Sustainability and customer needs drive Whakatane’s product development

Jul 2, 2021

Whakatane Mill and Valmet have worked together for years – resulting in a strong partnership, both on the business and personal levels. The mill’s performance has been developed to surpass Whakatane’s customers’ expectations and meet the requirements for more sustainable production.


Whakatane Mill Ltd produces 140,000 tons of liquid packaging board and folding boxboard every year. Most of its customers operate in the food industry. Lately, the pressure for more environment friendly production and the demand for sustainable packaging products have been growing.

Our country has a good reputation in environmental issues. The government actively promotes sustainable initiatives, and as an industrial operator, we need to play our part in achieving the set targets. And our customers drive us to develop more sustainable products so they can respond to the need to replace plastic in their packaging,”

Peter McLaverty, Head of Continuous Improvement at Whakatane Mill

McLaverty sees sustainability as a success factor rather than a solely external requirement.

“With our annual production, we’re a small player in our main market areas of Southeast Asia and China. We can’t compete in volume. But where we can lead the way is in the development of sustainable packaging solutions such as barrier coatings and other alternatives to plastics.”

Agility to meet customer needs

The relatively small size of Whakatane mill affords much needed agility when it comes to meeting customer needs.

“Sustainability is one thing, but we also want to meet our customers’ needs regarding the board material’s convertibility, quality consistency and appearance, for example. By appearance, I mean formation, surface properties and printability. The visual quality of the board is important for the customer. As a small player, we can also fine-tune our production quite easily to deliver the specialty products our customers request,” McLaverty says.

“To tackle our customers’ economic pressure, we’ve looked into the yield improvement. This means we’ve developed our production to supply our customers with lower grammage products, with the same stiffness as the thicker boards. They get more for the same money. We’ve also been able to grow our roll size to improve our customers’ converting efficiency – a bigger roll means fewer roll changes.”

Continuous cooperation builds trust

Whakatane Mill and Valmet have worked together for years. The results of the cooperation have been measured since the first Performance Agreement was signed in 2014.

“We’ve worked consistently to find new development areas and overcome challenges, always maintaining our focus on quality and productivity. We operate in an isolated location here in New Zealand, but thanks to the partnership with Valmet –– we enjoy direct access to the latest technology solutions and a pool of specialists worldwide. Valmet provides us with a broad approach to the technology, production process and development of the entire industry – something we couldn’t have on our own. The benefits of the cooperation with Valmet have been immense,” McLaverty says.

Having adequate technological solutions and smooth processes at the mill is important, but so is the availability of a skilled and enthusiastic workforce. McLaverty highlights the importance of good personal relationships.

“I think the real key to our success has been the strong relationship between us and our partners at Valmet. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a dedicated project manager at Valmet – both Juha Kovanen and Juha Kallvikbacka have been a pleasure to work with. Thanks to their engagement, they’ve built themselves a very deep understanding of our operations, making it possible for them to provide us with the best support each time. Knowing we’re always one phone call away from the right people makes us feel safe with Valmet,” McLaverty says.

Tailored agreement ensures continuous improvement

Peter McLaverty from Whakatane Mill says that a Performance Agreement is a significant financial investment, but a very necessary one for the mill’s success.

“We’ve been on a continuous journey with Valmet for more than six years now. During that time, we’ve taken huge steps in our production, developing new lightweight beverage and food carton packaging for our customers. Being able to work with a supplier with extensive knowledge of the latest technology and vast experience has been crucial for us.”

A Performance Agreement is a mill-wide cooperation program that aims to maintain and improve competitiveness across the production line. A goal-oriented performance agreement always includes measurable targets – such as a reduced number of breaks, increased production efficiency and lower energy costs.

The agreement is always tailored to meet the customer’s needs. At Whakatane Mill, the target has been to achieve continuous and systematic productivity and quality development. The content of the Performance Agreement has always been updated at each renewal, matching the mill’s current situation.

Peter McLaverty is looking forward to his approaching retirement after 40 years in the pulp and paper industry. He joined Whakatane in 2013 and has most recently been working as Head of Continuous Improvement. His advice to the younger generation entering the industry: keep pace with the technology, and value teamwork, communication and sharing ideas!