this could be a venue where they can meet their clients and suppliers. It has well equipped catering facilities, and can provide silver service catering for 100 guests.

GT - So how did it all start?
I began UFP in my parents' garage in 1993. I was young, unmarried and ambitious. I'd been working in flexible packaging and decided it was time to make a solo move, so I started trading on my own account selling flexible packaging to small food companies around Leicester, supported by a partner company in Italy.

GT - So how did you go about it?
I researched the UK market, and saw that as a manufacturing base for packaging materials we could not compete on costs against Europe and the Far East, yet there were plenty of customers here who wanted packaging supplied locally, with a personalised service that was right for them. Hence I came up with the UFP concept of service plus an element of 'semi-manufacturing.'

GT - Were you ever put off by the risk you were taking?
I had a few anxious moments, but then as now I knew the key to success was to have a clear vision and follow it through.

GT - Do you ever worry that it's all happening too fast?
I don't think it's happening too fast, by any means! In 2000 I had a vision to grow the business further, and bought 1.5 acres of green field land. Then I waited until the time was right to build on it and then kit it out. We moved in there last October.

GT - How much of your vision have you now realised?
The new factory marks the completion of phase one, a purpose built site with all our business under one roof, providing established structures for our existing client base.

GT - What will it offer to your potential clients?
The new site's resources will attract new multi-national account customers who want to find out more about what we can do. Having said that, we got here by listening to our existing clients. They're still very important to us, and I don't intend to neglect them.

GT - Tell me more about Phase Two.
The next stage of our development, coinciding with the increase of throughput I mentioned, is a state of the art warehouse, featuring a dedicated drive-in racking system and letting us take on longer-term business from the multi-nationals. This will have some 2,000 pallet spaces. Building will start in July, to be finished by December.

GT - So where will that take you?
Phase Two will give clients the ultimate service. We process the product, supply the packaging, pack the finished goods and store it in our warehouse for distribution. The product moves through the same warehouse; this is my vision, a seamless one stop service. Again for our 'virtual clients' this is a real bonus, as we manage the process for them.

GT - How did you get involved in contract packing?
In the early days, when I was working from my parents' garage, people were always asking me where they could find someone to take away their product and pack it. So, four years later, having identified the market, I moved into my own premises to offer that service. We had a small packing line and could design, print and pack in house. We received clients' products and created complete solutions for them, including pack designs. Within three years, we had six small splinter units, offering a fast professional service.

GT - What kind of products do you contract pack?
We process and pack dried fruit, confectionery, pulses, cereals, biscuits - all ambient, dried products. We have six packing and slitting lines.

GT - What do you put your success down to?
It comes down to anticipating our customers' future requirements and investing in concepts that will be relevant three years from now. It's also about offering something different.

GT - Talking of points of difference, there are a lot of packaging suppliers and contract packers around. How do you face up?
In the larger groups the focus is only on multi-national customers. Our customers tend to be mid-size family-owned companies, who like us to work one to one with them, doing their stock control, managing their packaging needs and handling their technology - in short, we're more hands on. Since our move to the new premises and gaining our EFSIS accreditation, we are in a position to take on business from multi-nationals and are already receiving some significant enquiries.
It's a tough climate - the larger competitors dictate a large part of the way things are done, and it's becoming very price-sensitive. Having said that, we're finding our success with the medium size entrepreneurs, who see us as a medium sized company they can identify with, giving a top service. We are now in a position to offer that service to everyone.

GT - On the print production side, what products and services do you offer?
Our print side covers all aspects of the industry, from basic line flexo print to high process flexo up to 10 colours and rotogravure print finishing, and from mono films to complex triplex laminates. We can handle just about any format, including cold seal. Increasingly we are specialising in bespoke flexible packaging solutions, as part of our one-stop contract packaging business.

GT - On the packaging front, is it easy to provide the right pack for clients?
Everything about our business comes down to creating the right pack concept for the customer, and modern digital technology means it can be on the client's screen on the other side of the UK in less than 48 hours. Creating successful packs means listening to the client - ninety percent of the design is in the customer's mind already. We encourage them to come to the studio and work with us to bring their vision to life.

GT - How does your design studio work?
Our design studio is under the control of Mr Akhter Machher, working with a network of creative partners and our clients' marketing functions. Our design work is charged out at a nominal fee, as an integral part of our one-stop service to the client. Design is a great tool to bring in business, and we know our clients value it as part of our overall package.

GT - How long before you can get finished packs to the customer?
From approval it's generally six weeks, though we have done it in as little as five days.

GT - Tell me about the contract packing facilities in the new factory.
We now have seven product lines which in one shift are working at about 50% capacity. On regular contracts, we can process and print packaging within three to four weeks, with the product to go in the packs arriving for packing at the end of week three. The economies which the new packing lines have introduced mean we can generally move very quickly when new work comes in.

GT - How long before you expect you'll need further capacity?
We've finished phase one; now we're gearing up for phase two to be ready when we reach 75% capacity. On the 'flexible' side we have unlimited capacity for output. The material's made in Italy, and we bring in 800 tonnes of packaging every year, which we then distribute.

GT - What training do you provide for your own staff?
We have our own ambitious training scheme, based on the NVQ programme, which contributes to our various accreditations as a company.

GT - You've got EFSIS accreditation. What's the story there, and what does it contribute to your business?
EFSIS at higher level covers all our facilities and procedures. As it encompasses the requirements of the BRC, it gives us an automatic passport to discuss prestigious projects with other companies. It went live at the beginning of April and is already attracting enquiries from the right kind of people.

GT - Can you tell me about the Amcor FlexCan - what it is, what it's used for etc?
Amcor FlexCan® is an innovative new bag solution. It stacks, to make the most of shelf space, and has a reasealable 'lid.' As well as presenting an excellent impression on shelf, the pack is very cost effective. Unlike many other pouches, it allows the product to be packed at the same time the pack is formed, making it an economical option. It's ideal for packing ambient added value products like luxury chocolates and high quality nuts.

GT - Is FlexCan® exclusive to you in the UK?
Yes, it is. We are the only contract packers in Europe who have made a significant investment in this technology for the benefit of our customers.

GT - How did you come to be involved with FlexCan®?
Amcor had developed FlexCan and were finding some resistance from customers, who loved the concept but were unwilling to take the plunge and invest. I put the idea to Amcor that we could help develop the format by offering it on a contract packing basis.
We currently pack various food suppliers' products in this pack format, and will go on doing so until they feel confident to make the investment themselves. For the moment, because we can do it cost-effectively and efficiently, they're happy to outsource this activity to us.

GT - Which products sold in the UK currently feature FlexCan® packaging?
Most of the big supermarkets use this concept for premium dried fruits. Our latest line is flapjack in bite-sized pieces for Wholebake.

GT - On the contract packing side, what kinds of products can you pack?
We can pack a vast range of ambient products from small pieces of confectionery to large bars, for multi-packing and flow wrapping. We offer various bag styles - pillow pack, stabilo-pack, FlexCan® and flowpack - the full spectrum of flexible packaging requirements.

GT - Can you cope with sticky products like fruit?
Yes, we have specialised machines preparing products like prunes, apricots, dates and raisins to go through our production lines, breaking up lumps of fruit ready to be packed.

GT - What else is unique about your contract packing service?
As a business that's grown around the needs of a varied customer base, we're quite specialised in our approach, and see ourselves as uniquely forward thinking in anticipating their future needs

GT - What proportion of your business is contract packing?
It's currently 20% and growing at a considerable rate. We suspect the name of our company gives the impression that we only supply flexibles, but as you can see, we are now geared up to grow our contract packing output significantly.

GT - How do you fit into these companies' supply chains?
We fit in very well, providing exactly the kind of partnership they're looking for. We use outside hauliers who are used to working with big RDCs, who take the packed product back to the hub for us. We're very hot on traceability, from incoming produce and packaging all the way to the hub.

GT - In the case of last minute contract packing jobs, what's your minimum order size and what's the shortest notice you can deliver within?
We can pack 15,000 - 20,000 units per line, per shift.

GT - You recently exhibited at the IFE Exhibition. How successful was the event for you?
The IFE was a very good exhibition for us. It helped us communicate the quality of our solutions and made people take a fresh look at us. We've already gained new business as a result and are still working with leads from the show.

GT - Finally, where do you see UFP going from here?
Up to now, we've been quite reticent - in an industry as competitive as this, our edge lies in keeping to ourselves what we're going to do next. But we'll certainly be letting people know what we're doing as soon as it's ready to be revealed!


Universal Flexible Packaging
Phone 0116 276 9992
www.uniflex.co.uk
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