Afripack (Pty) Ltd was originally founded in Durban during 1933 as Paper Sacks (SA) by the cement industry to produce cement bags. One of Durban’s oldest businesses, its long history has resulted in its name changing several times in line with ownership. These changes were DRG Sacks, Kohler Sacks and in 1995 to Afripack, following listed group Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC) acquisition of the company. The company’s first products were cement sacks but in 2003, after being approached by Mondi to diversify, an investment in new technology facilitated the production of consumer packaging. In 2008, a significant step was Afripack’s purchase of Astrapak Flexibles, which enabled the growth in production of consumer flexible packaging products.
A new chapter in the Afripack story began in 2015, when Constantia, now the world’s third largest flexible packaging company – headquartered in Vienna, Austria – acquired Afripack. Chairman, Arnold Vermaak, who has led the company since 1995, says, “We wanted to sell ourselves to a global player and Constantia›s global presence and flexible packaging expertise made them the perfect owner for us.” Africa is a growth market of the future and Constantia Afripack offered the perfect platform to expand in the sub-Saharan region.
Constantia Afripack’s head office has been on the same site in Mobeni, Durban since 1954. The company currently has around 900 employees and operates four production sites in South Africa, which are each clearly focused on a specific market segment. Currently, Constantia Afripack is a leading supplier of flexible packaging – be this industrial flexibles (sacks and extrusion coated papers) or consumer flexibles (FMCG packaging and pouch) for sub-Sahara Africa.
“As a leader you need to give direction and make company’s vision clear and then you can work from there.” says Wolfgang Kitzler (SVP Africa elect) Constantia Afripack is built on a culture of strong entrepreneurial management rather than on centralised head office control. The company seeks empower its people within their various operations in order to function effectively. “Each position has the same value, it doesn’t matter what their management level is – a chain is as strong as its weakest link. Constantia Afripack can invest in equipment and in machines but if you don’t it right with the people, you will not get anywhere,” added Kitzler.
Afripack currently employs 35 young interns, apprentices and graduates. Wiseman Sishi, Head of Human Resources, says, “We work very well with the universities where we go and source new talent. In order to fit in at Constantia Afripack, employees must have three very good core competencies. These are: one - passion for results, two - team work and collaboration, and three - customer focus.”
“Creating a customer and performance orientated people culture is our biggest sustainable competitive advantage,” says Vermaak. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. If you do not have the right culture in the business, you will not succeed. That culture comes from people and that culture is what to me has enabled Afripack’s enduring success.” Afripack has named its culture HERO - Highly Engaged and Resilient Organisation. HERO is characterised by openness and transparency, effective two-way communication, cascaded scorecards, participative management, agreed values and shared incentives. It seeks to build willingness and capability on a foundation of effective leadership.
“Of significance the goal of HERO is to ensure engagement with the whole workforce through openness and transparency, and to get people to collectively pull together, with the ultimate goal of building resilience. You spend a great deal of your life at work and this should be a meaningful experience,” explained Vermaak.
Constantia Afripack has a proven track record in partnering with multinational customers up and down the supply chain. Constantia Afripack has invested nearly R400m in state-of-the-art technology in all of its business units resulting in the most advanced plant infrastructure in South Africa. Key customers include: Unilever, Mondelez, Nestle, Tiger Brands, AVI, Mondi, PPC, Sephaku, Intercement, Idwala, and Sasol.
Nicholas John, Vice President, Sales and Marketing Africa at Constantia Flexibles, says “When we focus on what we have done well, we really focus on the customer, on people and on business integrity. This sets us apart from our competitors. We go out of our way to accommodate the customer. In addition, no matter fast we have grown or how successful we have been, have remained humble.” Success is built on the fact that Constantia Afripack is inspired by the knowledge that it does not manufacture packaging, but is assisting in selling customer’s brand to the end consumer. Constantia Afripack is making lives more convenient. “If we mess up on a customers’ brand this may affect sales to the end-consumers. This is a responsibility sitting on us as a supplier of packaging,” says John.
The next big challenge for the packaging industry address the use of plastic in its products. “We cannot fight against change, change is here,” said Sishi. A goal of Constantia is that in three years’ time, all products that the company makes around the world must be fully recyclable. Constantia Afripack aims design products based on sustainable criteria minimal impact on the environment.