“For some time now, the paper market has been undergoing significant changes, with reductions in the consumption of several different paper grades, which in turn has seen a reduction in the consumption in pulp. This is a trend we expect will continue,” says Anna Altner, who manages the Pulp Labs communications tool and website at Södra Cell International AB.
“As a leading manufacturer of market pulp, Södra Cell has spent many years investigating the potential uses of cellulose fibre for products beyond paper production. Just recently, we have succeeded in developing new, exciting areas of use and products, for which we have even received international prizes, so it’s all very encouraging,” says Altner proudly.
“Our researchers and innovators have recently developed another new, exciting material, which we call FoamPulp. Things are still at a very early stage, and we’re looking at different areas of use, with packaging proving to be particularly interesting,” continues Altner. “Packaging is showing clear global growth and consumption is expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future, so if we can get into that segment with FoamPulp it would of course be a very positive step for the company!”
“It goes without saying that focusing on a new product in a completely new area of use involves having to make several strategic decisions, not least because it may involve some major investment. This, in turn, requires that the basis for decision making must be as thoroughly reviewed and reliable as possible. For example, it’s important that the entire value chain in a new area of use, in this case packaging, is analysed as carefully as possible in order to establish that the product is usable when viewed from all potential perspectives, all the way up to the customer,” says Altner.
“We at Södra Cell International supply our product, market pulp, to paper manufacturers throughout the world, and are very familiar with the value chain. But we only have limited knowledge about this value chain, which is linked to the packaging segment via manufacturers, converters, etc. up to the end customer, and this was a problem we were forced to resolve,” says Anna. We realised that it would be an excellent opportunity to test Opticom’s Future Lab concept, to see if its method of professional networking and round table discussions with various stakeholders would produce the information we needed, particularly bearing in mind that we were at a very early stage in the FoamPulp development process.”
Consequently, Opticom was given the task of implementing a full-scale Future Lab project focusing on the packaging industry, the purpose of which was to get answers to a number of questions linked to the usability of FoamPulp.
“We wanted to include participants from a broad spectrum of backgrounds in the round table discussions, preferably top level decision makers who were intimately familiar with the problems and requirements facing their respective areas, and with the best network of contacts to the different market players,” explains Altner. “Working in conjunction with Opticom, we decided to invite representatives from brand owners, packaging design agencies, logistics companies, converters and the environmental movement, e.g. players that influence the entire value chain.”
“Our own contacts within the value chain were initially very limited, so we tasked Opticom with selecting and inviting people they considered to be the most appropriate participants,” continues Altner. “Using Opticom’s network, we brought together interesting groups to the various round table meetings, particularly to the meeting held in the Malmö region, which of course was thanks to all the packaging segment expertise on hand.”
A total of eight round table meetings were held – four in Sweden, two in the UK and two in Germany. Everything was staged and hosted by Opticom, who dealt with everything from issuing invitations to leading the actual discussions. Opticom employee Mats Nygård acted as moderator for all meetings. Every session was filmed in order to make a record of all perspectives and comments, whilst representatives from Södra Cell were able to monitor the entire procedure from an adjacent room.
“Having Opticom provide support in the form of issuing invitations and handling arrangements was extremely valuable to us, undeniably increasing the credibility of the project. The fact that things were all done on a neutral footing is very important, which is what we see as one of the strengths of the Future Lab concept. At the same time, it was clear that Södra Cell was the client, but we played a discreet role in the background during the meetings,” explains Altner.
How has Södra Cell benefited from this Future Lab project?
“First and foremost, we’ve managed to confirm that there is a demand for the type of material from which FoamPulp is made, and that was the principle question we wanted an answer to. In addition, we know that the Future Lab method actually works – the project also acted as a test for this question – and may therefore be an important working method for us in the future,” says Altner.
“In addition to this, a lot of other things emerged from the project that are very valuable to us. Let me just give you a few examples:
- We now have an extensive list containing a large number of interesting people in what is for us a completely new segment, who will be very valuable to have in our network in the future. We contacted several of them after the project for follow-up purposes and have had some interesting discussions. We’ve also set up a special group on the LinkedIn social network website where all members can login and communicate with each other, which really delivers significant added value for the entire project, both for us and the participants.
- For many years, Södra Cell International has worked successfully to strengthen the company’s brand. The Future Lab project has enabled us to put the company on the map and strengthen our brand in the minds of significant parts of the packaging segment value chain. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that, after the project, we met a number of people who had been involved in the round table discussions in other contexts who said that ‘Yes, we know Södra, especially after that interesting project we were involved in!’ Clearly we’ve strengthened our brand! We have also recorded interviews with some of the people who participated in the project and put the videos on the Pulp Labs website, which is also part of our brand building process.
- It’s incredibly important that employees in our R & D organisation, Innovation, are familiar with the requirements that the market impose on the products they develop in order to ensure that the products we develop are usable and can be marketed. Colleagues from Innovation sat in an adjacent room during all eight Future Lab meetings, getting immediate feedback from the packaging industry in terms of the perspectives and requirements they had for FoamPulp, which has proved to be very valuable indeed. The information obtained in this way can certainly be regarded as more credible that information obtained through our own marketing organisation, which is understandable. There are two worlds with differing types of competence requirements that must be satisfied, and so Future Lab provides added value even in this context. We’ve also been able to establish the working method in the entire value chain and got a better understanding of it, which has also been very useful.”
What did the participants think about being part of the project – have you received any comments?
“The feedback we received was almost exclusively positive. They thought that it was an interesting and exciting to meet in a group with people from the entire value chain. Many saw it as an opportunity to get something back in their professional roles. We also got the impression that many people felt privileged to be invited to participate, especially as FoamPulp was still at such an early stage of development. Having the opportunity to be involved and express views was seen as being highly valuable. All participants have been able to find out who participated in the various round table meetings, and can now contact each other, e.g. through the special group we’ve set up on LinkedIn, which has also drawn positive reactions. We actively communicate with participants via LinkedIn.”
What other experiences of this Future Lab project would you like to highlight, Anna?
“Well, we now know that it’s very rewarding and valuable to bring together a group of people from various players in a value chain in the same room and discuss specific issues under the leadership of a professional moderator. It’s a very effective way of working to get information. Without doubt, the project met our expectations.”
“We can also say that internal reporting and, above all, the process of implementing the results and conclusions from the project, has been time-consuming, which we had underestimated to a certain extent. It would have been more efficient to also ask Opticom to take care of this task and to run a number of workshops in our organisation. We’ll take this on board as an experience for future projects.
“Otherwise, we’re very happy with the way in which Opticom managed the assignment – from planning and the selection of participants, to the implementation of the project, analysis of results and compilation of the report. I’d also like to put on record that Opticom’s moderator, Mats Nygård, did a wonderful job at each round table meeting. Mats is a well-read man and led the discussions in a patient yet effective way – very impressive!”
What about the future – will Södra Cell International be running further Future Lab projects?
“Almost certainly, although there are no concrete plans to do so at the moment. This last project was about getting a visionary perspective on a product that was at a very early stage of development, as well as the discussion of ‘soft’ questions associated with building relationships both within and outside the company. Next time, it would be very interesting to run a Future Lab with more concrete questions related to a project that was further along in the development process,” concludes Altner.