From humble beginnings to what is now a well-known and established name in the Australian packaging industry, Wellman Packaging is celebrating five decades of innovation, advanced manufacturing, and sustainability.
The business was founded by John Wellman in 1973, and has developed under the leadership of his son, Craig, into a Tier-1 supplier of rigid plastics packaging to many global brands, including Colgate-Palmolive, Nestlé, Mars Food, Kraft-Heinz, along with domestic retailers such as Woolworths and Aldi – attributed to decades of providing world class solutions with a holistic, end-to-end approach including packaging design, manufacturing, assembly, logistics, and supply chain engineering.
PKN first profiled Wellman in 2008, finding it ‘flying under the radar’ with rapid expansion of its existing closures business after having established new food-grade facilities in Sydney in 2001. Not long after this, in 2010, Wellman completed a $6m turnkey project with Swiss machine manufacturer Netstal, and its toolmaker Otto-Hofstetter, to manufacture PET preforms for customers wanting to make their own bottles via two-stage stretch-blow moulding including ‘blow-fill’. Wellman was supported by Colgate as its ‘anchor’ customer, representing a strategic expansion of their already long relationship that commenced in 1983, and now spans 40 years of partnership together.
Digging deep again in 2013 with another $5m turnkey project, the company installed Australia’s first all-electric extrusion blow moulding machines from Germany’s Uniloy B&W, each highly customised to meet Wellman’s food grade and GMP requirements, to fulfil contracts for squeezy sauce bottles initially, and then homecare bottles for Colgate and later, Henkel.
Craig Wellman explains, “We have always supported growth by making solid investments in the best facilities, the best (European) equipment, and development of the best staff, so that we might attract, service and retain the world’s best clients. We think in terms of inter-generational relationships that span many decades and beyond. For our family it is a question of legacy, to all stakeholders but especially the 40 staff who have invested their working lives into what we have set out to achieve, and to whom we are extremely grateful.”
Wellman has continued its equipment program, with substantial investments across injection and blow moulding – including all-electric injection moulding machines from its German partner, Arburg, especially for fliptop caps and thin-walled packaging; the addition of two-stage stretch-blow moulding for PET in 2022 with Europe’s Flexblow machines to convert Wellman’s stock preforms; and a doubling of the Uniloy extrusion blow moulding machine fleet in 2023.
Growth has been strong in all categories but especially in bottles, both extrusion and stretch blow, with many new projects delivered, including the new Mars Food Squeezy PET Sauce Bottles in 250ml and 500ml sizes, a stock range of bulk 2L, 3L and 4L HDPE condiment bottles for retail and food service including Woolworths private label, clarified PP squeezy sauce bottles, and hot-fill Maggi jars for Nestlé, among others. This growth has been underpinned by the solid engineering resources built over two decades and led by Craig Wellman’s 2IC, Nick Campbell, who is set to head up the business in the years to follow. According to Campbell, “applying scientific rigour to every aspect of the business, including physics, mechanical engineering and polymer science, has delivered a tool kit that has proven to be very beneficial especially for pack design”.
Wellman now finds itself third in the NSW bottle and preform market for FMCG behind Visy and Pact Group. To support the growth in all categories, especially high-volume bottles and thin-wall packaging, the company commenced efforts in 2022 to relocate into larger facilities to coincide with its milestone anniversary year. However, it has suffered numerous delays symptomatic of the difficult conditions in the industrial property market at present. Craig Wellman states, “It is definitely a challenge right now, given the demands upon us and the delays incurred, however, the enormous support we have received from our customers, suppliers, and staff to work through these growing pains together, has only hardened our resolve to step up as a balancing force in the industry. We are also reminded of our 2010 bottle market strategy, and the supply chain efficiency, of sending preforms to be blown at a customer site just before filling, instead of building larger warehouses for empty bottles and more trucks to carry them.”
Wellman’s growth can also be attributed to its vision for a circular economy, and what it calls ‘Future Thinking for Sustainable Plastics’ under its trademarked banner of E-ZERO, which translates as ‘do no harm’ to the environment and if possible, use plastic packaging to sequester carbon and improve the environmental scorecard overall.
The company’s sustainability credentials to date are more than solid, from pivoting into using recycled plastics wherever possible and taking out the top awards at PIDA and internationally at the Worldstar Packaging Awards for its 100 per cent conversion of preforms and bottles to rPET. These include Colgate-Palmolive’s homecare bottles along with a world-first 100 per cent recyclable squeezy PE sauce bottle; the development of the Nestlé Hot Chockee thin-walled PP cup that uses 25 per cent less material and can now be fully recycled; developing a new PET 500ml squeezy sauce bottle for Mars using 37 per cent less plastic than its PE counterpart; and the development of hot fill jars and closures for Maggi sauces with 100 per cent recyclability, 30 per cent lighter weight and improved panelling performance.
Wellman said, “We are constantly amazed by the volume of waste that finds its way into the oceans and landfills and must remember that we are all custodians of this planet, and it is our duty to leave it in better shape than we found it. For those in the packaging industry, however, environmental citizenship is even more important because we will always have a licence-to-operate question to answer due to the visibility of packaging in the waste stream.”
Wellman Packaging has been busy, too busy in fact for the anniversary party this year, but we look forward to coming together soon to raise a glass to its 50 years.