Packing a Punch
Express Pack Print is one of UAE’s top packaging companies, pioneering technologies and sustainability initiatives to maintain its competitive advantage
Writer: Dani Redd | Project Manager: Matthew Taylor
In 2019, UAE’s packaging market was valued at $2.675 billion. With a compound annual growth rate of 4.6 percent over the next five years, it is set to surpass $3.5 billion in value by 2025.
According to Abdulla Zubair, CEO of Express Pack Print, this rapidly-growing sector is an exciting one to be working in.
“The UAE has a very dynamic, entrepreneurial, and competitive economy,” he says. “It has enabled us to thrive immensely, and kept us on our toes simultaneously. Packaging is indeed a very exciting and challenging space to be working in, with the rise of ecommerce, the push towards sustainability, the shift from plastics to paper and innovative packaging design being just a few of the factors driving it at the moment.”
Retail is one of the largest contributors to the UAE’s non-oil economy; ecommerce in particular is enjoying a boom, thanks to the rise of companies such as Noon and Souq [now Amazon], high levels of internet penetration and purchasing power. All of this this increases the demand for packaging – as does an increase in online ordering and delivery within the F&B sector.
But Express Pack Print isn’t just taking advantage of a passing phase.
It has been in business since 1991.
The CEO, Abdulla Zubair, and his partner Abdul Qader Mohamed had invested in the company in the early 90s. Later, investment firm Alkhabeer Capital became a majority shareholder in the company, providing financial support that has allowed the company to grow. Together, they developed it into one of the major packaging companies in the UAE.
“I have pushed its growth from being a small operation to one of the largest packaging companies in the region,” Mr Zubair explains.
A business on the rise
Express Pack Print operates from a 400,000 square foot facility in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone.
It currently provides customers with both printed and unprinted cardboard cartons, duplex packaging and special delivery cartons – through these services, it produces between 5,000 and 6,000 tonnes of packaging per month, with key clients including Unilever, MARS, Johnson and Johnson, DHL, Coca-Cola and many more.
So, what explains the company’s success? For a start, its technological facilities. It recently set up an Advanced Packaging Division – a company within a company – which Fawaz Abdulla (Deputy CEO) expresses great pride in.
“The whole operation was very tightly planned and executed – the building construction, and installation of all the machines, hiring and training of staff. The entire project was completed below cost and below budget. We hit the ground running,” he explains.
The Advanced Packaging Division boasts a new KBA 145 Very Large Format Offsetting Printing Press, which is the only one of its kind in the country. It can print six different colours with a dual coater, and boasts an interdeck UV, end of press UV/IR/Hot Air and an online spectrodensitometer. The press can print directly onto E-flute corrugated board, or onto a sheet up to 1.7 millimetre thickness; it can also print almost any inner box requirement, from snack packs to perfume boxes.
“The larger paper size that can be printed on this machine has allowed us to reduce cost of the packaging, increase manufacturing speed and improve quality. Our extensive finishing lines allow us to offer customers a lot of customisation – PVC and metallised film lamination, embossing, die cutting, window patching, hot foil stamping, box-forming, and more,” Abdulla says.
Other technological advances within the Advanced Packaging Division include Mac and PC workstations operating the latest pre-flight, trapping and imposition applications, as well as advanced interactive imaging software. The company runs a state-of-the art workflow system from Esko that is fully integrated with its presses – this ensures that its proof to print production is extremely accurate.
The company’s success is also down to its comprehensive solutions package; it is the only company in the UAE which produces corrugated packaging and duplex packaging in the same facility. Furthermore, it pioneered the use of duplex laminated corrugated packaging in the UAE, resulting in a high-quality product.
To Abdulla, however, it is the high levels of customer care that make the company stand out.
“Although our working hours are from eight until five, effectively we are always at the customer’s service,” he says. “Our customers know that they can call us and rely on us 24-seven. This includes every department and the whole management team, including myself and the General Manager. We will always answer the call and find a way to do what the customer needs.”
Another key way of ensuring consistent high-quality delivery and maintaining high levels of customer care is through a formidable network of suppliers and partners.
“Our suppliers are vital to our operations, and we have long-standing relations with most of them,” Abdulla continues. “Paper is our key raw material, and the cost and availability of paper vary cyclically.
“Because of our long and healthy relations with our suppliers, our purchase operations have evolved from the strictly transactional to a true supply chain partnership, where equal importance is given to other indicators such as quality, dependability, and consistency.”
Present challenges and future difficulties
In recent years, one of Express Pack Print’s greatest challenges has been in improving the sustainability of its operations.
This year alone, approximately 281 million tonnes of paper have been produced – a lot of which will end up as waste. Even if paper is recycled, the production of it results in deforestation; 42 percent of all the wood harvested is used to make paper.
However, paper and cardboard products are a more environmentally friendly solution than plastics – which use up fossil fuels, are largely non-biodegradable and pollute oceans and waterways – providing they are ethically sourced and used efficiently. This is a goal that Express Pack Print has long been working towards.
“We have FSC and PFSC certifications to ensure that our paper is responsibly sourced. We treat our process water and re-use it for suitable applications, and have also been certified by SEDEX to ensure that our raw materials are sourced in an ethical and sustainable manner. We have consistently reduced paper wastage in our operations over the past few years,” the CEO explains.
A more short-term and pressing challenge has been the coronavirus pandemic.
The packaging industry was struck a blow when there was a reduction in demand for automotive parts, glassware, ceramics and petroleum products as it resulted in a loss of demand for packaging. But despite this, Abdulla believes packaging to be a “comparatively resilient sector” – he explains that it is vital to the supply of foods, medicines and other essential supplies.
“The swift and competent response of the UAE authorities significantly reduced the impact of the pandemic here, and many factories have returned to full operations now,” he states proudly.
“We followed the government guidelines very strictly, with a zero-tolerance approach for any violations, and so were able to avoid any infections in our staff. In fact, we did not shut down the factory at all, other than when instructed to do so by the authorities. Since packaging is classified as an essential industry, we followed all precautions, and kept the factory humming throughout.”
Abdulla realises that the company has not yet come out on the other side of the pandemic yet.
Express Pack Print is continuing to follow strict precautions, while trying to return to a pre-pandemic level of output. It is doing so by developing new products, forging new partnerships, and seeking out new opportunities within the sector.
“We research, review, update and maintain a list of interesting projects at all times, and we watch the trends and movements in corrugated packaging closely – both in the UAE and worldwide. If we judge the case for a given project to be compelling at any given time, we approach our board of directors to present the case for its implementation,” Abdulla says.
With its renewed and industry-leading technology, strong supply chain and systematic plans for recovery, it won’t be long before Express Pack Print returns to – and then exceeds – previous levels of production and growth.