"Known for tradition and innovation": the company's PERLA brand of tissue napkin products

WEPA’s new strategies progressing product diversity, flexible machinery, recycled paper, packaging, hybrid products, and efficient renewable energy. Bernhard Gross, Managing Director WEPA Italia, talks to TWM. 

Photovoltaic plant: 5,000 modules are currently being installed across the roof of WEPA Italia’s Lucca-based site  

TWM/1: What’s your current presence across Italy?

“In Italy, WEPA has two production sites: one in Lucca and one in Cassino. At these sites we operate three paper machines with a tissue production capacity of over 110,000 tonnes, equivalent to around one billion toilet paper rolls. The Cassino factory, with its very high level of automation, focuses primarily on rolled products.

“Operational excellence is key and we continuously invest in state-of-the-art manufacturing technology. It was only recently that we replaced one converting line with a new high-speed, but very flexible line.

“Our site in Lucca is our competence centre for the production of napkins and other folded products such as facial tissues and handkerchiefs. Operational excellence is of course equally important, but innovations are key to success in this business segment. Colour, shape, print, material recipe, packaging and other customisations drive our discussions with customers. Our brand PERLA is known all over Italy for both tradition and innovation in the tissue napkin market.”

TWM/2: How has your growth strategy in the Italian market changed during the past 18 months?

“The entire retail business in Europe was impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the AfH business was particularly affected. As WEPA Italia does not serve this business segment, we fortunately experienced less impact on volume. But at the same time, we saw huge variations within our product segments. While big diameter rolls were requested a lot more and kitchen towels saw unexpected growth, napkin volume declined, and we assume that the protection of masks against flu and colds made handkerchiefs less necessary.

“But we have a long-term vision and will therefore proceed with our strategy. As WEPA Italia, we contribute our share to the implementation of the WEPA Group vision to be the most sustainable and agile first-class partner for personal and professional hygiene solutions. We have already seen this decision confirmed by the market in recent months.”

TWM/3: What plans do you have to grow in 2022?

“In our consumer business we saw certain product categories suffering from the pandemic. And 2022 for us is expected to be the year of recovery from these negative effects. At the same time our innovations in folded products have been progressed without delay, so we will accompany market launches with the necessary investments especially in our Lucca plant. For instance, new automation concepts to handle greater product diversity will be implemented and more flexible machinery for new concepts of primary packaging has already been installed.”

High level automation: the Cassino factory focuses primarily on rolled products 

TWM/4: What efforts are you making in terms of sustainability?

“At WEPA we have a clear focus on sustainability. That is why we offer sustainable products such as toilet paper from our brand COMPRAMI in Italy, for example: the hybrid version of COMPRAMI consists of an intelligent combination of recycled fibres and cellulose and perfectly meets consumer demands in terms of ecology and comfort. Hybrid products with a 30% proportion of recycled fibres have a 20% improved environmental footprint.

Bernhard Gross, Managing Director WEPA Italia.

“100% of our product packaging is recyclable or reusable and as WEPA Group we have set the target of using recycled material for 60% of our packaging material by 2025 and saving 8,000 tonnes of primary plastics in our packaging every year.

“In terms of sustainable energy supply, we are currently installing a photovoltaic plant on the roof of the main building at our Lucca site. With around 5,000 modules installed on 11,000 square meters, this will be one of the largest photovoltaic installations in the Lucca region and will cover nearly 30% of the entire electricity demand of the converting factory.

“And as WEPA we are also exceedingly committed to the efficient supply of energy to our plants. Therefore, at our Cassino mill, our partner TEP is constructing a highly efficient combined heat, power and cooling plant, providing not only electrical energy and steam for the mill, but also supplying heating and cooling for the nearby university district. In this way a smart community is being created.”

TWM/5: What new trends are you seeing across the tissue market’s sectors?

“Generally for the WEPA Group, in the AfH market we have developed from a private label and manufacturer brand focus towards a clear brand focus in the last two and a half years. Our brands Satino by WEPA and BlackSatino will play an essential role in driving our growth objectives and our brands play leading roles in sustainability. For example, BlackSatino is the only hygiene paper brand in Europe used in the Professional sector which has been awarded with the Cradle-to-Cradle silver category. With these strong brands, we want to grow beyond our home markets in DACH and BNL towards other countries in Western and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, we want to strengthen our service offering.

(R-L): Bernhard Gross, Managing Director WEPA Italia, and Antonio Gallina, Mill Manager WEPA Italia 

“In the Consumer market we are present in the main European countries at most of the retailers. As the number three company here, we are one of the top suppliers in the European hygiene paper market and a reliable partner for the retailers. Besides the supply of standard assortments we are aiming to implement a sustainable assortment at our customers. A clear goal is to bring our hybrid and recycling strategy forward in each region.”

TWM/6: Are you seeing an increase in gross sales of tissue and towel products in Italy, and do you forecast that to continue?

“Currently, the commodity price situation causes challenges for all tissue manufacturers. Especially in situations like this, a great partnership between manufacturers and retailers is important to overcome the obstacles together. We understand that aspects such as sustainability, delivery reliability and high product quality are important to our customers. In the end, it is not just about the lowest price. Sustainability and innovation are two of the main aspects we focus on as a company.

“In terms of sustainability, we continue to focus on recycled paper and packing, hybrid products as well as top-in-class energy efficiency and an increased use of renewable energy.

“We see significant growth in both of these aspects. And we will therefore continue to invest in sustainability concepts and innovations.”

Above: WEPA’s COMPRAMI hybrid product