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The need to adapt to a new context during the pandemic and its aftermath has led to structural changes in most sectors. However, for any business, expanding abroad has always been, is and will be an opportunity to grow and improve its turnover. This also applies to the Spanish packaging industry, which has long looked abroad to diversify its risks and become stronger and less dependent on domestic demand.

Spain constitutes an important hub for the manufacture of wrapping and packaging machinery and ranks high in terms of production and exports in Europe and the world. According to data provided by Amec Envasgraf, the Spanish Wrapping and Packaging Machinery Association, Italy is the leading producer of machinery in the sector (accounting for 45.55%), followed by Germany and Spain. Spain comes fifth when in terms of exports.

An overview of internationalisation by sectors

Last year, around 231 companies that produce manufacturing technology for the packaging and wrapping industry were identified. Of these companies, according to the data provided by Amec Envasgraf, the most important ones are members of this association and export, on average, more than 60% of their turnover.

Amec Envasgraf director Carmina Castellà explains that 27 of the affiliated companies are currently established abroad. Overall, there are a total of 76 subsidiaries, chiefly based in the United States, Mexico, China, Brazil and France.

 Carmina Castellà, directora de Amec Envasgraf
Carmina Castellà, Amec Envasgraf director

The trend in exports towards the ten main markets has been positive in recent years. In 2020, the year of the pandemic, exports fell by only 3%, an anecdotal figure considering the complexity of the context. According to Castellà, the reason is due to a combination of factors: the advantage of having a high level of customer loyalty; the readiness of companies to work remotely; the rapid adaptation to the limitations arising from the pandemic and the strong digitalisation that already exists.

According to the data for 2021, Europe is the chief destination for Spanish exports in the sector, with an overall share of 53’8%. France, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Poland are the sector’s main foreign markets in terms of sales. Outside Europe, the United States is the leading market in the global rankings. This is followed by Mexico and Asian countries such as China and India.

Source: Amec Envasgraf
EXP 2021
USA 45.835.308 € 79.172.514 € 12,1% 72,7 %
France 41.574.824 € 56.308.966 € 8,6% 35,4 %
Italy 20.722.856 € 44.656.588 € 6,8% 115,5 %
Germany 35.936.095 € 43.905.965 € 6,7% 22,2 %
Portugal 33.577.876 € 41.819.700 € 6,4% 24,5 %
Poland 19.725.553 € 30.747.783 € 4,7% 55,9 %
Mexico 21.838.891 € 26.590.776 € 4,1% 21,8 %
China 13.013.557 € 24.225.348 € 3,7% 86,2 %
United Kingdom 20.555.902 € 19.609.880 € 3,0% -4,6 %
India 9.562.714 € 18.730.219 € 2,9% 95,9 %
Netherlands 12.464.125 € 17.677.159 € 2,7% 41,8 %
Russia 26.943.524 € 16.439.057 € 2,5% -39,0 %
Morocco 8.894.131 € 11.748.191 € 1,8% 32,1 %
Brazil 11.112.262 € 11.417.714 € 1,7% 2,7 %
Argelia 11.930.494 € 11.124.769 € 1,7% -6,8 %
Others 153.994.262 € 201.306.131 € 30,7% 30,7 %
Total 487.682.372 € 655.480.760 € 100,0% 34,4%

As for the most advanced subsectors in terms of internationalisation, Castellà highlights canning/bottling and boxing/crating machinery, as well as packaging and wrapping machinery. In addition, all sub-sectors experience significant growth in 2021.

Source: Amec Envasgraf
Suma EXP
Maq. empaquetar, envolver 169.900.322 € 221.142.337 € 33,7% 30,2 %
Maq. envase embalaje 143.054.380 € 195.240.392 € 29,8% 36,5 %
Impresión envase 138.045.003 € 183.301.520 € 28,0% 32,8 %
Maq. cartón ondulado 28.251.613 € 41.490.600 € 6,3% 46,9 %
Limpiadora secadora 3.877.866 € 8.596.150 € 1,3% 121,7 %
Pesadores 4.553.187 € 5.709.762 € 0,9% 25,4 %
487.682.372 € 655.480.760 € 100,0% 34,4%

Mengibar and Gráficas Salaet, export experiences

The size of a company is not a determining factor when it comes to considering an internationalisation process. Gráficas Salaet manufactures paper and cardboard packaging for the food industry. The company was set up in 1965 and its incursions into other markets began in 1982, when it set up its first production centre outside Spain in Argentina. “We wanted to grow as a company and become known in other countries”, says Eva Salaet, one of the two partners of this family business that currently has plants in Argentina and Romania and another one soon to open in Algeria.

 Eva Salaet y Elena Salaet, en las instalaciones de su empresa
Eva Salaet and Elena Salaet in their facilities of Salaet in Gandesa

During the last year and a half, the company has had to reorganise and incorporate new working dynamics to guarantee safety in the working environment and in all manufacturing processes, as its activity was considered essential, given that its packaging is destined for food companies. Investment targets have not changed and have even increased in the last two years as a result of the increased demand they’re experiencing, which has led them to invest in machinery and new facilities.

In Salaet’s opinion, the keys to the smooth progress of the company’s internationalisation are its product catalogue and R&D: “Each country is different, but we have a comprehensive catalogue with many items and an R&D department for new products and projects to enable us to adapt to customers’ requirements and expectations, transforming their needs into real products and seeking new materials and new applications, allowing us, for example, to launch some trays for pre-cooked food without the need for any plastic sheets”“The sustainability of the packaging that we manufacture is becoming increasingly important”, she concludes.

Based in the town of Gandesa in Tarragona, Gráficas Salaet exports 40% of its production to countries such as the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Chile, the Maghreb, the Eastern European countries and the Netherlands, and this list is expected to lengthen.  The best-selling products that it manufactures include capsules and baking liners for fairy cakes, muffins and cupcakes, baking trays and moulds and printed bags and paper for food products.

With regard to the challenges it faces, the spokesperson for Gráficas Salaet stresses that: “One of the most important ones is to make ourselves known, creating an atmosphere of trust with our customers so that they see that, although we aren’t a large company in terms of size, we do offer many benefits, such as a friendly manner, rapid decision-making, concern for product quality and excellent customer service”Eva Salaet also mentions another challenge, that of recruiting talent at all levels, because, as she emphasises, “having the right people in the right places is the key to success”.

Since 1988 Mengibar has developed solutions for the packaging of products and sold them on the five continents, manufacturing and offering its services from Barcelona to the world with its own offices and representative offices. The pandemic situation also meant that they had to apply strict measures to guarantee safety in all areas, both for the workforce and when manufacturing products, but like Gráficas Salaet, Mengibar has maintained its activity without interruption.

The company’s core business has been the development of filling and capping solutions for over 30 years. The challenges are numerous when Mengibar considers entering a new market, according to marketing director Alex Zuna, who explains that “each country has its peculiarities, but there’s also a big difference between dealing with a multinational and a local medium-sized company. This begins with the documents and requirements that the former ask for and the knowledge it has of the subject of machinery, while the smaller companies chiefly benefit from what we learn in cooperation with multinationals, without demanding so much”Zuna adds the need to be ready to deal with different markets in terms of customs laws, rules and regulations.

 Imagen cedida por Mengibar
Image courtesy of Mengibar

The two companies both regard the USA as one of the key future markets in their business plans. Mengibar plans to continue entering new markets in Asia while intensifying its operations in the traditional markets.

Access to raw materials: one of the greatest challenges

During the pandemic and in the last months, most industrial sectors have faced problems in the supply of raw materials for the manufacture of products, which have also become more expensive. In turn, companies have seen increased costs in logistics and transport of goods and delays in receiving their orders, leading to supply chain failure. Dependence on markets such as Asia for a range of products has also made it more difficult to supply certain components such as electrical components and microchips. In short, a problem of supply and demand that leads to higher prices and further accentuates shortages.

During the last year, mobility has been severely limited as almost 90% of companies have not been able to move as they had been able to do before. This situation is now returning to normal, although travelling to countries such as the USA, Algeria and the Asian continent remains complicated due to the restrictions in place in the countries of destination. However, this adverse situation has also called into question the volume of travel that was carried out in the pre-pandemic period, so that other formulas have been sought, such as virtual meetings or remote assistance, alternatives that are here to stay and that coexist with travels to the client’s company.

Hispack, support during entry into new packaging markets

Together with Amec Envasgraf, Hispack will launch different promotional initiatives in several countries, chiefly in Europe, Latin America and the Mediterranean area, in order to increase the number of international visitors to the fair. In this regard, direct promotional actions will be carried out in a number of countries (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Poland, Portugal, France and the Nordic countries) so as to identify buyers with specific projects and invite them to the fair. With this programme of international buyers that are invited directly by the organisation, more than a thousand business interviews with exhibitors are expected to be scheduled. Joint work is also being carried out to organise trade missions to other markets with growth potential, such as the USA, China, India and Indonesia.

As Carmina Castellà emphasises, “the Latin American countries are regarded as a natural market with historical ties that unite us, and there is the advantage of the language, something we must capitalise on”. In the case of the Mediterranean area, “proximity is a factor to be taken into account, and the opportunities they present today are very interesting,” explains the director of Amec-Envasgraf.

Hispack, the packaging, processing and logistics trade fair in Spain organised by Fira de Barcelona, will be held from 24th to 27th May 2022. The Spanish fair will be one of the first in the sector to be held in person, contributing to the momentum of the market and exports, commercial opportunities and the economic recovery.

Internationalising a company: where do I start?

A question arises in many companies: should I initiate an export and internationalisation process?

After the pandemic context and as a starting point, it is necessary to be thoroughly informed in advance about the possible restrictions or limitations of the countries in which the company wants to enter.

Then, it’s essential to evaluate the opportunities for the product or service on offer, because it will be pointless for a product to be popular in a country where it’s already mature if the company doesn’t know the reality of the countries it wants to enter and if the possibilities for the growth of the product in the potential markets are not studied while taking into account the available resources and the competition.

Carmina Castellà, the spokesperson for the Spanish Packaging and Wrapping Machinery Association, differentiates between general and sector-specific factors when it comes to assessing the above. With regard to the general ones, we will have to analyse the countries that display greater political stability, economic prominence and the appropriate market size. And then choose those that have a strong and evolving industry in the demand sectors that the company is targeting (food and beverages, cosmetics, pharma, household cleaning and chemicals) as the main destinations.

Once the countries have been chosen, Castellà highlights the search for the marketing channel, selecting agents, representatives and/or distributors who have good relationships with the above-mentioned customer segments. The selection of the channel and the company or person who will work on the market will become the keys to achieving the export goals.

Companies should never forget that any internationalisation process requires an investment to be made that may not bear fruit until the medium and long terms, but it will provide them with new opportunities to expand their businesses. In the last two years, companies with branches abroad have experienced this situation as a competitive advantage because customers are still looking for a close relationship and fast and efficient assistance. There is no doubt that being close to the customer, in one way or another, will continue to be a determining factor.

Cristina Benavides, Hispack contributor