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Cutting it in the paper industry

13 May 2014

As Midland Paper celebrates its tenth anniversary, Cleaning Matters visited its Worcestershire factory to question sales director Craig Williams about the changes in the paper converting industry

When Midland Paper opened its doors in 2004, prices in the paper industry were being driven down in the face of cheaper imports and UK players trying to compete with them. It was a far cry from the industry that Midland Paper's sales director, Craig Williams, entered in the mid-1990s. 

"It was a time when people expected quality and service from paper, and there were lots of good paper converters that offered this," he says.

Many of these 'quality-focused' converters had since been acquired or gone out of business, and in their place was a new breed of converter that was mainly concerned with offering the cheapest price.

But Midland Paper recognised that there were still distributors looking for quality, consistency and service above price, and for a supplier that could deal with the smaller and more awkward orders. Thus, the next decade saw the company carve out a niche in the market, not only against the ups and downs of the industry but the UK economic downturn.

Going against the tide

Midland Paper is owned by its four directors, Les Lloyd, Mick Booth, Ron Smith and Craig Williams, who share many years' experience working in the paper converting industry. The company employs 28 people, is CHSA accredited and specialises in offering 'away from home' products including toilet rolls, centrefeed rolls, and hand towels, the majority of which is manufactured competitively in the UK at its 44,000 sq ft site in Bromsgrove. 

The company's move to larger premises in 2011 provided it with the space to double its manufacturing capacity by installing new paper converting machinery, and to stock more products. This has helped Midland Paper to grow considerably over the last three years.  

Raw material is brought into the factory and turned into products that Midland Paper describes as "consistent and well presented", and which are delivered quickly in three to five days. It also offers mixed pallets for smaller orders requiring a number of different products. This formula – along with communicating with customers, has helped Midland Paper to build its business around a loyal clientele of small to medium distributors who value service and quality. 

To reinforce the quality and affordability of its products, Midland Paper introduced the Esfina brand in 2005, which has since gained some recognition in the marketplace for Midland Paper and its distributors. The brand has expanded over the years to include recycled as well as virgin paper ranges and, interestingly, out of the 16 new products that have been introduced in the past two years, all of them are recycled.

Looking ahead, Midland Paper will launch a new website this summer as well as software for customers to build a mixed pallet on-screen, making it easier for their customers to process orders. 

The issue with tissue

While Midland Paper has managed to find success in a difficult marketplace, there are ongoing challenges to overcome. 

Craig says: "When we started this business, I used to go on holiday to places like Spain and Portugal and think, 'The paper’s awful!’ compared to the products in the UK. Now, when I go on holiday the quality is often better there than it is in the UK."

He adds: "The quality of paper in the UK has generally deteriorated during the last 10 years as end users have put pressure on distributors – who in turn have put pressure on paper companies – to produce products at a lower unit cost. This has often been achieved by lowering the weight of the paper or reducing the length of rolls – but this is always false economy." 

Fortunately Craig thinks that this might be about to change. "We have definitely seen a shift with more enquiries recently requesting quality over price. I am really pleased that there are now signs that the UK market is following that of other European countries. People are starting to recognise that the cheapest isn’t always the best value for money!

"This is excellent news for us as we have always tried our best to uphold the quality of our products and as members of the CHSA Soft Tissue Scheme, our distributors are able to buy reliable, good quality paper products at affordable prices."

This gives Midland Paper a reason to feel positive about the future as they plan for another successful 10 years.