The Full Package

Acorn Packaging
Written by Pauline Müller

Celebrating fifty years in the industry, Acorn Packaging has long since transformed itself from a small job shop into an organization that serves multiple industries as a total solutions provider..

Acorn Packaging is embracing recent changes that are set to tip the scales not only in favour of its own growth but that of its clients. Now, this Mississauga, Ontario-based packaging company is on an exciting path to renewed development, with increasing numbers of clients from across North America.

The company evolved from more commodity-based, flexible packaging into a specialist, high-performance packaging manufacturer that serves the food and beverage, horticultural, medical, industrial, and consumer industries. Its service also includes brand management and detailed supply chain customization.

In support of its clients’ desire to reduce cost and eliminate risk, the company has implemented a lean manufacturing scheme to produce smaller run quantities at an economical cost. It also offers a managed vendor inventory, where it keeps track of how much packaging is needed over short and long periods and manufactures accordingly.

The company offers everything its customers might need to bring together the ultimate packaging deal, from design, printing, laminating, slitting and pouch fabrication to full inventory management. Its in-house research and development team ensures that technology and design are current and logistics is smooth.

Thanks to two recent acquisitions, the time has come for it to reassess and plan its moves going forward. With its strategy in place, Acorn Packaging is growing fast, with many opportunities unfolding daily. Of course, none of this would be possible without its people, which is why its leadership’s commitment to the organization’s optimum health is unapologetic.

“Our clients’ and employees’ futures are important to us,” says Joseph Campbell, Chief Operating Officer and President, with a vitality and enthusiasm that is palpable even over the phone. It is this commitment to becoming easy to do business with that has led to Acorn Packaging’s biggest developments in the past year.

The company has seen its people rise to the challenge of change in a very inspiring shift toward teamwork. Continuous Improvement programs have been put in place in support of this evolution, and employees are encouraged to explore their talents and their highest potential.

Campbell feels that the beauty of the exercise is that employees are stepping up to ask themselves and each other some pretty tough questions in a bid to become the best customer experience leader in the industry. Here, too, everyone is pitching in, which is a great source of pride for Campbell.

Part of his vision for the future is to find where the company’s service may not be frictionless for clients and remove those obstacles, making the process stress-free and enjoyable. This will no doubt bring its service delivery up to the customer experience offered by global business-to-consumer (B2C) brands. As business-to-business (B2B) companies are often looking for ways in which to lower overheads and improve flow, Joseph feels that clients generally are left lacking the attention they deserve.

Inspired by Steve Jobs’ research on the customer experience in retail, Campbell is set to raise the bar significantly to provide Acorn Packaging’s business partners with an unsurpassed wholesale experience and is exploring ways in which the company can achieve this. “Our passion is to be the customer experience leader. If we don’t continuously challenge each other and hone our processes, one just cannot deliver that consistent experience to customers,” he says. Employees are empowered to drive this change, and the approach is working.

To break the standard of six-to-eight-week lead times, the company is creating a business model that will ensure that clients do not even think of going anywhere else for their packaging. To accomplish this, the company is putting itself at the forefront of technology, with even further-upgraded customer service training, process improvement, equipment investment, and much more, all with the main focus on delivering a consistent experience.

With this comes a much higher level of accountability and mandatory training, and the results of these changes are already paying off. Its entire customer process is undergoing a major overhaul, so rather than having clients deal primarily with sales personnel, customer service people now have a much greater ownership of the relationships, systematically moving towards a system with reduced points of contact in which clients have the comfort of excellent service, while sales personnel are freed to deploy their strengths.

Campbell makes no bones about the world’s plastic crisis. “The over-production of plastics globally is something that we should all be concerned about,” he says. With international brands in the very early stages of adopting biodegradable plastics, the critical mass needed to tip the price remains out of reach, making it hard for smaller customers to invest in these new materials. He foresees this situation continuing for at least another few years.

This has led the company to consider ways in which it can significantly lower its waste materials. Alongside this, it is also addressing the over-packaging that is typically found in food packaging. Recyclable plastic is turned into non-recyclable plastic when layers of protective barriers and films are added to the mix to help perishable foods like nuts last for a year or longer. Campbell’s greatest worry regarding this is, as he puts it, is the ‘over-engineering trend’ that was very prevalent up to about a year ago.

Acorn sees itself as having a definitive guardianship role in ascertaining whether clients genuinely need such a long shelf life for food safety reasons or whether they are just seeking the security that it offers. “We don’t want to be creating over-packaged products when you don’t really need it. It is a conversation we are having more often as customers want to use new sustainable materials and sometimes have to trade off extended shelf-life. This too will be eventually solved with the speed in development in higher barrier sustainable plastics.

Therefore, instead of creating more plastic that ends in a landfill, Acorn Packaging is looking at ways to design packaging that function precisely as needed while still being recyclable or biodegradable. The latest idea of banning single-use plastics is something with which Campbell takes issue. “In some cases, plastics are good. In others, they’re bad. Our challenge is providing education to eliminate the confusion that politicians are creating,” he says. The example of relatively perishable vegetables like cucumbers comes up as he explains that the plastic wrap provides a benefit as it extends the shelf life for up to two weeks, preventing the creation of food waste.

Food farming and distribution are expensive, and by prolonging the shelf life of fruit and vegetables ever so slightly, one stops the resources and energy that went into producing it from being wasted. Acorn’s response to the single-use-plastic quandary is to set up appropriate waste streams and diversion programs to prevent these materials from being shovelled into landfills.

The company believes that the entire industry should be working with the government to develop waste streams, as the government of Ontario is currently doing. “Business people understand cost, so they streamline it. We [must] do a better job at educating the consumer and working with government,” says Joseph.

Acorn Packaging is set on becoming a recognized leader in the industry and through its commitment to continuous improvement driven by the overall customer experience it provides, growth is bound to follow.

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