Vendor Profile: International Paper

The paper sector might be in a state of flux with a host of challenges to overcome, but business is good, says global vendor International Paper


International Paper is a global integrated pulp, paper and packaging producer with operations around the world. It employs 55,000 people and generated net sales of over $22 billion in 2015.

Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) is one of the company’s core regions and one where its business is growing due to continuous investment and innovation. 

OPI spoke to Gerald Demets, Sales & Marketing Director at International Paper EMEA to find out more.

OPI: Please tell me a little about International Paper’s operations specifically in EMEA.

Gerald Demets: International Paper has been serving customers in the EMEA market for half a century. We continue to grow our business in the region and invest in it. Our sales and marketing teams that operate from sales offices in ten countries in the region have a deep understanding of the local markets and provide expertise and marketing support to our customers. We believe it’s hugely important to have the capabilities that come with being a global player while at the same time being able to act very locally.

We currently have two paper mills in EMEA – one in Kwidzyn, Poland, the other in Saillat, France. Along with additional supplies from our mills in Russia, the US and Brazil as well as six distribution centres, we are able to efficiently supply customers across Europe. We deliver consistent top-notch quality across our entire mill system thanks to common quality control and product specifications.

We also offer a wide range of marketing and technical support as well as supply chain solutions, including vendor-managed inventory, collaborative forecasting and much more.

OPI: So what’s your core offering in product terms in this region?

GD: Our strength in cut size lies in the full product range that we offer – from commodity papers to value-added grades, and cut-size formats to folio sheets and reels. We are the only integrated mill in Europe, for example, that produces value-added grades for applications like colour printing. 

International Paper is a key player in the uncoated woodfree office papers and converting papers market in EMEA. We have also recently launched enhanced papers for the growing high-speed inkjet segment.

OPI: In addition to just products, what services and solutions do you offer that make you stand out from the competition and that create an outstanding customer experience? 

GD: We strive to be the paper producer that offers the best experience for customers – and by that I mean merchants and resellers – as well as end users. We pride ourselves on three core attributes:

  • we are easy to work with and offer superior value
  • we have the most flexible service options to pick and choose
  • we offer innovative products and services

Our aim is to create a future that we want to live in. That includes our commitment to sustainability [see ‘Sustainability credentials’ below] as much as our desire to shape our market.

International Paper continuously invests in better understanding the market and the needs of our customers. We use this knowledge to design innovative solutions across the value chain – from product development, supply chain services and marketing support to end-user convenience. 

There is a global trend towards greater acceptance of price premiums for “the right experience”. We increasingly focus on creating this experience for paper consumers, taking into account changing print needs to propose even better solutions to our customers. 

OPI:You mention paying a premium for ‘the right experience’. Are customers willing to do that and look beyond simply buying a commodity product? 

GD: In many industries beyond paper we see consumers more and more willing to place a premium on the right product and service to fit their needs. 

One medium-term challenge in the paper market is that we – as an industry – have not made it easy and intuitive to choose a paper adapted to different print needs. Professional printers and resellers understand grammage and whiteness and brightness, but the average person or purchasing manager has a difficult time translating which paper quality is best suited for printing quality presentations or work in progress. 

At International Paper, we are actively working to de-commoditise paper and drive understanding of the right paper for the right use. We believe that if we make it easy to pick the right paper we can drive understanding and desire for the paper that is most appropriate for the end user. As such, our adapted solutions are heavily based on and influenced by end users’ selection criteria such as convenience and local production.

OPI: I presume that ties in pretty well with the need for more innovation in the category?

GD: Absolutely. That said, I really believe that innovation is a strong focus for the paper industry already. And as with any market undergoing change, the innovators will set the stage for how it evolves, and for who the winners will be. 

At International Paper specifically, we think that innovation in terms of product and packaging is necessary, but not sufficient enough to ensure that market needs are met over the long term. We are actively developing an innovation platform around themes that we believe are critical for the future. The most important of these is convenience.

For example, we have just relaunched our Rey brand – the easy and effective brand – along with a suite of marketing support tools and services that make it effortless for channel partners to sell. At the same time, rather than messily ripping open a ream of paper, our Tear Strip packaging – designed as a thin strip around the ream – makes opening the Rey ream of paper clean and effortless for the end user by simply tugging at the flap and unwrapping at the seam. Tear Strip is also available on IP brands HP Everyday Papers and POL. 

International Paper has very recently won the Core Office Product of the Year category at the European Office Products Awards for this innovation [see also EOPA Review, page 30].  

OPI:What are the main challenges and themes in the paper market right now? 

GD: It’s quite simple: paper and digital both have their place in society. The technological advancements of the last decade provide the need and the opportunity – but also the challenge – for the paper industry to re-think and re-define itself. 

Paper companies need to adapt to the changing needs and requirements of paper consumers and provide a link between paper and technology to secure long-term profitability. 

OPI:Rationalising their brand portfolio has become very common among resellers. How are you making sure that International Paperremains a core part of that brand portfolio?

GD: International Paper brands form an integral part of many customers’ portfolio. This is in part due to long-term marketing collaboration with our reseller partners. Our recognised local and pan-European brands are supported with full marketing packages targeting the entire sales chain down to the end user and are creating true value for customers. 

We try to understand our customers’ selling and communication strategies and tailor International Paper’s support to best suit individual customers. Our support includes technical, environmental as well as marketing expertise.

The results speak for themselves: we have been able to continuously grow our International Paper brands, even in a declining to flat market and have plans to further grow them on a profitable basis in the years to come.

OPI: So what’s in store for the paper sector as a whole? It’s not all doom and gloom by all accounts.

GD: Of course, the global financial crisis has impacted the paper industry like it has any industry. But the European office papers market has been more resilient than people expected and more stable than many other OP categories like printing and writing instruments, for example. 

In recent years, end-user demand for office papers in Europe has been stable or, in the worst case, slightly declining. The upshot, in my opinion, is that paper will remain a key part of our lives – to communicate, to learn, etc. 

It’s true that people print less and are more selective. They are printing for a specific purpose and with a clear idea of the impact they want for their print output. At the same time, they want easy choices and are more cost and environmentally-conscious than they used to be. 

These evolving needs create plenty of opportunities for value creation because the need and the desire to print remains, of that I am sure.