Combi-Pack takes expansion in its stride

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Malaysian packaging maker Combi-Pack has been trailblazing the industry since it was set up in 2007. It has not only won awards for its Combi Cup but also moved to a new factory last year.

The injection moulder achieved the ISO:22000 (food safety management system) in 2008; won the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) Award of Excellence for its Combi Cup in 2011; and moved to a 120,000 sq m-facility late last year in Oakland Industrial Park, Seremban, around 50 km south of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

“We like to emphasise that we are purely a food packaging manufacturer. We do not engage in any other types of plastics manufacture,” said CEO CY Chow, who, together with his wife Clara Cheng, and partner Linda Leong, owns the business.

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Having bought over a ready-made factory, which was previously occupied by another plastics product manufacturer, the company was able to start operating in a short period of time. “We invested RM20 million and upgraded the 20-year old factory,” said CY, adding that previously, the company’s operations were spread out over three smaller facilities in Balakong, closer to Kuala Lumpur.

The “new” facility is equipped with 30 injection moulding machinery from German machine maker Arburg, with related auxiliaries and IML (in-mould labelling) cells from companies like Wetec and Wittmann.

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It also has a controlled environment, in compliance with the food packaging sector. “A factor in sourcing for Arburg machinery has been that sales and service is easily available, plus service technicians are close by,” said CY.

Novelty packaging

A star product in the company’s portfolio, Combi Cup, as its name suggests, is a combination of a moulded PP cup with a cardboard sleeve on the outside. It has been specially designed with ribs for heat insulation, for hot food servings. The cardboard sleeve provides rigidity for the PP cup and also allows a user to have an easy grip on the cup when it has hot food in it.

“The first generation of the plastic cup had long ribs but we have improved the design with shorter ribs that allow for further savings in material,” explained CY.

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The first generation 15 g-cup, allowed for material savings of 25%. The 13.5 g-second generation cup allows for even further material savings, said CY, who designed the cup.

Apart from the less use of plastic material, other “green” factors include easier separation of material (plastic and cardboard) for recycling, glue-less binding for the cardboard and the use of recycled cardboard paper.

Furthermore, offset printing is used to print the branding on the cardboard. While originally having designed the Combi Cup for Nestlé’s ubiquitous Maggi noodles, the company now offers different variations for other hot food serves, yoghurts and snacks.

When asked what the inspiration for the design was, CY said, “While studying the market to see what was available, we found that there were a lot of companies producing generic-type cups. Rather than compete on pricing, we decided to stand apart from our competitors and innovate a new design.”

He added, “Customisation and adding value to packaging is the only way to move forward.”

Ideal partnership

The entrepreneur learnt the ropes the hard way having worked his way up from rank and file. “I literally dropped my bags after finishing high school and started working,” CY said, adding that his first jobs were in canning factories.

In 1985, CY set up Fairpoint Plastic, which later merged with public-listed Versatile Creative. Not one to rest on his laurels, CY set up Combi-Pack.

While it is assumed that it is a bad idea for married couples to work together, the Chows have successfully worked together for years (first teaming up at Fairpoint Plastic) and share the same passion for the business; and complement each other well.

They have perfected the formula: with CY taking care of the business and technical aspects and Clara, the general management of a staff force of 200.

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When the company moved from its previous location in Balakong, it managed to retain most of its staff. It has been able to do this, by providing housing in Seremban and a car pooling service for those who commute from the city. “People are the heart of a company,” says Clara.

Looking ahead to the future

Over the eight years, and since the introduction of Combi Cup, the company has built up an impressive list of clientele of major brand owners, with 50% of its output now exported to Singapore, Australia and Indonesia.

“This year we are targeting a turnover of RM70 million, up by 18% from last year,” said CY.

In terms of its products, the company is increasing its IML offerings. “It may be expensive, but IML decoration is an added value for packaging, as well as aesthetically appealing,” said CY, adding that IML was targeted at a higher range of products.

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Though CY admitted that the current economic conditions meant that OEMs and brand owners were approaching the market cautiously, he hasn’t ruled out future expansion, especially given that the facility sits on a land area spanning 6.3 acres.

CY, the innovator, says, “We are working on another product design, but it is still under wraps.”

Not bad for someone who honed his skills from being involved in the packaging industry and has used his practical knowledge to innovate an award winning cup.


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