Juan Ignacio Piquer, Managing Director of Grupo La Plana
Forty-five years after its creation, the La Plana Group maintains its roots in Betxí, although with a vocation to expand across the peninsula and take its cardboard products wherever its clients request it. Investing to grow, betting on the incorporation of modern machinery and with a high degree of concern for the conservation of the environment, are signs of a business philosophy, which two generations have already shared and which will lead to a third, points out Juan Ignacio Piquer, general manager of the La Plana Group, who came to the company from the hand of his father and founder, Alfredo Piquer. From him he learned that proximity to the client is necessary, of which “we try to be collaborators”.
The commitment to innovation and the constant commercial expansion that has characterized the company since its creation has accounted for the fact that it has four production plants of its own in Betxí and Onda, in addition to those of Cenicero (La Rioja) and Igualada ( Barcelona), in addition to a network of assembly plants spread throughout Spain and Portugal, guaranteeing supply to the industry and reducing the logistics costs of its customers. Something that consolidates a business model that has allowed it to lead the production of corrugated cardboard packaging and packaging in the national market. Positioning to which contributes the constant renewal and automation of the productive processes that allow it to reach a production of two million cardboard boxes per day.
At a time when the economy is recovering, after the crisis started in 2007, the Group has a healthy economy, with more than 100 million euros in annual sales, which allows it to face the future with optimism . A future with which he maintains a social commitment, as evidenced by his program for the Economy of the Common Good and his support for the Novessendes Foundation. Juan Ignacio Piquer recalls the context in which Cartonajes La Plana emerged.
–    We are a family and independent business group founded in 1973 and which manufactures corrugated cardboard packaging for a fundamentally national market. When we went to the market we did it supported in an environment with a large consumption of packaging in the ceramic sector. We were born as a small company, with very few means and we were growing, not only in this sector, but in others. Now, we also supply other productive sectors. Thus, in the mid-1980s we entered the agricultural sector, which changed wooden packaging for cardboard. In parallel we reach sectors such as food and beverages and industrial.
– When is the generational change in front of the company?
– In the mid-90s when we faced the succession and in parallel the expansion of the facilities. In that decade we had a cardboard production plant in Betxí, with an area of 30,000 m2, but it was small in demand. And that’s when we decided to take the leap and start up a second plant, in Onda, opened in 1997, which allowed us to continue growing while meeting the demand we received from Castellón and València.
We also opened another plant in Cenicero (La Rioja) to meet the demand of the bodeguero sector and supply customers, not only from that region, but from all of northern Spain.
In 2001, after the death of my father, Alfredo Piquer, the effective generational change takes place and I take charge of the management of the company alone, after sharing that responsibility for years with him. Since then, the company has grown bigger, as a multi-company, which means that we have to structure and adapt the different departments, from management models to production.
In this line of constant expansion of the plants, we undertake in 2007 that of the Onda plant, doubling the capacity, and we hit the ground one year later with the great crisis, which affected us, mainly on the side of the ceramic sector, but It also served to diversify our activities. We had capacity, since we had just expanded the Onda plant and we took advantage of it to promote alternative fields to that of ceramics. We had the ability, without neglecting the ceramic sector, to focus on food and beverages.
We were one of the first plants in Spain that achieved certification in food safety (2011). And this allowed us continuous growth in the middle of a crisis.
– What role does technology play in the company?
– Plays an important role. Our group has always stood out for its pioneering character and its determined and firm commitment to technological innovation applied to the different sectors in which it operates. We have always invested in cutting-edge technologies, not only for the production machinery, but also for the management, because we have always been in the lead in this field. We understand technology as the process of automation of plants, to avoid bottlenecks or unproductive times. It is very important to optimize these processes and more when we are dealing with the manufacture of a high volume of products. This allows us to have control of the product since the paper arrives, its transformation until its exit as packaging.
We also understand the technology applied to the field of management, something that has led us to have the entire plant digitized. We know where each product is in each phase of production, because we have direct contact with the machine that tells us the rhythm of production in real time … We apply what is known as 4.0 technology. what allows us to ensure traceability. And it is that the traceability , especially in the field of the feeding, is something very important.
– What is the philosophy of the company?
–    We have clear lines to follow, which were moved by the founder of the company, Alfredo Piquer Franch, based on family harmony, honesty and a policy of reinvesting profits. We have a vision of the company as a generator of social resources, so we allocate a part of them to social action in our environment. In our DNA is our ability to adapt to the specific needs of the market, so we provide technical assistance in each product innovation that the client needs that we develop. We are aware of our status as a family group, a condition that we want to maintain, despite the fact that we are moving in a very competitive scenario with a large presence of multinational companies. But we maintain the values imposed by the founder and that are preserved by the Family Council.
– In that philosophy, how does the company-client relationship fit?
– We know that we have a product that the client integrates into its production chain. Therefore, we can not limit ourselves to selling a product and that’s it, but we try to be more collaborators than suppliers of the client. This has needs for new products, improvements in the product and there we are always willing to make an active collaboration. Our technicians go to the client’s facilities and help him in concrete actions.
– Currently the company is immersed in the third expansion of the facilities, in this case those of the Onda plant, what will it consist of? And what investment does it require?
– We have two plants in the province of 30,000 m2 each and we continue in the line of growth in response to the demand we receive. Therefore, we are immersed in a new expansion to increase production capacity, combining it with our policy of geographical diversification. We analyzed all aspects and decided to expand our plants here, because we still have a market in an area that we can serve better from Castellón. That is why we decided to build a new 30,000 square meter plant in Onda. With that there we will have a production surface of 60,000 square meters, although they can be managed separately. It will mean an increase of 50% in productive capacity, with an investment of around 30 million euros, which is already being implemented and we expect the plant to be finished next April.
In the decision weighed the fact of having here a greater infrastructure and know-how. With its opening we will have greater capacity in a plant equipped with new technologies and equipped with state-of-the-art machinery.
– What trends are detected in the sector?
– As in so many sectors, the tendency is to concentrate around larger companies and led by multinationals, which have the greatest capacity to absorb companies and favor this concentration. We also observe that there is greater concern about ecological issues, which means that environmental management is prioritized, responding to social concerns. Concern that we also assume.
This trend towards business concentration makes these companies more demanding in terms of costs and quality, in addition to giving them greater purchasing potential.
Likewise, the increasing implementation of electronic commerce is detected. In our case, since we do not reach the final consumer, the sale of the product online affects us little, but this type of commerce is triggering the consumption of packaging. Any product that comes from that part of the sale arrives packed in boxes.
– Business philosophy includes sustainability …
– It’s one of our commitments. The company maintains a process of sustainable growth and constant technological renewal that enables us to produce more than 200 million square meters of cardboard per year, which translates into the production of two million boxes a day. Process that we can face after investments made in a fully automated system that avoids risks of contamination and human failures, and a staff of highly trained and specialized personnel.
– Can this commitment to sustainability be extrapolated to policies aimed at preserving the environment?
-Of course. Our production centers have the relevant industrial and food quality certifications and guarantee sustainable processes with low environmental impact. In fact, the company produces its cardboard from recycled raw materials through an integral and sustainable cycle or virgin raw materials from FSC Forest Management certified suppliers.
In the same way, the firm has been promoting environmental media policies for more than a decade, which has allowed us to obtain, among others, ISO 14.001 since 2004, throughout the production process, taking advantage of renewable energies. We take advantage of the heat generated in the cogeneration process for cardboard production, all with energy consumption controls and, in addition, we have a photovoltaic plant on the deck of the Onda ship that produces 90 kilowatt-hours.
– The raw material that they use in their processes is the paper that is extracted from the trees and that entails their felling, which gives a negative image from the environmental point of view …
–    The cardboard is being discovered as a very ecological product, which is easily recyclable and this makes the paper waste pay more and more because it is a very valuable raw material for the manufacturer and that with a small environmental impact is recycled. The vast majority comes from recycling and the one from virgin fiber has sustainable forest certification. This causes trees to be grown for paper. And, although it seems paradoxical, the countries that produce paper and wood have a higher demand for paper, greater tree planting. But we have suffered campaigns that were contrary in the line of which consuming paper supposed the felling of trees. Now it seems that things are being put in place and there are better prospects for paper and cardboard.
– What percentage of reuse of products occurs in the company?
– The reuse of the materials used is one of our commitments. For this we have acted actions such as the zero discharge project, which we are fulfilling, to take advantage of and reuse all the materials used in our production process. We want nothing to go to the landfill, or to the waters.
We use 100% renewable raw material, with FSC accreditations. 76% of the paper consumed is already recycled and the other 24 is made of renewable and easily recyclable material.
– How many production plants does the company have and where are they located?
-The group has four own production plants located in Betxí, Onda, Cenicero (La Rioja) and Igualada (Barcelona) -acquired in 2017- and which is a manufacturing plant for compact cardboard packaging with offset printing, of a complementary sector to ours and in which we thought we could also grow. We also distribute our products through 13 assembly plants scattered throughout Spain and Portugal.
The assembly plants are focused on the agriculture sector. For this we collaborate with companies that have their facilities and distribute to the area. We reach agreements with them to give the final service to the consumer.
– What template does Cartonajes La Plana have?
– We have 450 workers. In Betxí we have 235; in Onda, 120; and about 50 in each of the La Rioja and Igualada plants.
– Does the company contemplate making the leap to the foreign market?
– At the level of productive plants no. We have the priority and the goal to continue growing geographically, but without going out, we will grow in the environment of our customers, because it is important that the plants are as close as possible to the market and we do not see it necessary to reach others where we do not sell our products. products. What we do is to promote the export of the product. We have historically the Portuguese ceramic market and we are also in the south of France to meet the demands of the wineries, which we do through our plant in La Rioja. From Igualada we also serve that French demand. It is true that more and more we consider the business line of exporting our products and possibly strengthen it in the future.
– What future prospects does the sector have?
–    Good. We believe that growth is possible and we are prepared for this with the adaptation and the increase of productive capacity of our plants. We see that the packaging sector is getting stronger, because everything ends up in a cardboard box, which makes us see a good future for the sector, because we are in a broad and diversified market.
Commitment to the Economy of the Common Good
One of the distinctive features of the Cartonajes La Plana Group is its commitment to social values, which, Juan Ignacio Piquer recalls, are in the DNA of the company. Something that allows the company to be seen as a “generator of wealth for different interest groups, while integrating ethical values in its management and offering the development of social concerns”. Vision that fitted the initiative of the Economy of the Common Good (EBC) and that led them in 2015 to carry out the Balance of the Common Good and see what practices the company carries out and in what areas it can improve to become a responsible and sustainable company.
As a result of this, “two years ago we tackled a project called the Economy of the Common Good (EBC), which tries that not everything is to earn money, but to look for results that have a positive impact on society and the environment. Fruit of that bet we obtained a balance parallel to the economic one of the common good, measuring parameters different from the economic ones and from there we have been involved in 16 projects of improvement of non-economic aspects and in two years we will measure again and see the result .
Our slogan is “committed to the common good”, beyond business.
The EBC is a proposal that emerged in Austria in 2010 which, Piquer points out, aims to guide business activity towards a model based on the fundamental values of human dignity, social justice and ecological sustainability. “This causes that the indicators of success of a company are not only the economic but those that have to do with their contribution to the common good”.