Canadian Flex-Pack Industry Has a Lot Going for It

Long overshadowed by the US but considered to be one of the finest countries in the world in which to live, Canada (pop. 35 mm) is rapidly becoming a regional hub of flexible package converting.

Over the last decade, the industry has grown dramatically, from $350 mm (US) in 1990 to more than $800 mm (US) in 2001. More flexo presses are sold in Canada than anywhere else in the world. The province of Ontario has an estimated 60 flex-pack converting plants. In Quebec there are almost 40 flex-pack converters of varying sizes. Industry experts rate the Ontario market alone as about $500 mm (US), more than 50% of Canada's total market.

Why the sudden growth in flexible packaging in Canada? One reason is the easy entry into the huge US market. Prodded by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), there has been a significant increase in stateside volume.

A flourishing “entrepreneurial spirit” dominates the small/mid-size Canadian converter, opening a dramatic growth in $15 mm to $40 mm (US) converters.

The favorable rate of exchange of the Canadian dollar makes the Canadian flex-pack converter a low-cost producer of material. Also important and overlooked in the rush toward globalism is the Canadian niche in small to mid-size runs. Canadian flex-pack converters often can manufacture such runs profitably. Multi-language requirements are handled as a matter of course, and overall design parameters are superb.

Added to all these positives is the rather unique character of Canada's packaging industry. It's the nation in North America where Tetra Pak first launched its aseptic carton in 1975 — several years prior to US introduction. And, where hot-filled juice cartons have been on the shelf for more than nine decades. Canada's small, sophisticated, and European-oriented (particularly in Quebec) market often has been a proving ground for other packaging developments such as “sous-vide” and absorber/adsorber technology.

Winpak (est. 480 mm US) has ten plants in Canada. It is the North American flexible packaging arm of Winpak, a sub. of the Finnish privately owned conglomerate Wihuri Group. The firm produces up to nine-layer coextruded film for the processed meat/cheese industry. A leader in the Canadian flex-pack industry, the company is also a pioneer in MAP packaging and high-tech extruded products.

One of Winpak's plants extrudes a broad range of specialty — primarily single-layer — PE (polyethylene) films and also has coextrusion capabilities. The other plant serves a market segment requiring specialty multilayer films generally involving a high-barrier component. Approximately 50% of the company's specialty film sales are to the converter market, 20% to the food industry, 17% to the industrial market, and 13% to the medical sector.

One of the other major flex-pack converters in Canada is Bonar Packaging (est. $75 mm US), Burlington, Ont. Part of the Hood Packaging (US) organization, Bonar is among the top five of North America's largest converters of pet food bags. The company has seven flex-pack plants in Canada; two large ones are in Burlington, Ont., and Calgary. Manitoba. In addition to state-of-the-art UV (ultraviolet) curing capability, Bonar has a wide range of bagmaking equipment, printing presses, extruders, and in-line laminating machines. Although its product output is limited largely to pet food bags and is somewhat less versatile than many other Canadian flex-pack converters, its plants produce a wide range of sophisticated flex-pack constructions. And these are only a few of the many vibrant flex-pack converters in Canada.

Stanley Sacharow has been in the flexible packaging industry for more than 35 years. His company, The Packaging Group, is an organizer of targeted conferences and a consultant to the international packaging/converting industry. Contact him at 732/636-0885; univpac@aol.com


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