Interview with CIAC Plastics Division Member Winpak

CIAC PD member Winpak is part of a global packaging group with twelve manufacturing facilities in North America, including Canada. The company manufactures high-quality packaging materials and innovative packaging machines, primarily used for the protection of perishable foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals, medical and personal care.
We recently sat down with representatives from WinPak to learn more about the company, including their approach to design, the importance of developing a circular economy for plastics, and some of their innovative products.

For the average person who may not be familiar with Winpak, can you give a brief description of your company and your products?

Winpak is a publicly-traded company on the TSX with over 50 percent of the stock owned by Wihuri International Oy, a Finnish corporation with global packaging entities, notably Wipak, our sister company with operations in Europe and Asia. Winpak operates 12 production facilities in Canada, The United States, and Mexico, offering customers global coverage and expertise. The North American business units serve customers throughout the United States, Canada, and Latin America primarily to provide packaging to protect perishable foods, beverages, healthcare, consumer, and industrial products. Winpak specializes in rigid and flexible barrier packaging as well as form-fill-and-seal machinery. 

Can you give us a sense of the size of your company (Facility locations, # of employees)?

As noted earlier, Winpak operates 12 production facilities in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. We have over 2,500 employees focused on delivering the highest quality products to our customers with an emphasis on safety, sustainability, innovative products, and customer service in all we deliver. Through the 3rd quarter of 2021 Winpak’s revenue exceeded $722 million USD.  

Having read a few documents from Winpak and visiting your website, it’s quite clear your company has a particular focus on sustainability and innovation. Can you speak to Winpak’s approach to sustainability? What’s the drive?

Our commitment and approach can be summed up in a key phrase we utilize, “It’s our nature to protect.” This phrase drives our intent as Winpak looks to excel in sustainable business practices that create products, processes, and services that deliver net positive economic, social, and environmental benefits while allowing us to grow profitably and responsibly. Winpak recognizes it has a responsibility to all stakeholders and the planet. We want to be mindful of the resources we are permitted to use. That is why in innovating sustainable solutions we also focus on packaging’s first intent which is to protect its contents in the most efficient manner possible. In food packaging, Winpak solutions extend shelf life protecting the food from spoilage prior to consumption which both protects the product and the resources embedded in making the product.

Winpak also recognizes and acknowledges the public concerns around single-use plastics and plastics waste. We are driven by a vision to be part of the solution in creating a Circular Economy for plastics.

What are Winpak’s views on developing a Circular Economy for plastics? Are sustainability and CE one in the same?

Winpak has a clear focus on and belief in development of a Circular Economy. We understand that packaging has several functions to perform related to product quality and safety, but packaging also must have a better end-of-life solution than it has today. Winpak has focused on the transition from a linear to a Circular Economy for several years. This journey though is not one to take alone. Collaboration throughout the value chain is critical and important to understand both barriers and opportunities for a successful transition. Winpak collaborates with suppliers to communicate needs for more sustainable solutions and learn from them in areas like Sustainable Materials Management. Secondly, we communicate regularly with customers to understand challenges and needs related to sustainability and their operations. We apply what we learn from customers to our development process to innovate our latest sustainable offerings. And we are active with several trade organizations, like CIAC’s Plastics Division, that are representing resin producers, converters, brands, and recyclers where we share a common goal of a Circular Economy.

From an innovation perspective, does focusing on sustainability cause challenges?

No, it does not or at least no different than other challenges Winpak faces. Within the past couple of years, Winpak introduced an approach called “2500 Innovators”. Essentially, every employee has the opportunity to contribute to problem solving in areas like innovation, operations, and recycling to name a few. This type of approach drives engagement deeper into the organization and allows potentially for richer solutions to come forward.

Does Winpak have a specific approach to innovation and design that lends itself to being more adaptable?

Our innovation approach focuses on collaboration and a relentless pursuit of packaging solutions that support a Circular Economy and embrace materials management via waste prevention and resource efficiency. Winpak has expertise centers in all business units and collaborative technology exchange with Wipak in Europe. Each center has specific technical knowledge and capabilities. Learnings in one area can be transferred through knowledge management systems and regular communication. It is this sharing and collaborative approach that allow Winpak to develop unique packaging innovations in order to offer solutions for a Circular Economy goal in mind.

Are there any recent examples of innovations or achievements, specifically those that have improved sustainability, that you’d like to speak to?

Yes, there are several sustainable innovations to review. First, we continue to broaden our portfolio under our ReFresh™ product line. Winpak has form-fill-seal solutions like ReForm and ReLam that are gaining traction. We also have ReFlow and RePouch materials suitable for various dairy and perishable food applications. Each ReFresh™ solution has benefits such as low carbon footprint, recycle ready or recyclable, and reduced weight. In 2021, we launched EcoWrap which is a recyclable cellulose-based packaging solution. Winpak also improved the sustainability profile of its die-cut lids with the launch of NUVO·LID. This reduced thickness foil lid allows for enhanced graphics for improved consumer appeal while reducing GHG emissions up to 18%.