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SWEET SMEEL OF SUCESS (Folding cartons)

In the 1970`s, Naseem Akhtar, along with his late brother Saleem, established a printing company serving the Asian community in London, England. From premises in Camden Town they produced posters, banners and promotional material for the 'bollywood' movies that were then beginning to play in the UK. Ten years later, the brothers sold their business and Saleem Akhtar left to set up a giant timber factory in Nigeria, West Africa. Following a chance conversation with a friend, Naseem Akhtar moved into print management, sourcing packaging for the fledgling Asian sweet industry,mainly around London, and establishing Waseema Packaging as an entity in 1981.

Particularly in demand during feast days and holidays, Asian sweets have shown massive market growth in the UK during the last twenty years. Shops selling highly coloured confections such as the swirling "Jelabi" , creamy "Barfi" and syrup coated "Gulab Jamun" are now a common feature in any high street where there is a significant population of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi residents.
Alongside the growth of asian sweets there has been a similar explosion in the market for Asian bakery products and,most markedly, for take-away, fast-food chicken. The latter has been driven by the growth in the number of outlets offering halal food, predominantly aimed at the muslim consumer. Literally translated, Halal means 'permitted' and Halal foods must shun certain ingredients, ranging from pork products a nd alcohol to many additives and flavorings. Additionally, permitted meat type must be slaughtered in accordance with the prescribed method called Zihad. The annual market for halal food products is estimated at being worth in excess of 150 billion US dollars, not surprising when there are estimated to be 1.8 billion Muslim consumers world-wide.

Productive gluer needed

For Waseema Packaging, their customers' main demands are for bright, attractive four and six corner sweet and bakery boxes, often with windows, as well as a variety of crash locks for chicken products. It is this latter market which now provides the bulk of Waseema Packaging's workload and which prompted the company to go looking for additional folding and gluing capacity.
"We've cultivated a lot of high volume crash lock accounts," explains Waseem Akhtar, who now runs the company alongside his father naseem. "The type of work forces you to run at high net speeds if you are going to make a margin on it. On top of that, we had been outsourcing a lot of four and six-corner gluing and to a certain extent you lose control and flexibility when you do that."


The search for a gluer led to PRUPA and to time spent looking at what the main manufacturers had to offer. "If I'm honest we weren't initially thinking in terms of a Bobst," recalls Mr Akhtar. "BUt at DRUPA the launched the Fuego range and we soon realized that it could do everything we need at a price no one else's seemed to be able to match."

As a small company, service backup was an important factor in the purchasing decision and Waseem is particularly effusive about the after-sales service he has received from Bobst Group in the UK. "More often than not, when we need help it's a production issue and i know we can get an answer quickly over the phone or, at worst, someone will visit the next day."

But even Bobst's most experienced specialists were a little apprehensive about tackling some of the Waseema Packaging range of work. "We have some really tricky jobs. One in particular is a big wobbly six corner with a huge window. Lee Alton, the Bobst Product Support Manager for foldgluers who guided us through the purchase process and did the training, said it was the most difficult carton he's ever set up, and he says he has seen some shockers in his time. We thought if they can get this one going through the Fuego it will handle anything. They did and it can."

The model chosen by Waseema Packaging was a 11cm wide version and was the first at this width to be installed in the UK, reflecting the size of some of the bakery and fast-food cartons that the company produces. The gluer's Computer Set faculty allows the operators to store details of job on the machines CUBE system and download them to digital position indicators on each carrier. "All we have to do then is wind them until the indicator shows the carrier is in the right spot," says Mr Akhtar. This system reduces make-readly times and contributes to the fast production times that the company prides itself on. "We can turn around jobs just like this," says Mr Akhtar, clicking his fingers . "For some of our work the Fuego has taken 50 per cent of the time taken to produce the job, so it really helps our customers get their products to market more quickly."
Unusually for such niche markets, a significant amount of the company's production is destined for export to the US and Europe. This is a reflection of the continued expansion of some of Waseema's sweet manufacturer customers into those markets, and of the close relationship between them. "the languages change, but the head offices keep sending us the work. They want us to keep taking the pain out of their purchasing, "explains Mr Akhtar.

Own brand boxes

As well as establishing itself by supplying packaging to sweet, bakery and fast-food retailers, the company has exploited the potential of un-franchised fast-food shops. Its Tender 'n' Taste range of chicken boxes and chip scoops was initially sold direct to shops but volumes have increased so much that the company now sell exclusively through five specialist wholesalers. To ensure that this range is always available to its customers the company has established a storage depot inn the East-End of London from which it distributes stock. Conscious that it is no use having the goods if you cannot deliver them reliably, they also have their own delivery vehicles which they expect to compliment with a heavy goods vehicle later in the year.


Typical of the forward looking attitude of this family owned firm is the way they have explored markets complimentary to the printed box. "Sweets for the Asian community are always presented to the customer in a printed carrier bag," says Mr Akhtar. "Some of our customers started asking if we could supply these, to cut down their workload in sourcing them. We now have a tie-up with a company in the Far East who print these for us and this year we'll supply over four million bags to our customers."
Not content with simply sourcing the materials, the company is constantly looking at where it can get the quality it wants alongside value for money. "Malaysia has traditionally been the hotspot for plastic manufacture. But we're watching developments in Spain and Turkey, and although they can't compete yet, they are coming up fast, "he explains.

Low overheads

listening to the enthusiasm with which Mr Akhtar talks about the business, it is surprising to discover that he had not intended to become part of the family business, instead planning a career in Mechanical Engineering. But in 1999, after a brief taste of working at the company, he realized that running a firm was in his blood and he soon took over complete responsibility for production. His engineers attitude, combined with the skills he gained while achieving an MBA, have stood him in good stead. "It helps if you can understand in detail the processes and equipment you are using. But equally, if you are going to get the most our of them, you need to be able to have open lines of communication with your staff, "he says.


Although sales and admin are based at Elstree, just outside London, Waseema's production facility is almost two hundred miles further north in bradford, Yorkshire. The city is one of the least glamorous in the UK and the Waseema plant is situated in one of its less attractive areas. But Mr akhtar sees this as a huge plus point for the company. "Our overhead are now compared to the big corporations and the large independents. Our customers wouldn't get any benefit if we had a fancy reception area or a landscaped car park. What they're interested in is keen prices and goal service. By giving them that we can stop the work going to Eastern Europe or China, like so much of the UK's production already has."
This is a key issue for the Akhtars and the amount of work going through the plant from large asian food companies shows that the strategy is working. But service levels and flexibility are also a key part of the Waseema approach. "We can turn around even Big jobs in days," explains Mr Akhtar "You can't get that sort of service from large corporate carton plants. We're in a position that we can go the extra mile to help customers out if they have a crisis."
While the company's market is highly price-sensitive, he believes that quality is still a very important issue. "It's easy to cut back on board quality to make a margin, but when your customers' customer starts getting chicken in their lap because the board has given way, that's when they start looking for another supplier. We'd rather avoid that and make our margin out of being the most efficient."


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Copyright 2006 , Waseema Packaging
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