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Creating new value through packaging

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Interview - December 11, 2020

As a globally leading manufacturer of packaging and related machinery, Fuji Seal not only employs monozukuri (Japanese craftsmanship) to provide the best solutions for customers seeking the most appealing and high-performing packaging on the market, but the company has also put itself at the forefront of the development of the latest recyclable plastic materials technology. We speak with president, Shigeko Okazaki, to learn more about the company and its innovative products, which are used by some of the world’s biggest brands.

SHIGEKO OKAZAKI, PRESIDENT OF FUJI SEAL INTERNATIONAL, INC.
SHIGEKO OKAZAKI | PRESIDENT OF FUJI SEAL INTERNATIONAL, INC.

In recent years we have seen regional competitors in China, Korea, and Taiwan replicating the Japanese monozukuri at a lower cost. As a company that produces high-quality products, what is the essence of Japanese monozukuri for you?

When describing monozukuri, I am going to describe it from our company’s point of view. First of all, what describes Fuji Seal’s core strength is that we possess the know-how and specialized technologies. We focus on the business process of customers and the creation of customer’s products, and we propose through our  solution by packaging. We also offer the best packaging application machines to improve their productivity. For our customer’s products, our packaging design appeals on the shop’s shelves. What I mean by this is that we are constantly thinking deeply about the total value, what kind of product we are going to create, who the final customer is going to be, and what kind of specifications those final customers are looking for. This is our essence of monozukuri.

 

Your presence in the world: the Americas, Europe, South Asia, and the Asian region, each region has different customer needs as well as different regulations. How do you ensure that the quality of your labels stays the same for each market, and how do you meet the needs of each customer despite different customer needs and regulations?

 “Think Globally, Act Locally”.  First to understand the global needs, then produce and sell locally.  It is important to keep continuous business relationships with global customers who have business in each region as well as local customers. Another important key is  to maintain strong and trustworthy business relationship with global partners who have operations in each region.  I believe this is one of our strength having this partnership.

 

How do you find those suppliers?

We, Fuji Seal and those partners are growing this packaging business together over many years, not only in Japan but also Americas, Europe, Asean regions.

 

Looking at the global market of packaging, it is expected to grow 280 billion USD from 2020 to 2024. How are you taking advantage of this growth?

One way we can take advantage of this is to continuously provide the best film, best ink, and best manufacturing machines. This would promote our customer’s products and as a result to showcase in the market that we provide the best solutions for the packaging industries. Also, we must be quick problem solvers. If there is a problem with our product, we must act quickly and provide quick solutions to our customers. In this way, not only providing the best products but also acquiring high customer satisfaction. We strongly believe that these are one the main reason that our customers are maintaining the relationship with us.

 

In 1897 your company was founded based in the wooden container industry. In 1958, you began to manufacture cap seals. What are some of the major milestones in your company’s history and what is the competitive advantage that has helped you survive?

One of the milestones that helped our company grow happened just before 1980. Around this time when big change had happened in the distribution industry, supermarkets began to take a big part. The adoption of supermarkets was important because products on the shelves had to essentially sell themselves through attractive branding and colorful labels as well as the product information. Before, the shopkeeper explained which products were which and decided which products to be sold. This fueled the need for companies to change their labels and for them to change their view on how a label should be designed.

The second milestone continuously happened according to an evolution of container changes since 1950s.  The container of products has changed dramatically. Before that Sake, wine, soy sauce were all sold in barrels. Around this time, companies started to switch to sell these individually through glass containers. Then came steel and aluminum containers, plastic containers followed, and around the year 2000 flexible containers. Each shift to different containers created opportunities to change our service and the products we provide for each container.

 

What is your vision beyond 2020?

To focus on a new type of flexible container and also to contribute from environmental perspective. The feature is having a cap, which can be used as a bottle, and also used as multiple refill container. We believe these containers are going to be used extensively due to transportation cost and energy saving and will contribute to reduce plastic usage and CO2 emission.  Important point is that containers and labels to be recycled at the same time. These technologies to realize a circular economy are already developed for practical use. Our goal is to develop the valuable packaging for people and the earth.

 

Fuji Seal does take part in ESG activities by using recyclable materials and by aiming to help society. Would you please explain some of your ESG activities and would you please share with us one of your success stories?

One of the success stories comes from our products sold in the United States. This product is called RecShrink®.  We have created a label for packaging that uses specific film and washable ink. This product has greatly improved the process of recycling. Till today, in order to recycle a plastic bottle, you needed to peel off the label to recycle the plastic bottle. With our solution, the ink can be washed off from the label during the process and the label together with the bottle can be recycled without peeling-off the label. This product is used by Nestle USA and APR (Association of Plastic Recyclers) has certified our solution. We are moving forward to bring this product into Japan, and testing has begun in Europe and Asia.

 

When it comes to different countries’ regulations, do you have a research department that is responsible for keeping up with these regulations, or do you have partners that contact you to design each label based on the regulations?

We have created a research department specialized to analyze the environmental requirements as well as updating regulatory requirements. The majority of our global business comes from global leading companies. Due to long business relationships with these customers in each region, we are often requested to participate  in the early stage of their new project about possible new packaging solutions.

 

You have a diverse product portfolio of labels, pouches, machinery, and total packaging solutions. Could you run us through your products, and which one occupies the biggest share for your company?

At this moment it is the shrink sleeves. There are several features of the shrink sleeves. One is to fit any shape of container and the other is 360 degree space for branding and necessary information of the products. Depending on the changes in requirement of the products, we are developing day by day, year by year. One of the examples is the environmentally friendly film. Another example that we’ve added to our shrink sleeves product portfolio is what we call white PET. This feature protects the contained product from the UV light that would damage the product on the shelf under the light. Most of the U.S. milk customers use white PET shrink sleeve in order to protect the quality of the milk inside. Furthermore, we have reduced the thickness of shrink sleeve labels down to 20 micron while the mass usage in the market is 40 micron. This reduces the amount of material used as well as the overall weight. In addition, this also reduces transportation costs, material costs, and CO2 emissions.

A couple of years ago we also developed a product that we call “Fuji Pouch”. This is designed to resemble a bottle in shape which allows easy refill and is designed with 50% reduced plastics. 

 

When you develop these new products and new technologies, you must develop money towards R&D. What is the role of R&D for your company? Do you develop your products internally or are you involved in co-creation?

Our global R&D team is consisted by region and business representatives in order to share their needs and trends in the market, and to deine the global R&D theme. This team is directly monitored by the management including myself on quarterly basis and defining which R&D will be beneficial for our customers and to the society.  We also have another layer of R&D in each region to develop the local products.  We normally participate in co-creation efforts with our partners as well as our customers.

 

For engaging in co-creation, is it mainly through customers or suppliers contacting you?

The customers or partners often reach out to us, but we also create new products depending on market needs. We then also reach out to customers or partners to see if they would be interested in our new technologies. We are always a Monozukuri company in order to meet the expectations of the customers in terms of quality and volume of production in our factories in each region.

 

Would you please run us through your portfolio of machinery?

Our investment toward machine development is an important factor. If our machine is not adapting to our customer’s production, we often customize our machine to adopt. Our bestselling machines are high speed machines for beverage and dairy customers. For example, Yakult. To standardize their production, we provide all labeling machines in their factories in Mexico, America, Brazil, Holland, Myanmar, Hong Kong, China, Philippines, Thailand, etc. and Japan. We also provide all labels to stabilize the production in combination with our machines.

 

In the last Year, you recorded a net of 160 billion yen in sales. What would be your midterm strategy to continue this corporate growth?

We aim to grow together with our customers by introducing our unique Monozukuri technologies. Being the packaging company, along the changes of packaging, we have changed to meet the needs of the market and we will continue to do so in the future. We will also continue to focus on our solutions and care about our customers' product cycle. Co-creation, production, and offering solutions. This is a basic strategy and business model which has been working well. As you mentioned we earned 160 billion yen in sales last year!

We call the current mid-term growth strategy “Plus One”. In region, in category, in business, we extended our business boundary to the next areas. In region we have started stepping into India.

 

All customers have their preferences for their packaging. How do you research those preferences or figure out the individual needs of each customer?

Each region has an excellent sales team, technical team and Monozukuri team that has a history and knowledge of the local market. We do market research as well, but we team up with our partners who are also familiar with each market needs and discuss together to define the suitable specification for each market.

 

Since you are present all over the world, what is your current international strategy?

We are also dealing with global leading companies and this helps us to follow the global demand trends. We believe that roles of packaging have extended to not only solving design and production requirements but also wider ESG issues. Our experiences through international activities in the packaging industry can be utilized for solving social issues.

 

Imagine we come back in 5 years to interview you all over again in 5 years. What are your dreams for the company? What would you like to have accomplished by then?

I want to be a continuously exciting company for the employees! I believe this is the most important part of being successful. If employees are excited to come to work, they will be more innovative and become a driver for change. Through this, we can grow as a company as well as bringing the value to all stakeholders. We will realize this by allowing them to grow with the company. Personally, I want to be able to show the employees that I take the responsibility of leading them very seriously, and to believe in them.

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