Expanding the Capabilities of Plastic Film
Copol International Ltd. of Canada is a plastic film manufacturer, specializing in cast polypropylene film, a mainstay of the packaging industry, particularly in the food sector. With innovation and specialization, it has become an industry leader in North America – and the future looks even brighter.
Denis Lanoë, P. Eng, Vice President of Operations and General Manager, explains that cast polypropylene is mainly used in the flexible packaging industry, with uses mostly centred around food, but also in applications such as high clarity plastic bags, industrial applications, and even candy twist wrap.
Produce and bakery are two key areas of application that Copol especially focuses on, for it is here that its high clarity compared to other films is especially valuable. As Lanoë describes it, it’s a product that’s “crisp, clean, and transparent.” It’s also a better barrier than its sister film polyethylene, retaining the freshness of food for longer.
Cast polypropylene also has a very high heat resistance, ideal for sterilizing or pasteurizing processes, or any application involving the kind of heat that makes most films melt or shrink. This means it displays faultless performance even subjected to demanding processes like microwave steamers for vegetables, or as part of a film structure, as in laminate film for pouches or microwave bags.
Cast polypropylene has diverse applications, and is offered by the company in both a general form (broad range of uses) and a performance form (more demanding uses), all of which contribute to Copol’s success.
Lanoë puts the genesis of the company in 1992 in North Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Lanoë recalls that Copol’s building and equipment were initially taken over from a previous venture in the town, providing the opportunity for a group of polypropylene experts from Canada and the United States to move into a business and develop it from the ground up.
The key proposition of the business is at the service level, as Copol International is essentially a service company that both manufactures cast polypropylene and works with its customers very closely.
Everything put out by the company is custom made with no bulk orders; Lanoë notes that the company “will bend over backwards for [its] customers,” executing orders of any size and deliver them to the customer’s door anywhere in North America within three weeks. Lanoë emphasizes that no other company can manage this, backing up Copol’s claim to be a lot more responsive than the competition and quicker at turning orders around.
Lanoë describes the Copol approach to customer service as one that is “totally focused on the customer,” and one that always comes with a personal touch, whether it be personally answering phone calls to the office or sitting down one-on-one with customers to accurately pinpoint their precise needs.
Quality service has become one of the company’s trademarks within the industry, according to Lanoë. The company offers both a high-quality product and peace of mind for customers who know they can have every confidence in the product they receive, and who in turn have been notably loyal to Copol for the 27 years it has been in business.
Besides its approach to customer service, Copol International puts great effort and resources into research and development for the plastic film industry. Lanoë mentions that the company has been working with the R&D branch of the “Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment” at Cape Breton University (CBU) in order to develop the future of packaging.
One of these projects is smart packaging and “smart film,” which is film that will react with the product it is protecting. Plastic film of this nature increases the shelf life of the food it is paired with through an innate anti-microbial film, without having to add any extra processes or elements to the packaging.
This potentially invaluable innovation comes from Copol and CBU working together to extract natural antimicrobial agents from marine waste products and shelled products and devising a way to incorporate these antimicrobial characteristics into Copol’s film. In addition, they’ve succeeded in extracting alginate from seaweed in combination with these antimicrobials to create a new biopolymer that can also be integrated into the film. Based on this, the company is working toward the creation of a biosourced and possibly biodegradable product that looks to create a resin replacement in film, currently very early in its development.
Lanoë also notes the company’s recent mention by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced the banning of single-use plastic and specifically named Copol as one company researching biodegradable film. The outcome for Copol has been even greater public interest in the company, on top of the attention it gained as one of the winners of a federal incentive for the food packaging industry called the Canadian Plastics Innovation Challenge. This grant program supports company research into reducing the amount of plastic being used, and increasing its inherent recyclability; areas where, of course, Copol is making significant strides. Innovation in plastics and these aspects of usage is something that the company takes seriously.
When asked about challenges facing the company, Lanoë cites competition. Copol’s competition comes mainly from overseas markets like South America and Asia, and from a few big suppliers that can mass-produce product at a lower cost (specifically in the area of commodity products).
Then there’s the fluctuating price of raw materials such as resin, which can be a problem at times.
Lanoë defines the company’s approach as one where it differentiates itself on the one hand by service and quality, and on the other through innovations like developing new films; for instance a new peelable film that can be sterilized. The one-two combination has proven successful so far and allowed the company to stay competitive – or much more than that in reality – in all its markets.
Beyond the recognition from Prime Minister Trudeau and the grants afforded to Copol’s continued research, Lanoë says that the company recently received an internal award from Safety Nova Scotia and Safety Cape Breton for “Best Safety Culture.” The company has achieved a record of staying accident free for over four years, Lanoë remarking that there have been a lot of internal strides to create a culture of safety in every possible aspect.
Looking to the future, Lanoë says that the company’s focus will continue to be on R&D and developing “the next level of packaging products.” Lanoë adds that the company has plans to expand outside of its North America customer base. At present most of the company’s clients are based in the mid-western United States, with some in California, Florida, Texas, and on the East Coast, but Copol is looking to expand into both Latin and South America, and Southeast Asia.
In addition, the company has recently enlarged its plant, increasing its volume by taking on new equipment and upgrading the existing ones.
Thanks to a thoughtful and rigorously executed strategy, Copol International has found great success and become the leading North American manufacturer of cast polypropylene film products. With bold new ideas being phased into production and more glimmering on the horizon, the future seems bright for the Nova Scotia-based company.