Co-packing the Westpack way
With food safety and customer service as its watchwords, Durban's Westpack has quietly and quickly established itself as one of the country's leading dried food co-packers and can boast several multinational blue chips on its customer list..
The company was founded in 2007 by Paul Saad (brother of Aspen Pharma's founder, Stephen), Neil Walker and Gillian Cave to offer a strategic outsource resource to brand owners for the blending and packing of dry food products.
Neil and Gillian were management colleagues at the now-defunct co-packer, Continuum, with its demise opening up this new opportunity and they have certainly been making the most of it.
'It's rather clichéd to say that there's always opportunity in adversity, but that, fortunately, is how it has turned out for us,' comments Neil. 'Outsourcing is an industry with impetus, with value and benefits for the largest and smallest of food manufacturers and marketers alike. We believe we've established a sustainable business, based on sound values, and we intend to grow our volumes via a track-record of delivering service excellence.'
The three Westpack partners are no greenhorns to the FMCG industry: Paul is the financial brains; Neil, with 30 years' experience in the food and co-packing sectors, takes care of production and supply chain issues; while Gillian, a microbiologist by background, manages all matters relating to quality and safety assurance.
Westpack is based in New Germany, in a factory that was gutted and remodelled at considerable cost, and which has now boasts impressive production and warehousing facilities. Notable, too, is the focus on hygiene: here, indeed, are floors you could literally eat off.
'First impressions count and when customers initially walk in here there must be no doubts in their minds that we are what we claim to be,' says Neil. 'But that said, food safety is a non-negotiable; we understand its importance to our customers who risk massive losses in sales and reputation if there is any breach or problem. So, we have an impeccable factory and, while not certified, we are definitely HACCP, ISO 2000 and GMP compliant. We are regularly audited by our customers and have to meet their very strict parameters which tend to go a step beyond the rigours of those international standards. We are Halaal certified, though, through SANHA.'
From the outset, Westpack's business has largely found it, rather than the other way around. 'We have great contacts and networks from our previous jobs, and so the work has largely followed us,' says Neil. And that's some understatement: what start-up company wouldn't be in business heaven if it was already working three shifts on a 24/7 basis, had to employ 150 staff and put in new capacity to cope with demand?
Westpack is first and foremost a food packager of powders and granules, mostly savoury at this stage, but can also handle larger particulates such as spices, pasta, cereals and coatings. The factory houses a ribbon blender, a new multihead weigher, five horizontal and three vertical FFS machines, a sachet-making machine and several items of downstream, end-of-line technology for glueing, cartoning and shrink wrapping. It can produce single, strip, pillow and block packs, while rigid container packaging is also available with filling both by hand and machine.
'We've set ourselves up to be flexible and versatile and we can handle many of todays innovative new structures and substrates for example we can work with all combinations of paper, poly, foil and metalised poly,' says Neil. Pack fill weight ranges from 5g to 1kg, and sizes from a diminutive 40mm (w) x 40mm (h) to 260mm x 400m.
The Westpack ethos is to be an integral part of its customers business, and 'ensure brand continuity to the end consumer, starting at concept and ending at finished goods delivery,' as Neil puts it. 'Outsourcing is about being a partner of choice; about establishing lasting long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial,' he remarks.
In a sector that is both competitive and price sensitive, Neil has a simple but very adult take on his customers, his opposition and staying in business: 'With customers one has to be an open-book, to be up front, honest and never greedy. And we opt to be cordial with our competitors, and even help each other out when necessary, because the converse is just to slide into a price war that ultimately would put us all out of business. There's room for everyone.'
Westpack T+27 031 7053329
Ten reasons to outsource
Improved speed to market from concept to finished product.
Competitive product costs.
Free up internal resources to focus on the core business.
Reduce and control operating costs.
Lower working capital requirements.
Lower risk on new product launches, market trials and promotions.
Hand over functions that are difficult to manage or are out of control.
Improved labour utilisation.
Gain access to resources or capabilities that are not available internally.
A resource to smooth seasonal fluctuations.
First published in PACKAGiNG & Print Media Magazine, September 2008, written by Brenda Neall.