Helping the Local Economy Through a Commitment to Local Jobs: An Interview With Visy’s Aaron Ashby

It has been a tough year globally, but New Zealand has weathered the lows of the global pandemic with more success than many other countries. Regardless, the country is facing challenges with high unemployment and deflation forecast in the short term at least.

We caught up with Aaron Ashby, General Manager, Visy Fibre Packaging, New Zealand, to talk about the challenges facing the country in the months ahead and how Visy is helping the local economy through a commitment to local jobs and investment.

Can you tell us a bit about Visy’s presence in New Zealand?

It’s funny as I’m guessing many people in New Zealand may not have even heard of Visy, but no matter where you shop, or what business you’re in, you’ve almost certainly come across one of our products or services.

We’ve been in New Zealand since 1996, starting with one corrugated facility making primarily cardboard boxes. Over the past 24 years, we’ve grown immensely in scale and capability. We now have 11 facilities across New Zealand.

Today, we’ve become so much more than cardboard boxes. Today we provide packaging for many of New Zealand’s most loved brands in the beverage, dairy, seafood, meat and poultry, fruit and produce, and personal care industries. Much of the packaging you find in your local supermarket is made by us locally, including aluminium beverage cans, fibre and plastic packaging.

This year we added glass to our portfolio of offerings through one of the region’s largest-ever manufacturing acquisitions. So now we manufacture glass bottles and jars as well.

Beyond packaging we offer our customers a variety of complementary services – think automation of packaging lines… transportation of our customers’ goods with our own logistics arm, Visy Logistics… and we even remanufacture your recycling back into sustainable packaging.

When you think about it, we’re involved in most of the steps of getting products through the supply chain. Take apples as an example… we’re involved in getting the apple from the orchards’ packhouse, all the way to the fruit bowl in the home of the end consumer.

The addition of glass to Visy’s portfolio sounds like a big investment?

Visy’s one billion dollar investment in glass across Australia and New Zealand is testament to the company’s continued commitment to expand manufacturing capability and provide our customers with a larger range of sustainable packaging. Our broad capability means Visy can provide complete solutions – our customers can partner with one supplier for all their packaging and supply chain needs.

Just as important as adding value for our customers, it’s about investing in the local economy – local manufacturing capability providing local jobs. With the acquisition of the glass business this year, we now employ around 900 people directly in New Zealand.

The investment doesn’t stop at the acquisition. Already we are undertaking a project to upgrade one of the major furnaces in our Auckland glass plant, creating around 350 contractor positions during the project.

We have also recently acquired a local logistics company, CTF Carriers, and plans are in place to expand our available range of domestic and international freight services, helping to keep jobs local and keep NZ on the trading map.

Visy has also made investments in clean energy, recycling technology, and additional corrugated manufacturing plants and equipment to help our customers grow.

You’ve been with Visy for over a year, coming from a background in FMCG and food production. What are some of the things you like most about your current role?

There are two absolute standouts for me. The first is Visy’s sustainability story. It’s really unique and, once again, probably not that well known.

Visy is a privately owned company and has always been at the forefront of sustainability. We were one of the first large companies to focus on becoming a sustainable business. I guess it really started in the early days when Visy replaced wooden crates with cardboard boxes and then moved on to making those boxes from waste material.

We are now one of the largest closed-loop packaging manufacturers in Australasia, linking recycling and manufacturing at scale. What does this mean in simple terms for New Zealand?  We make packaging locally… the packaging is used by New Zealand businesses and consumers… the packaging is put in the recycling bin… we process the recycling and remanufacture it back into packaging for reuse locally.

The amount of waste we can collectively keep out of landfill, as a result, is a fabulous thing to be part of. And we are constantly looking for ways to improve that loop and make it even better. We continue to actively work with our New Zealand partners to process greater volumes of recycled content, ensuring New Zealand builds its onshore capability for processing its own recyclable waste. For example, in December this year, we are installing new sorting equipment at our Auckland Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) designed to increase the amount of plastic content we can process locally.

It's not just about our own sustainability targets. We work with our customers, with our suppliers, with local councils, and with industry bodies, with an aim of making a significant contribution to sustainability for the wider New Zealand community.

The second thing I really love about Visy is the dynamic nature of the company and the passion of the team. Our people are behind the company’s strong commitment to making progress in the sustainable packaging and recycling industries. There is a great work ethic – a drive for innovation, a lot of experts in their respective fields. There is a real sense that no challenge is too great for the team.

Speaking of challenges, this year has had many! What do you see ahead for the country in the manufacturing industry? What challenges do we face? And what opportunities will this bring?

We will definitely see a greater reliance on local supply chains within New Zealand, versus overseas manufacturing. I think we have had a glimpse this year of the greater reliability that can be brought about by keeping industries local and I’m guessing that encouraging a local focus will be a priority area for governments and business alike in the months and years to come.

From Visy’s perspective, we have plants, facilities and partners across New Zealand. A large, but local, footprint like this puts us close to our local New Zealand customers, suppliers and markets. It also provides contingency options in the face of unforeseen events, like COVID-19, and means we can really help keep supply chains local.

This year has really driven great amounts of innovation as well. We are seeing our long-term customers, as well as new customers, adapting quickly to market conditions to unlock value through products and delivery models that previously wouldn’t have been feasible. This is an area where Visy has really been able to bring our decades of expertise to hand – working with our customers, that run the gamut from large multinationals to small innovative start-ups and helping them quickly create what’s next for their product offering.

Thirdly, I think we will see a lot of companies go beyond product innovation to real business innovation. Companies will be looking for opportunities to implement operational efficiencies, to look for new ways of doing business and smarter ways of working. With Visy’s full-service offering of packaging, automation, logistics and recycling there are just so many ways we can help our customers in this area – I see it as a real future focus for us.