A paper revolution

Following a significant turnaround, in which the company implemented multiple new business processes, Accrol Papers is leaner, more automated, and leading the UK tissue conversion market

Establishing a tissue paper converting company made perfect business sense to the founders of Accrol. Toilet paper is a commodity used by people every day; it has no expiry date; can only be used once; and isn’t cost effective to import. On paper, manufacturing tissue products is an ideal business. Consequently, the private family business opened its doors in Lancashire in 1993 and Accrol was born. Success followed, and the firm was floated on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market in 2016.

Just over a year after flotation, the company appointed a new CEO, Gareth Jenkins. Gareth conducted an early review of the business, and, just weeks after his appointment, Accrol announced that it was facing a number of challenges which were placing significant financial pressure on the business. Trading in the company’s shares was suspended, while funds were raised to enable the business to survive.

Gareth commenced a major overhaul of the entire business.

“The turnaround was one of the most complex I have ever witnessed,” Accrol’s Commercial Director, Graham Cox declares.

“The team didn’t leave any aspect of the business untouched. Our priority was safety, and then we focused on simplification and cost reduction, combining these with quality service, innovation and putting the customer first. The Group’s new ‘Brand Killer’ strategy was then added to the mix. Our aim was to offer the best possible value to consumers for the price paid.

“It sounds easy but actioning such significant changes across a business simultaneously is hugely challenging.

“Following the turnaround, the business is now much leaner. We have overseen a significant reduction in headcount and a substantial increase in operational performance. The business is producing 30 per cent more today, with drastically fewer manufacturing assets than it had previously. A key part of the transformation was the introduction of four new IT systems: a new HR system, a warehouse management system, an ERP, and a manufacturing and planning system. The last of these was successfully installed on July 3rd. We are now up and running with a fully integrated system.”

Strong partnerships
Some of the most extensive changes at Accrol were implemented in the manufacturing process. Over the last 12 months, large investments have been made in improving existing equipment, and more notably into the introduction of robotic technology and full automation of the company’s operations.

“Our approach has always been one of simplification and to try and make sure we are one of the most efficient, lowest cost producers,” Graham states. “Clearly this will reduce the number of people needed within the business, as we plan to automate and robotize every aspect that we possibly can within the tissue production process. Over the last two and a half years, headcount has been reduced from a high of 690 to circa 300 people today, at the same time as we increased Group revenues.

“Our focus for the business is best summarized as Simplify, Strengthen and Grow.”

One of the UK’s leading private label tissue producers, Accrol prides itself on maintaining strong partnerships with retailers that have enabled the firm to achieve double-digit growth in 2020. In terms of the company’s core customers, Accrol supplies its wide range of kitchen towel, toilet tissue, and face tissue to a variety of retailers, cash and carries, wholesalers, and discounters across the UK and Ireland. These products are divided among three tiers of product – ‘good, better, and best’. Graham explains more: “The first tier – ‘good’ – refers to entry-level or economy products, ‘better’ is our core product in the centerground, and ‘best’ is our quilted, luxury, top-end of the market offering. We can go to our customers and offer toilet, kitchen, and facial tissue products right across this tiering.

“The other thing in our favour,” Graham adds, “is our ability to source the best tissue from around the world. This means that when a new machine or technology is laid out, wherever it is globally, we can go out and source the very best materials and bring them together in a combination that will deliver the highest quality products and best value for our customer and the consumer.”

Innovation is key at Accrol, and the company’s latest development is a ‘super-soft’ tissue that fits into the firm’s mid-tier ‘better’ category. Launched just before Christmas, the product was produced in partnership with two major retailers, as well as a tissue manufacturer that has worked with the company for the last 12 years. Only available in the UK, the tissue is very close in softness to branded products and has been immensely successful since its release. It marks yet another victory for Accrol’s product innovation department.

“Our product development process involves a lot of trial and testing with materials and embossing. How you emboss the tissue has a direct impact on the feel and softness of the product, so it’s all about balance and combination. We work with a company in Germany to get that perfect final product,” Graham reveals. “Recently, we purchased a £50,000 softness tester. A very delicate piece of kit, it allows us to measure our product against our competitors and then actually go to the customer with quantified data, as well as physical samples and say this is product A, this is product B. What is it you are looking for?

“True innovation involves education, and so we regularly hold focus groups that help shape our innovation strategy going forward. Do consumers buy toilet roll based on grams, or softness and strength? Our research clearly shows that the answer is softness and strength. They want a good quality, value product, but softness, feel, and consistency are vital too. We have an in-house laboratory to make sure that, when we go to the customer, we’ve got the right product for the right market.”

Dedicated to sustainability
Earlier in 2020, as the outbreak of Covid-19 led to widespread panic-buying of essential goods across the UK, Accrol experienced a rapid spike in demand for its products. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the company maintained supply to all of its key customers without incident.

“It was a pretty crazy time!” Graham recalls. “The warehouses certainly became a lot emptier than they normally are, but we didn’t stop supplying. We had some very positive feedback from key customers, plus we received a personal letter to Accrol from the CEO of one of the big five retailers for how we supported them through the period. To get that sort of recognition is very difficult, and speaks volumes to the dedication of the Accrol team so we were tremendously pleased with it.”

As Accrol strives towards ‘operational excellence’, environmentally friendly working practices are becoming an increasingly central part of the operation. Dedicated to sustainability, the business plans to source 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources in the short term. It has also partnered with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for the release of ‘Oceans’, a new direct to consumer, plastic-free toilet tissue.

“Oceans is a plastic-free toilet tissue for which we will be donating part of our profits to the MCS,” Graham comments. “You can buy the product online, so it’s direct to consumer. It goes straight from manufacture at Accrol to a local distributor, and from there it goes straight into people’s homes reducing road miles by avoiding retailers RDC’s. It is 100 per cent recyclable and there is zero plastic in the product.

“We are very conscious about the use of plastics, and we are working towards ensuring all our packaging contains a minimum of 30 per cent recyclables. We are also introducing paper wrapping across some of our range, so removing plastics all together.”

Building on a strong and sustainable platform, Accrol aims to take market share from established brands by providing consumers with best value products and customers with exceptional customer service, whilst remaining one of the sector’s lowest cost operators. Product diversification will also play a role in the company’s mission for growth, but whether that will entail a move into feminine care or other tissue component products has yet to be revealed. As 2020 has made clear, we live in an unpredictable age, but Graham is certain that the company has the ideal workforce to overcome what may.

“We’ve talked about the product, our relationships, and social responsibility, but the beating heart of this business is its people,” Graham proclaims. “The team here in Blackburn and Leyland is extremely committed and despite all that has gone on within the business they are passionate about doing the best for the company and its customers and they will always be the cornerstone of Accrol’s success.”

Accrol Papers Ltd
Services: Tissue paper convertor
www.accrol.co.uk