As the demand for flexible packaging grows, UKRPLASTIC strives to remain at the forefront of research and development when it comes to its manufacturing technique. Irina Mirochnik, CEO, talks to Packaging & Converting Intelligence about the company's commitment to sustainability throughout its operations and about its plans for expansion in the coming years.
One of the most pressing issues for Irina Mirochnik, UKRPLASTIC CEO, to address has been to adapt the continually changing manufacturing processes of one of Ukraine's leading packaging producers to the new environmental order.
"As consumers around the world pay more attention to the convenience of use and the sustainability of their products, we as a company are witnessing an increasing demand for flexible packaging made with innovative technologies," she explains.
As it currently stands, flexible packaging is the most economical and environmentally friendly method of packaging, storing and distributing foodstuffs, beverages and pharmaceuticals. And demand for it is rising rapidly. According to a study published by market analysis firm Smithers Pira, global demand for flexible packaging reached $210 billion in 2015, with a potential for continued annual growth of 3% over the next five years. It's a scenario for which UKRPLASTIC is well prepared.
"The awareness surrounding the trend of the widespread use of 'smart packaging', which is created from high-tech, multilayer polymeric materials, will only grow, and UKRPLASTIC is placing its stake in such products," says Mirochnik. "Currently, our company produces more than 50 different packaging variations, including flow-pack, doy-pack, stand-up pouches, shaped pouches, twist-wrapping and many others. Our clients have increased their sales and reduced their costs by 6%, simply by switching to barrier packaging."
UKRPLASTIC has a legacy of scientific innovation in packaging dating back to its foundation as a wood-container repair yard outside Kiev in 1927.
Within a decade, the factory had switched to the production of wood-chemical products, even going so far as to see three of its chemists win the prestigious Stalin Prize for developing a new method of camphor synthesis.
The plant's products were deemed of such importance that during the German invasion of 1941, the factory was evacuated to the Urals along with whatever other heavy industrial plants that the USSR could salvage.
By 1966, the plant assumed its current name of UKRPLASTIC, by which point the manufacturing expertise at the factory allowed for the mass production of technical PVC foil and blown polyethylene films.
As UKRPLASTIC emerged from the fall of Soviet communism in the early 1990s, its reputation rested on manufacturing a diverse range of products, from knotless nets and packed tablecloths, to the PVC pipes and foils that made it the pride of the packaging industry in the old Union.
However, as its former owner Oleksandr Galkin observed, new composite polymers offered a route into full-scale modernisation of the company's manufacturing processes as well as a chance to make them more environmentally sustainable in the long term.
"To that end, we invested heavily in new production methods, as well as a scientific and technological foundation to complement our employee training programme," explains Mirochnik.
"We are always open and honest with our clients, sharing a common interest in the refinement of the production process. We are convinced that it is necessary to effectively coordinate with the client and to take personal responsibility for the overall result."
Since 2002, UKRPLASTIC has maintained a full production cycle for a range of flexible-packaging materials that include finished paints and rolled materials.
Sustainability is now a principle fully woven into the company's supply chain and its liaison with its customers around the world. The result has been close cooperation with world-leading brands such as Nestlé, Mondelez and Coca-Cola.
"Sustainability is a global trend, and we are making every possible effort to ensure that it becomes a priority across the Ukraine's packaging industry," Mirochnik says.
It is this commitment to a socially responsible and open business style that UKRPLASTIC's CEO believes is pushing the company to meet the highest European standards.
Mirochnik says: "Our company uses all the best information that is available to us on the market for several key purposes: to promote our new products based on the latest technological developments and to search for new customers. To that end, we're actively using social networks and interactions with potential customers on e-commerce sites to refine the message about our products, which we convey on our main website.
"Regular press releases to the media and presentations and conferences for current and potential customers, in addition to active participation in the activities of industry and with business associations, have helped us build a modern and successful marketing strategy."
However, Mirochnik has not been content with leaving it at that. Her efforts have extended to an active lobbying campaign within the Ukrainian parliament to bring national sustainability standards in manufacturing up to the levels of its neighbours in the EU.
Mirochnik says: "With that in mind, we, along with other like-minded people from business circles and civil society, are actively participating in legislative work, which will bring our country closer to the best European standards and practices in the field of environmental protection.
"UKRPLASTIC also participates in the UN's global social initiative 'Save Food' and promotes its principles throughout Ukraine. The main objective of the programme is to find effective ways to reduce food loss and food waste. According to international experts, the solution to this problem is in the development and spread of 'smart packaging', which preserves the excellent quality of the product and results in minimal impact on the environment."
Above all, says Mirochnik, UKRPLASTIC's success in building a strong, sustainable offering for the packaging industry is an opportunity in itself to showcase Ukraine's potential as a haven for high-tech manufacturers. "In that context, UKRPLASTIC will continue to grow and enter new markets," she says.
"For example, we're currently working on increasing our production capacity in Latvia. As always, we will devote considerable attention to charity, social and environmental initiatives. This is our style of doing business, which we strive to demonstrate and spread throughout our country and beyond."