Interview with Roberto Villaquiran, CEO Corrugated Division Europe

Interview with Roberto Villaquiran, CEO Corrugated Division Europe

Roberto Villaquiran talks to Tim Sykes at 'Packaging Europe' about Smurfit Kappa's continuing brand evolution from paper-based packaging material manufacturing giant to indispensable supplier of packaging expertise.

With net sales of €8.1 billion in its packaging division in 2014 and 43,000 employees across 33 countries, Smurfit Kappa does not require the usual introductions to the reader. The business is active across the whole paper-based packaging spectrum, with a portfolio spanning from conventional corrugated packaging to Bag-in-Box® and folding carton, and integrated into Smurfit Kappa's extensive mill system. However, it is not size or market position that the company emphasises when it talks to the market.

"The merger of two great companies in Smurfit and Kappa brought about a vast group in terms of geographic spread and portfolio. However, we don't stress the fact that we are 'big' as such," reveals Mr Villaquiran. "We think of being a hassle-free supplier as our great differentiator. We are easy to deal with and reliable thanks to our infrastructure, our quality of service and our commitment to providing a common method across the whole market." 

If size is not itself a USP, it is undoubtedly a strength on which Smurfit Kappa draws heavily.

"Our scale does of course lend us certain capabilities," observes Mr Villaquiran. "For instance, every year we are involved in some 30,000 supply chains. This builds up an enormous amount of knowledge of our market across various sectors, which we can leverage to the benefit of our customers. Meanwhile, we have some 200 operating units across Europe in our portfolio, each of which has four dedicated designers working on it. This means we have a total of around 800 designers bringing innovation to the marketplace.

Solutions, not volumes

Exploiting this critical advantage in know-how is arguably strategic priority number one for Smurfit Kappa, reflected in its much heralded 'Open the future' initiative.

"The vision is to be a preferred end-to-end packaging provider - a business model that revolves around selling solutions, rather than selling paper by the metre, as we used to," says Mr Villaquiran. "I should point out that 'Open the future' is as much an ongoing internal initiative as a branding drive to let the market know how we have changed. We recognised some time ago a need to open and energise the company, and before launching the campaign, I spent two solid months travelling around Europe visiting our sites to talk to everyone so the whole company is aligned to this ethos."

This shift in approach is reflected in the recent launch of tools such as the six-step 'ShelfSmart' process. Unveiled in April 2015, ShelfSmart is a packaging solution combining and channelling the company's expertise, consumer insights, proprietary technologies and partnerships to generate a competitive advantage at the point of purchase, as well as delivering cost reductions by optimising their supply chains from source to end markets. Other recent innovations bringing together new technology and Smurfit Kappa's unique market insights include the '3D Store Visualizer' and 'Shelf Viewer'. Together, these represent a range of solutions which enable the customer to compare the positioning and merchandising of up to 22,000 products, view new designs in a 3D virtual environment, and test their impact on real shoppers in a risk-free environment using online eye-tracking tools, allowing customers to make it right before making it real. Meanwhile, Smurfit Kappa's design experience is on hand to offer bespoke packaging solutions that respond to this real-world intelligence.