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An interview with Alexander Rauer

“Paper is a natural fit when it comes to circular economies, and that makes it unbeatable”

Name: Alexander Rauer
Job Title: Head of Business Development Functional Barrier Paper
Hobbies: Riding bicycles, ski touring, mountain climbing, hunting
Age: 41
Part of Koehler: Since 2018
Alexander Rauer

Alexander Rauer is 41 years old and loves spending his free time doing anything outdoors. As to where this affinity for nature comes from, the answer may lie in the idyllic Kinzig valley in the Black Forest, where he’s at home. After graduating with a major in mechanical engineering, he started off his career directly in the packaging industry, where he worked on components used to unload packaging and printing machines as a development engineer. This initial experience in the world of packaging was soon complemented by his next career move, which saw him become responsible for the technical development of new packaging in this role as a packaging development engineer. Having said all that, his experience up until that point had admittedly been with plastic packaging only, but it’s worth mentioning that his technical know-how was complemented by invaluable business administration skills: While working in the sector, he had graduated with the MBA in General Management from the Offenburg University of Applied Sciences. Finally, Alexander Rauer became the head of Functional Barrier Paper Business Development at Koehler Paper in 2018, a position that he has remained in to this day. We spoke to him to learn more about what it is he does, as well as the challenges and clear advantages involved in the use of paper as a packaging material.

How did you come to join Koehler Paper?

I joined Koehler Paper as a product manager for flexible packaging paper towards the end of 2018. It was still a pretty new business area, but the company’s strategy and goal were both crystal clear: There was a need to develop functional paper solutions. Given that need, the company looked for someone with a technical background, since the job required not only figuring out all the relevant market requirements for this type of paper product, but also having relevant know-how with the corresponding applications, or the packaging process, if you will. In fact, it almost goes without saying that it was the only way to make sure that our paper products would be used in the right applications and that we’d be taking the optimization needs of our prospective and actual customers into account.
Anyhow, what I found really exciting about Koehler Paper was the fact that I’d have the opportunity to make an important contribution to building up an entirely new business area. And on top of that, my experience up to that point had made it clear that packaging was my thing. So I joined the company and let me tell you, Koehler was where I truly learned about and fell in love with paper as a material, and especially as a packaging material. My role as a product manager gave me access to an excellent network and plenty of expertise, and I’d joined a family business that had the courage necessary to explore new avenues. And now I’m both product manager and the head of Business Development at Koehler Paper.

What does your job as the head of Functional Barrier Paper Business Development look like specifically?

Our primary focus is on barrier paper products. In other words, products that are new on the market and accordingly need a lot of support as they are introduced, whether that be from a technical, regulatory, PR, branding, or business perspective. And you also need to keep in mind that these products are also new for us in our role as a manufacturer, so their market launch really requires for us to proactively be there at all times.
My team, which is made up of business development managers and product managers, directly provides that support to branded companies, packaging manufacturers, and machine manufacturers; is there for our market launches at all times, and is actively shaping the evolution of this packaging paper business area.

Is paper the better packaging material when compared to plastic?

It’d be presumptuous to say that. It really depends on the application, and plastic itself also has many advantages, which is something I can confirm based on my previous experience in the world of packaging. However, paper is a natural fit when it comes to circular economies and is made of renewable raw materials, and that makes it unbeatable. Sustainable forestry, for instance, ensures that we can use our natural resources responsibly so as to ensure that our forests will continue to be able to fulfill their ecological, economic, and social roles well into the future. And there’s also well-established recycling infrastructure for paper that works really well. But what’s even more important than that is the fact that there’s a lot of demand for recycled materials out there. In fact, all you have to do is think of all the cardboard boxes that everyone’s getting at home day in, day out with their online orders.
Now, we’ve really done some extraordinary development work at Koehler and that has found its way into our functional barrier paper products, so we’re now in a position to replace plastic packaging with paper in a whole lot of areas. That’s without mentioning, of course, how the range of applications will continue to grow as development continues.

Even then, however, there will be products that we won’t be able to pack with paper, as the necessary effectiveness and product safety can’t be guaranteed with it. Here at Koehler Paper, we’ll continue to work on developing what’s possible and effective. To put it simply, effective packaging is one of our areas of focus and an integral part of our strategy.

What are the biggest challenges you see?

Well, on one hand, we need to ensure that packaging solutions protect the products inside them properly, and what that means is that their barrier properties must be able to, say, ensure that the corresponding packed products will have their specified shelf life. On the other hand, the material we use needs to be recyclable. That’s usually a balancing act. On top of that, we need to make sure that the materials and components of the barrier options we choose meet our needs and those of branded companies. We’re closely monitoring the various trends on the market and working closely with our colleagues at Technology and Regulatory Compliance to try and make sure that we don’t use components that could potentially present critical problems or materials that are not future-proof.
Moreover, our focus is on making sure that our packaging paper will work on conventional packaging machines so that end customers can keep the necessary investments as low as possible.

How do you deal with different requirements of customers?

We start talking to branded companies and converters during the early development stages already so that we can identify and define the various potential challenges that there will be and take them into account. These conversations are important when it comes to choosing the right products.
We also assist with packaging tests so that we can get a direct idea of the relevant challenges and incorporate that info into the continued development of our products. As you know, we have a lot of know-how built up across the years, and that experience enables us to quickly determine whether something needs to be adjusted. For example, whether we need to change something on a product or whether the issue is with the machinery being used so that we can bring the corresponding machine manufacturers on board and see if they can maybe make some modifications to a part.

How do you manage to develop new products so quickly?

To tell you the truth, the only way that works is when the entire organization is fully focused on developing these products.
Just take a look at our current Koehler NexFlex® packaging paper portfolio: When you think about how short a time it took before Koehler was able to build up its operations for this business area, you quickly realize that we have the right focus. Not to mention, of course, that we have the enormous advantage of being able to access a wealth of experience throughout the whole company. For instance, Koehler Paper has been the industry leader for decades already when it comes to coating thin paper products such as thermal paper and carbonless paper. That has given us quite the head start.

What kinds of things can we expect from Koehler Paper when we look at the company’s bag of tricks?

On top of our continued development of barrier properties, we’ve established many alliances and partnerships that will enable us, for example, to develop future barrier solutions that will be even more functional and sustainable than the ones we have now. With our Production Line 8 in Kehl, we’ve laid the groundwork needed to continuously improve our paper products in terms of their mechanical properties as well.

A lot of product innovations were showcased at Interpack: What do you think about current trends?

The latest products showcased at Interpack show that there’s simply no way to avoid Koehler when it comes to innovative paper packaging. In fact, you can also see that in our boundless capacity for innovation, as well as in the trust that our partners have in us when it comes to development projects. We’re at a point where we’ve already firmly established a number of products, which is proof of our ability to evolve. And as part of that, we’re currently developing new products together with our colleagues from R&D at Koehler Innovation & Technology and from Production. On top of that, we have a number of important partnerships – there’s the one we have with Nissha Metallizing Solutions, who want to develop products together with us as a highly qualified partner, and the ones we have with barrier material manufacturers, who can rely on our know-how when it comes to applying their solutions to paper. All in all, we see that as a sign of confidence backed by the fact that we’re known for successfully applying our expertise elsewhere, a fact that’s confirmed by numerous successful applications on the market.

Is there any way our competitors can keep up with us?

Competition is not a bad thing when it comes to the market. We all need to prove, as an industry, that packaging solutions made of paper are a valid alternative to plastic. Having a single player on the market won’t be enough for that. Nevertheless, when you take a look at the size of the investments we’ve made in comparison to those of our competitors, it’s not unreasonable to think that it’ll be difficult to avoid using us in the future. In fact, our know-how and our team members are also extraordinary, so we’re really in a perfect position. On top of that, we’re combining our core competencies from our various business units in the flexible packaging paper division. To put it simply, finding the necessary power and commitment and the people that are needed to fuel all that is not easy. But we have them at Koehler Paper. We have the freedom and the confidence to try things out, to make mistakes here and there and learn from them, and to always grow and evolve.

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