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An interview with Yevgen Zolotkovski

"We don't just sell paper, we sell solutions"

Name: Yevgen Zolotkovski
Job title: Sales Director Flexible Packaging Paper
Hobbies: Spending time with family and traveling
Age: 41
Part of Koehler: since 2017
Yevgen Zolotkovski

Yevgen Zolotkovski spends more than half of the year traveling all over the world. For the Sales Director, traveling is not only a personal passion but also a perk of the job. He ended up in the paper industry quite by accident – and he’s still here today. While studying Economics with a major in Marketing and Management at Hanover University, he was a member of a junior enterprise that worked for a manufacturer of specialty paper among other clients. After graduating, he took on his first role in the industry at this same paper company in Lower Saxony. He found the sale of specialty paper particularly fascinating, and went on to take up further roles with paper manufacturers and later with packaging specialists, too. By chance, he happened to hear about an exciting project being planned by Koehler Paper: the biggest investment in the paper industry in the area of flexible packaging paper. He seized this unique opportunity to help build an entirely new business segment from the ground up, and is today the Head of Sales for Flexible Packaging Paper at Koehler Paper. He spoke to us about his tasks, challenges on the market for flexible packaging paper, and how Koehler Paper manages to develop future-proof paper-based packaging solutions.

How did you come to join Koehler Paper?

The flexible packaging sector is small and everyone knows everyone, so I quickly got wind of the news that Koehler Paper was planning a major investment in a production line for flexible packaging paper. When you get a chance to experience and contribute to the creation of a new business segment from the very start, you have to take it. That’s why the move to Oberkirch was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me personally. I have essentially been there from day one, helping to build structures, forming a team, informing customers, and drawing up the product portfolio, among other things.

What exactly do you do as a sales director for flexible packaging paper?

Our team keeps growing and growing. Today, my job mostly entails typical sales tasks, like updating structures, arranging prices, or launching new products. I'm currently focusing on our barrier paper, where my main job is to ensure our sales team is well prepared, that we can ensure the proper flow of information, and that our huge network of sales partners selling our paper across the globe is functioning as it should. This means I am constantly in conversation with everyone involved.

Who do you deal with in your day-to-day work?

I primarily deal with my colleagues on the sales team or our technical customer service team. However, I'm also in close contact with our representatives worldwide as well as our customers. Meeting people in person is a particularly important aspect of the job, which means I spend a lot of time traveling. For a technically sophisticated product like a flexible packaging paper with a barrier function, it is hugely helpful to discuss the customer's needs with them on-site. That way, it's much easier to explain the distinctions between products, the structure of the packaging, machine requirements, and how the process of switching to flexible packaging paper works. In this respect, it's being in close contact with our customers that really makes the difference.

What are the greatest challenges that converters have when it comes to switching to paper?

The packaging market is currently experiencing a major upheaval. Firstly, a host of new legislative requirements are being introduced like the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, which will present us with new challenges. Secondly, we are increasingly under pressure from consumers, who are growing more and more interested in sustainability. In the past, the packaging sector was solely focused on achieving the greatest possible efficiency – and that means doing things as cheaply as possible. The new requirements have meant that entire business models have had to change, and new ones have emerged. This presents new opportunities for companies such as converters, who were not previously active in the area of packaging. Now, for example, printers can take our Koehler NexPlus® barrier paper and print on them to produce a finished piece of packaging. Others can convert our Koehler NexPure® or Koehler NexCoat® paper by refining and laminating them, allowing them to tap into the packaging market, too. Our network of packaging machine manufacturers, printers, and ink and coating manufacturers help us further develop our own paper, and there remains a great deal of potential on the part of machine manufacturers that we can use to our mutual benefit in future. It's ultimately still a learning process for all involved.

What properties is it particularly important for paper to have in order to make the switch to paper packaging easier?

Our uncoated or single-side-coated Koehler NexPure® and Koehler NexCoat® paper actually already do everything we need them to do. As for our Koehler NexPlus® barrier paper, development work is still ongoing. Although we already cover a large number of possible applications, others will follow in future.

However, it always depends on the requirements in terms of further processing. For traditional paper, it’s important that they are easy to print on or easy to laminate, depending on the application. In the case of barrier paper, printability is always key because packaging usually needs to be fully printed, sometimes with a high-gloss finish. That said, there is an increasing trend towards a more natural look and feel. We also offer a wide range of paper that meet this requirement.
The most important thing, though, is that the packaging paper must be appropriate for the product. For example, if it is going to be used as secondary packaging it doesn’t require any barrier functions but must demonstrate high strength and good running properties on the packing machines. That’s why for certain projects we also try and directly involve packers and brand owners, too. Making sure everyone is on board from the start increases our chance of success.

What is the added value for converters of switching to flexible packaging paper from Koehler Paper?

For all our paper, we offer technical support during the switching process. We are also able to guarantee consistently high quality as we boast state-of-the-art paper and coating machines as well as a fantastic team with a great deal of expertise in production and technology.

In the case of our Koehler NexPlus® barrier paper, we first find out more about the customer’s needs, areas of application, etc., so that we can recommend a tailored solution. We are then on hand during the initial packing tests to contribute our experience. If a customer has more substantial, more specific needs that cannot be covered by our standard products, we will come up with a custom solution especially for them.

Where will our journey take us? What kind of possibilities are still out there?

Next week my journey will be taking me to Ireland! :-D
It’s actually already pretty clear where our journey will take us. More and more countries will be introducing new legislative requirements to improve the recyclability of packaging. In this respect, paper is emerging as an excellent alternative to previous packaging materials. In addition, with the introduction of new barrier properties we will be able to use paper packaging for more and more products requiring specific protection. At Koehler Paper we are in a good position thanks to our machines as well as our research and development. If the legislator is able to provide clarity about the legislative requirements for all operators, we will definitely see the flexible packaging paper market grow. In fact, we are already seeing new products appear on supermarket shelves on a regular basis, with others sure to come over the next weeks and months. This is proof that it not only works in theory, but also in practice.

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