IN AN inconspicuous building set back in a compound on Boundary Road Extension in San Juan is a local start-up that is attempting to add greater value to the non-energy manufacturing sector by providing T&T’s snack, beverage, dry food industry with an end-to-end packaging solution.
Founded in March 2018, One Caribbean Flexipac Industries and Solutions Ltd (OCFS) started operations in September. Since then, Rhett Gordon, the company’s chief executive has been prospecting clients and sending out samples of the work the company can deliver. That work is the manufacture of foil packaging used for a wide range of snack and beverage products made in T&T.
At the beginning of this month, in an interview with Express Business, Gordon said the company already has seven clients including National Flour Mills, Bermudez, Vemco, Associated Brands and Asa Manufacturing, the producers of Oh snacks.
Gordon explains that while the company’s customers have used its services, Flexipac is still in the process of bringing them on board.
“We have done work for them. We are in the process of bringing them on board and they are trying us out little by little. It’s a process. None of those I have mentioned do we have in full. We have satisfied some of their criteria and we are being given opportunities as we go along.”
By its nature, he says, the process of onboarding new customers for flexographic packaging is likely to be a lengthy one.
Gordon said: “Based on our research, there are about 30 solid clients and two major groups that can use the bulk of our flexigraphic printing film. We are actually now in the process of preparing samples for one of those groups with a view to carrying out further testing and bringing them on board.
“But that process is a long process. It’s not just a process where you can print and sell to the customers. You are dealing with food manufacturing so you have to make sure that there are certain timeframes and gestation periods that our product has to satisfy.”
Asked if Flexipac has a price advantage over imported packaging material, Gordon said: “Not a price advantage because we did not enter this market based on price.
“We entered based on service, based on just-in-time delivery of the product. This means potential clients will not have to endure long lead times for their imported shipments of flexographic printing. That means local manufacturers will not need to tie up their cash flow as they have to carry months of packaging inventory.
“We can deliver all of the manufacturers’ requirements promptly and efficiently to the highest international standards and print quality.”
He explained that the company entered the business based on the demand that exists and the fact that 99 per cent of the film used here is imported into the country now.
“By us entering at this level of capability and capacity, we can service the industry now. The industry has not been serviced for the last 15 to 20 years.
“We are now able to satisfy the demands that clients require but because you are dealing with foodstuff and manufacturers, you have got to bear in mind that they are not going to switch over overnight. There is a whole process that we have to go through in order to satisfy their own requirements,” Gordon said.
He said the process involves satisfying the customers and potential customers that the film that is being used will seal; that the product does not get stale before the used-by date and that the traceability requirements of the food industry are satisfied. Traceability involves knowing the film that was used, the day it was manufactured and the time it was printed etc.
The printing executive said the company is able to ensure international standards because it invested in best-in-class equipment, including three primary pieces of Comexi equipment, comprising an eight-colour 52-inch press, Comexi Nexus laminator and a Comexi Pro Slitter. The Spanish-made equipment is designed to operate at very high speeds and at the highest levels of efficiency.
The printing equipment is supported by a fully computerised prepress process with Kodak Flexcel computer to plate technology. Also, Wikoff Ink, out of Canada and the US, installed at the Boundary Road facility, their first Caribbean ink-blending room, with technology that gives Flexipac the ability to mix and print any colour within the spectrum.
“The group has spared no expense in terms of ensuring that we have the absolute best facility in this part of the world. And I say that without any fear of contradiction: We have the finest flexographic packaging facility in the Caribbean.”
The group he is referring to is One Caribbean Media Ltd (OCM), the parent company of the Trinidad Express and TV6, which has a 55 per cent shareholding in Flexipac. .
That shareholding is expected to increase to 60 per cent in April 2020, according to OCM’s 2018 annual report. That report also discloses that the start-up capital of Flexipac was $18.2 million with OCM invested $10 million, while the minority shareholders put $8.2 million into the company.
The cost of “making this whole thing come alive” was between $45 and $50 million, Gordon says, adding the initial investment in the company is already bearing fruit as Flexipac is already generating revenue and getting clients to come on board. He estimates the market for flexographic packaging in T&T is about $100 million a year.
“We are looking to capture about 50 per cent of the local market within the next three years,” Gordon said, adding that the company will look to tap the export markets in the Caribbean in the future. He pointed to Jamaica, Guyana and Cuba as being export possibilities. He also noted that the company will save T&T a significant amout of foreign exchange, once it is up and running.
The company has seven current employees but will increase the complement as more manufacturers are onboarded.