Boxing clever as sheet plant investment pays off for Pitreavie

Stephen Heslop and Scott Alexander

PITREAVIE Group has reached the first anniversary of the opening of its new 57,000 sq ft corrugated sheet plant in Cumbernauld – with the facility already having a transformative impact on the business.

The site — Scotland’s first new sheet plant in 20 years — is the ‘core pillar’ of Pitreavie’s future growth plans. 25 new skilled jobs were created when the building opened last year and a further 10 jobs have been created since then.

The final touches are currently being applied to a new innovation centre on the top floor, where customers will be able to visit and take away new design samples on the same day.

Pitreavie Group MD Stephen Heslop told Packaging Scotland the new site has hit the ground running despite being launched at the outset of a global pandemic.

“We took occupation of the building pre-Christmas 2019; we then had 3-4 months installing the first wave of equipment,” he said. “Everything was pretty much installed pre-pandemic apart from a die cutter arriving from China.”

Explaining the thought process behind the decision to open a dedicated corrugate box manufacturing facility, Stephen revealed the business wanted to be a ‘bit bolder’ and ‘go big’ to support ambitious growth targets. Pitreavie is 11-years-old, having started primarily as a packaging merchant before embarking on an acquisition strategy which has seen the purchase of Sorba-Freeze, Andersons Packaging, CP Cases, Snapco and Leipers Associated Packaging. 

A number of potential sites were considered before settling on Cumbernauld.

“A lot of the sites we looked at would have sufficed but what they wouldn’t have done was give us the opportunity to create something like this,” Stephen added. “We wanted to expand our thinking beyond manufacturing and think about what we could do for our customers that would be different, which is the innovation centre. Part of our offering is customers can come in and tell us about a problem they have with their boxes, or a new design. The designers can go away and design it while they are here, and give them a sample before they leave, with the facility to even offer a full colour mock-up if required.

“We are a solutions-based business. What our customers want are solutions. The market’s changing; the dynamics of the market are changing. There’s lots of other credible people who do similar things to us. One of our differentiators is our ability to service customers on a flexible basis and provide them with solutions.”

Pitreavie Group manufacturing director Scott Alexander explained that the Cumbernauld site boasts a wide range of equipment including a high speed casemaker, flatbed and rotary die cutting machines, speciality gluing including crash lock and 4-point, and a series of other finishing equipment. The site has its own ink dispensing kitchen with a spectrophotometer for colour management. A large format plotting table allows the firm to quickly produce samples in its design department.

Many of the experienced staff within the business have worked for Scott previously. He said they recognised the enormous potential of the new site and were all keen to be involved from the start-up of the site.

“They can see within 12 months the place is already extremely busy,” he said. “We are investing in the site all the time and everyone is excited about what we’re doing and the journey we’re on.”

Scott added that the biggest challenge so far has been the current unprecedented demand in the paper supply chain due to a number of factors including pre-Brexit advance stocking, the rise in e-commerce for home deliveries and the challenges within the recycling supply chain due to the pandemic. 

The current trend for home deliveries has also led to a substantial increase in demand for Pitreavie’s chilled packaging business Sorba-Freeze, with many restaurants and high street retailers adapting to new ways of servicing customers.

“There are a wave of new businesses requiring packaging,” Scott revealed. “That seems to be on a daily basis which is great for the packaging industry.

“With the plastic tax coming in, people are trying to move away from more traditional plastic packaging components to a paper-based product.”

Pitreavie has an investment plan in place for the next three years. Scott said the business will probably look to focus on the volume side of the market as opposed to a traditional sheet plant doing small quantities, though the company will continue to do that as well. The significant growth in the business is expected to be within the food and drinks sectors. 

Despite challenges including price volatility across the packaging spectrum, both Scott and Stephen declared themselves optimistic for the industry as a whole. “Everything that we read, everything we see and hear anecdotally, would suggest that the growth in the marketplace is going to be significant for some considerable period of time,” Stephen said. “Sustainability will come back to be a major priority. The whole plastics issue is gaining pace when you look at what the retailers are saying about the removal of packaging materials. I think corrugate has a real role to play in fulfilling that.”