Vice Chair of Sheet Plant Association shares thoughts on industry


The Sheet Plant Association (SPA) plays a pivotal part in co-ordinating the activities of sheet plants across the UK, sharing information and best practice, and communicating vital information.

Established in the mid 1980’s, Ken Shackleton, Managing Director at our sister company The Cardboard Box Company, has been a member for over 25 years and has held the position of Vice-Chair for around 10 years.

Ken has worked at the same company for 38 years, under six different owners, and is now at the helm of a £19m business, renowned for its high-quality print and packaging solutions across a huge variety of sectors.

Here’s what Ken had to say when we grabbed a ‘virtual’ coffee with him.

A lot has changed in the world in 38 years – how has the packaging industry changed in that time?

Perhaps the biggest shift has been the reduction of owner/managed plants. When I first joined the SPA, it was a way of all those independent plants getting together to network; before networking had even become a thing! When I joined there was probably about 500 owner/managed plants; now, at a guess, there is nearer 200. The other major change and perhaps the greatest innovation that has impacted on the industry – other than the creation of the Logson Group(!) – and that has affected every aspect of our lives is the digital impact.

I remember seeing the first digital machine at an exhibition in Paris in 2000. It was so slow but a magical revelation as to the possibilities for the future. We invested in a couple of machines here at CBC about 6 years ago and these have been pivotal to our growth, production capabilities and graphic operations. That said, it is fair to say that it is still developing quite considerably as is the development of flexo printing. This has changed massively and the quality we can achieve today in comparison with the ‘potato stamping’ quality when I first joined the industry is so impressive.

Corrugated packaging has never been more popular – why do you think it is important for businesses wanting to be more sustainable?

There has been a recognition generally within business that paper-based packaging is more sustainable, very environmental and is a wise choice to make, if you can. It is still comparatively cost effective, although the continuing rise of the e-commerce sector is increasing demand for luxury packaging to meet consumer expectations. I think an accurate perception is that B2B have definitely got to grips with why it’s their responsibility to seek responsible packaging solutions, commercially and environmentally and also that B2C are driving through the demand, meaning the businesses and companies have to sit up, take notice and act.

Recycling is one of the most attractive credentials of corrugated packaging and, whilst that is incredibly important, it is also important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that raw material also needs virgin paper. These sustainably managed forests also contribute significantly to the health of our planet removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and, through the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council), the forests are managed so that the process contributes positively. It is a full circular process that’s totally invaluable to the earth.

So, do you think that this demand for more sustainable packaging will contribute significantly to the future of the industry?

Yes undoubtedly. The demand for recyclable materials in retail and other sectors is still a huge topic and this has now escalated even more in recent months. Covid has brought on an even greater use of online packaging through the e-commerce sector and more and more businesses are looking to find alternatives to single use plastics – it’s not great for their brand, and it’s not what consumers want. Corrugated packaging sits really well in a retail environment with Shelf Ready Packaging, Free Standing Display Units and also the continued popularity of the ‘unboxing’ experience. With more and more people currently choosing to shop online, the outer box, the inner box and how the product is packaged, has to give the consumer the positive experience that shopping in person would. This has meant that huge brands are investing considerably to achieve this and position their product, and their brand, above that of their competitors.

So, tell us about SPA, how you became involved and what the role of Vice Chair involves.

It was around 25 years ago that I first became involved and the association has really evolved over that time. It has always been relevant to whatever stage the industry sector has been at but it is currently at a different level. That is one of its greatest assets. I have been Vice Chair for about 10 years now and have hopefully helped contribute to its development during that time. HR, H&S, BRC, FSC have all evolved considerably or been introduced presenting a whole host of initiatives to our members. All aspects of the industry, and market status, impacts on all our businesses, and the sharing of information helps the industry to grow and prosper and be represented in a very positive light.

It is now about looking forward and seeing what SPA can do for the future of the industry. We’ve been working closely with the CPI so that smaller plants can benefit alongside the major integrated plants in the understanding of the packaging world – both the CPI and the SPA are now for everyone in the industry.

What’s next for Ken?

I have worked in the same plant for almost all of my working life and it’s been a great journey so far. We have got a wonderful team at CBC and we have achieved some great things in recent years, including the recent extension to our site. Now, we are looking forward to an exciting and prosperous future as part of the Logson Group and as part of the UK packaging industry.

more news