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A Journey of innovation and growth in corrugated packaging solutions

6 minute read

An Interview with Aleks Zlatic, Head of Product and Market Development at ePS Packaging

In the rapidly evolving landscape of packaging solutions, ePS Packaging, the packaging business unit of eProductivity Software, has emerged as a leader.

ePS Packaging has transformed the corrugated packaging sector by leveraging strategic acquisitions and innovative technologies. We sat down with Aleks Zlatic, Head of Product and Market Development at ePS Packaging, to gain deeper insights into this remarkable journey. 

In this interview, Aleks shares the company's strategic initiatives, the role of acquisitions in driving growth, and the future vision for corrugated packaging solutions. From creating a dedicated packaging division to integrating key acquisitions like PC-Topp, CTI, and Escada, Aleks provides a comprehensive overview of how ePS Packaging has navigated the complexities of the market to deliver unparalleled value to its customers. Join us as we explore the pivotal moments, challenges, and opportunities that have shaped ePS Packaging's success and its commitment to sustainability and innovation in the industry.

Alex, can you provide an overview of our company's journey with our corrugated solutions, including how acquisitions have contributed to our growth?

When I came on board about six or seven years ago, the first thing we did as a company was create a packaging division within the business. That was the platform we used to organize and orchestrate all of our packaging brands into one cohesive suite. The Corrugated Suite was explicitly created for corrugated, while the Packaging Suite was designed for packaging in general (folding carton, labels, and flexible). 

Brands, including PC-Topp, CTI, and later Escada, became the Corrugated Suite. That was the first step in putting it together. The second step was examining the portfolio and determining which customers were better served where. PC-Topp became the platform for Europe, while CTI made the most headway into the Americas

What factors influenced ePS’ decision-making process when considering acquisitions in the sector, and were any specific criteria or strategic objectives guiding those decisions?

That's a great question. First of all, we wanted to enter the corrugated space. Before acquiring PC-Topp, we were predominantly in other markets, such as cartons, labels, and flexibles, with little presence in corrugated. PC-Topp was the first acquisition that allowed us to enter that space. Once we were there, we aimed to create critical mass and breadth.

We then acquired CTI, which predominantly functions in the US. They complemented each other well, with PC-Topp serving Europe and CTI focusing on North and Latin America. After these acquisitions, we looked at the technology to balance the portfolio, integrating key technologies from PC-Topp and CTI into one compelling platform. The Escada acquisition for corrugated controls added another dimension, allowing us to penetrate deeper and provide more value to customers with corrugators.

Can you share insights into the challenges and opportunities encountered when integrating acquired entities into our organization and how we overcame them?

Integrating newly acquired companies is always interesting. We all have opinions and ideas but had a specific vision for integration. Our approach focused on unifying opinions and aligning everyone with our overall vision, leveraging technology like eFlow, our orchestration layer, to unify teams globally. Challenges included geographical dispersion and cultural differences, but technology and our product vision helped unify the team and align everyone culturally.

What advice would you give to other companies considering growth within the corrugated solution sector? Are there lessons learned from ePS’ experiences that you'd like to share?

Data-driven integration is crucial for successful acquisitions. Benchmarking and deploying a common operating system facilitate integration and decision-making. Balancing short-term goals with long-term vision is essential. Setting aside time for strategic planning ensures sustainable growth.

What role has innovation played in our journey, and can you highlight instances where it drove growth or differentiation in the market?

Innovation is critical to our company, and our software, especially the MES corrugated tools, is intelligent and constantly evolving. We listen to our customers and incorporate their suggestions into our products. This approach has helped us become the largest software provider in the world in terms of the number of accounts.

How do you see industry solutions evolving, and how is ePS positioning itself to capitalize on emerging opportunities?

There's a trend towards consolidation among larger companies, but we also see new entrants focusing on smaller customers with innovative solutions. Serving both large and small customers will be key to our growth. The increasing volume of e-commerce bodes well for corrugated packaging.

How do you envision the future of ePS within the industry, considering market trends and our capabilities?

Corrugated packaging is a crucial and growing industry that covers secondary packaging. It's almost completely circular, with over 98% recoverability. No substrate or platform provides that level of recyclability, cost-effectiveness, and transport efficiency. This exceptional sustainability aligns perfectly with the increasing global emphasis on environmental responsibility and the circular economy. It complements our primary packaging industries, enabling us to offer a comprehensive ecosystem to customers. As populations grow and e-commerce expands, corrugated packaging will continue to thrive, and we will be there to support the businesses in that growth.

As we look to the future, several key trends and capabilities position ePS to capitalize on emerging opportunities in the industry:

1.    Sustainability and environmental responsibility: The demand for sustainable packaging solutions is growing rapidly. With consumers and businesses prioritizing eco-friendly practices, the near-total recyclability of corrugated packaging positions it as the preferred choice. ePS’ commitment to sustainability aligns with these market trends, allowing us to offer solutions that meet and exceed environmental standards.

2.    E-commerce expansion: The exponential growth of e-commerce has significantly increased the demand for robust and efficient secondary packaging. Corrugated packaging is ideally suited to meet the needs of online retailers due to its protective qualities and cost-effectiveness. As e-commerce expands, we anticipate a sustained rise in the demand for our corrugated solutions. ePS is well-equipped to support businesses in navigating this growth, providing innovative and tailored packaging solutions.

3.    Technological advancements and innovation: Our focus on integrating advanced technologies, such as automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), into our packaging solutions will be pivotal in maintaining a competitive edge. Innovations in our MES (Manufacturing Execution System) corrugated tools ensure that our software remains intelligent and adaptive, catering to the evolving needs of our customers. By leveraging cutting-edge technology, we enhance our solutions' efficiency, productivity, and overall value.

4.    Comprehensive ecosystem: The synergy between our corrugated and primary packaging solutions enables us to offer an extensive ecosystem to our customers. This holistic approach allows us to address diverse packaging needs, providing seamless and integrated solutions that enhance operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

5.    Global reach and market penetration: Our strategic acquisitions have strengthened our presence in key markets worldwide. By combining the strengths of brands like PC-Topp in Europe and CTI in the Americas, we have created a robust and versatile platform capable of serving a global clientele. This diversified market presence positions us to capitalize on regional growth opportunities and respond effectively to varying customer demands.

6.    Focus on customer-centric solutions: Listening to our customers and incorporating their feedback into our product development processes is central to our innovation strategy. This customer-centric approach ensures that our solutions are technologically advanced, practical, and aligned with real-world requirements. Our ability to adapt and evolve based on customer insights drives our growth and differentiation in the market.

What are the key priorities or initiatives on our roadmap for enhancing our position?

Our key priorities are modernizing our software, focusing on automation and AI, and improving integration capabilities. Additionally, having team members with industry experience is critical for innovation and development.

Do you have any closing comments?

I'm proud of our team's accomplishments in the Corrugated Suite. It's a demanding business, but I see incremental improvements every day. I'm honored to work with such a dedicated team. Thank you very much.