Interview with Antón Fernández Gutiérrez, CEO of Nortpalet

The Spanish plastic pallet manufacturer’s 600,000 pallets are manufactured 100% with recycled materials and are present in four continents

This interview, translated here from Spanish, appeared at E3 Media.

Q. What were the beginnings of the company?

AFG. Nortpalet was born in 2006 in Asturias by the hand of a group of entrepreneurs with the idea of creating a reference company in the manufacture of Reusable Transport Elements (ERT). That is to say, any element that allows the transport of consumption goods between two points centered in the plastic since we are a plastic products factory focusing on these ERT.

We start by putting the focus on the pallets. Our objectives also include boxes, containers, big box (specific for agriculture).

Antón Fernández Gutiérrez, Nortpalet

Antón Fernández Gutiérrez

Q. Are you specialists developing customized solutions for large accounts or specific sectors?

AFG. The plastic pallet responds to a niche market. The data suggest that 89% of those in circulation throughout the world are made of wood. Only 6% of them are made of plastic and the rest corresponds to other materials. That means that plastic is a niche market within a very large market.

With which, when our customer is looking for a plastic pallet since there is a substantial difference in the unit price between a wooden pallet and another plastic. In the end, it has to choose, among a wide number of solutions, the one that, for your specific logistics case, generates one or other benefits. There are so many varieties of product that, in order to compete one by one, very specific models are needed that are aimed at very specific applications to solve specific problems and it is at that point where we can generate an added value with plastic.

That is to say, the competition of plastic with wood is not global but is produced in specific cases and that is why it is a niche. Within that case, the fabrications as we do, satisfying the needs of the customer -transport more product, optimize storage space. In these cases the plastic allows, applying design and R & D techniques, to offer a different solution to timber, taking into account that the latter are all standard while the plastic pallet can be configured in different ways to achieve different results. Specifically, one of our developments are the pallets that can be inserted and the wooden one is not.

In short, the client seeks an objective and we develop an application so that he can achieve the benefit he seeks through a series of features.

In addition, within the custom developments and in order to generate a competitive advantage of the product, we have achieved that it can be repairable. For this, we designed a few years ago a concept of reparability in plastics that did not exist before. We have looked for solutions and we have identified the areas with the greatest possibility of breakage in a product typology and we have done it in such a way that when these are broken, instead of having to discard the complete product, we serve a spare part.

Q. What is the profile of your clients?

AFG. The pallet is used globally. It is a multi-sector product, multi-market, multi-application … With which, our client can be anyone. But, which are the ones that use it the most? Mainly the largest use is concentrated in food, retailers, consumer products. Other minor markets include the automotive industry, the electronics sector, etc.

The export companies are also our customers. Wood for export requires phytosanitary treatments that must be certified. A competitive advantage of plastic against wood is that the latter, to be able to export to different countries, a series of phytosanitary treatments are necessary to avoid transporting different ecosystems, pathogens–and to eliminate them must be fumigated. While the plastic pallets do not require anything when exporting and, in this way, the employer avoids a series of problems, which pushes companies to use plastic more and more to export their products.

Q. What production capacity do you have?

AFG. We will manufacture around 600,000 pallets per year or what comes to be the same, more than 5,000 tons of recycled plastic per year. The factory is in Asturias, in Valencia we have a delegation that started being commercial and is growing so that in the future we can also have another manufacturing center.

Q. Why did you opt for València ?

AFG. Asturias is a steel region and the Comunitat Valenciana is the region of plastic. There is also Aimplas, the Valencian Association of Plastic Entrepreneurs ( AVEP ). That is to say, the area of plastic par excellence is the Comunitat Valenciana, where our main clients are located and for us, it is very important to have a presence here.

Q. How do you support the circular economy in your manufacturing process?

AFG. Our product is closely related to the circular economy. We sell environment, this is our main message. That is to say, our product, on the one hand, is logistic and on the other hand, it is sustainable. The concept of sustainability, which is increasingly relevant, is also relevant for us. And why? On the one hand, the plastic pallet is an ideal product to introduce recycled materials.

We are talking about that throughout the world a lot of plastic is processed and for many applications, it is essential that this be of first use and that, today, cannot be changed. It is known that approximately 40% of the plastic that is transformed globally is destined for packaging. The problem with these containers is that they have a very short life cycle and that it is estimated to be less than a year–an average of six months. These figures indicate that 40% of the plastic becomes a waste in less than six months.

To this day, the sector is being attacked by an incorrect management of this waste. What makes it essential that there are applications that are able to take that residue and give it an output with high added value. So our product fits within that line. In fact, our products are manufactured 100% with recycled materials. These generate an application that allows, through this waste, to integrate it into a product, which in turn is integrated backwards into the chain, providing a high added value.

On the other hand, and continuing with the circular economy that you mentioned, I also wanted to emphasize that a plastic pallet weighs approximately the same as the containers it transports. That is, it is reintegrated back into the chain. For example, if you have a pallet of milk that weighs a ton, in the end, you are transporting 20 kilos of plastic and when these become a waste they could be reprocessed to become a pallet and return again to the same chain that has generated that contamination or that waste providing a high added value. Therefore, if we add all these steps we have a totally circular chain. The pallet has another advantage and is that it never becomes a waste. Therefore, what we are doing is converting a material that has a short life cycle,

Q. What are the advantages of the plastic pallet compared to the wooden pallet?

AFG. It is more durable, it can be cleaned and sanitized due to its waterproof nature and the wood does not. However, as it is used, it produces chips and generates a dirty environment in its path. These chips contain parasites and bacteria, something that does not happen to plastic. All these qualities result in an added value that we are able to offer. In addition, the plastic pallet is much lighter than the wooden pallet. This means that transport helps to reduce C02 emissions.

Q. What is the life cycle of a pallet?

AFG. It is estimated that between three and five times higher than the wooden pallet. Regarding time, it depends on the times it is used. There are logistic chains where it is used daily and others where it is only used four times a year.

Q. How far do your pallets go?

AFG. 40% of our turnover corresponds to the international scope. In 2017 we work in four continents. Our main countries of action are Portugal, France, North Africa, Germany, United Kingdom and some points in South America. Therefore, we are a totally internationalized company because to be successful in our sector we have to become a global brand. Being a market niche, our reach has to be international, we do not have a national vision.