Variety is the spice of life for Scottish contract packer

CONTRACT packing specialist RESCU Solutions is gearing up for growth after investing heavily in its Eurocentral HQ to increase capacity.

The business, which has predominantly worked with the drinks sector over the years, offers a one-stop-shop for contract packing, storage, and distribution. The firm’s offering ranges from packing and conversion through to quality inspection and point of sale fulfilment.

The company is now looking to diversify and expand after taking the strategic decision during the pandemic to invest in infrastructure, equipment, and people.

RESCU Solutions was founded in 2003 by whisky industry stalwarts Robert Ellis and Douglas Reid. The company initially launched as a supply chain consultancy before being asked to embark on a contract packing project in 2005 for an English-based firm looking to make inroads into the Scottish market.

In 2007, RESCU entered into what it describes as a ‘unique’ business model after sealing a joint venture partnership with a leading logistics solutions provider, which sees the firm benefit from shared resources.

The company has since evolved and today boasts a client list featuring many of the biggest names in the drinks industry including Glenmorangie, Edrington, Diageo, Tennent’s, and Innis & Gunn.

Whisky and packaging sector specialist David Fay joined Robert and Douglas in the senior management team in 2022 when he was appointed head of operations. That move followed the creation of a 10,000 sq. ft purpose-built facility at Eurocentral, just off the M8.

Robert Ellis, Douglas Reid and David Fay

“We almost had a blank canvas,” Robert told Packaging Scotland. “We’ve got six production lines, various bits of kit, and lots of arms and legs.”

“The important thing is we have an elastic warehouse,” Douglas added. “We’re probably holding at the moment 5,000 or 6,000 pallets of our customers’ stock, whether it’s materials or finished goods.”

The interview with Packaging Scotland came just as the busy festive season was getting underway. RESCU was involved in a range of projects including producing end of aisle products for major retailers and assembling gift packs featuring a pint glass and a pair of socks for one well known Scottish drinks brand!

“One of the things recently we’ve been involved in is producing for Glenmorangie their Ardbeg 25-Year-Old, which has now been voted the world’s best Scotch whisky,” Robert added. “It’s that sort of level we’re dealing with now.

“Our role was finishing the product – putting a new capsule and sleeve on and putting it into its finished gift box. It really is a smart looking product. We do a number of these for Glenmorangie.”

One of the factors which keeps things interesting in the co-packing sector is the variety of work that comes in. Douglas explained it’s not unusual for companies to constantly evolve their packaging requirements.

“We’re not repeating, repeating, repeating,” he explained. “You might do something for a year, then a marketing person decides they want to change it. That’s why a lot of companies outsource – because they can’t keep it standardised to mechanise it. They’re outsourcing to the likes of us for that purpose.”

In an increasingly competitive market, RESCU shies away from ‘cut-throat’ practices, preferring to secure work based on quality and service rather than simply being the cheapest provider.

“The kind of customers we have are looking for somebody who will take care of their products,” Douglas revealed. “They’re not looking for a company that’s just going to go, ‘wham, bam, shove it out the door’. We’re the last point before the product goes on the shelf so there has to be a lot of trust.”

When it comes to investment in people, RESCU prides itself on being an accredited Living Wage Scotland employer. Huge emphasis is placed on training, while the company has introduced a four-day working week (on a five-day rota) for staff and several reward and recognition initiatives. Many of the line leaders and supervisors initially joined as agency workers and have progressed up the ranks.

Head of operations David Fay said, “There’s a big focus on people. That’s one of my main strengths. From the production manager down, I spend a lot of time with everyone. Appraisals take place every six months and we set objectives. The employees are multi-skilled because there are that many (different) jobs. We’ve got an on-site recruitment agent as part of the team. The quality standards are really high.

“We’ve created a great environment to work in.

“My background was 20 years predominantly in the whisky industry. I’ve worked in luxury box making as well. When I came here and spoke to the guys and got a tour of the facility, I knew right away this was the place for me.”

Moving forward, the challenge for RESCU will be to secure more customers to fill the increased capacity that has been created.

One blossoming recent partnership, as highlighted previously in Packaging Scotland, has been with Isle of Harris Distillery. RESCU initially teamed up with the distillery as its mainland packaging partner for gin products and is now working on its new single malt whisky venture.

In terms of trends, Robert explained there is a particular focus currently on more premium products.

“Because the dynamics of premium packaging is such, you can’t automate it,” Robert stated. “Companies will always look to produce it down their line in standard packs and put it out to somebody who can finish it. That’s the part we play. They won’t invest in the equipment because it’s very expensive and the lifetime of a package might only be two to three years.”

As a contract packer, RESCU can identify and remedy potential issues. Robert and Douglas recalled one consignment of whisky boxes which came in from abroad smelling of curry. The team spent an entire day laying out thousands of boxes on the floor and spraying the room every couple of hours to remove the odours! Another time, a product with an alcohol content of 4.6% had a missing dot in each label, meaning the strength was incorrectly marked as 46%. RESCU had to add a dot to every bottle. There was also a time when around 40 people had to sit in the dark with torches carefully searching for pinholes in some two million capsules!

RESCU, which was a finalist in the Co-Manufacturer & Packer of the Year category at the UK Packaging Awards 2023, has recently become a member of the BCMPA.

The business is keen to champion the co-packing sector and continue to help raise standards. Robert and Douglas conducted a survey many years ago concerning all the issues people had within co-packing – with a lack of communication emerging as the number one challenge.

“Co-packers never told their customers what they were doing,” Douglas explained. “There were also issues with stock management – co-packers kept losing components because it was never a professional-type business. It was all ‘stick it in that corner’.

“We created something at the start that was really strong on communication, really strong on stock management, and a professional business. That’s rolled on through our approach to every customer in the last 15 years. I think that’s one of our differences; we’re right on top of communication.

“When things are received, when things are despatched, customers are getting told daily, at a minimum – sometimes more often if they need it. Comms is key, and quality. We’re flagging issues to them if there are quality issues. One of our customers actually took all our people to their facility to give them their insight into quality. They’ve all been through the visual perfection of what that means. Every other customer gets the benefit of that now.”