Sappi puts pen to paper for a major transformation in Flanders

At Sappi, paper rolls off the production line 24/7. The South African firm is a global player in the wood fiber industry for a reason. In recent years, the company has spared no effort to open new business segments with fresh growth potential - and Sappi’s local base in Lanaken (Flanders) plays a crucial part in realizing that ambition. Totaling an investment of EUR 140 million, the site is being transformed into a more sustainable, competitive production hub.

Sappi recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in Lanaken, Flanders. In the past 5 decades, the South African paper and pulp producer has become a locally anchored player in the region’s easternmost province of Limburg, employing around 450 people. Furthermore, Brussels - the capital of both Belgium and Flanders - is home to Sappi’s headquarters for the whole of Europe, where the South African firm operates 7 mills and 14 sales offices.

In facts and figures

  • Parent company: Sappi
  • HQ: Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Annual turnover: USD 5.296 billion
  • Present in Flanders since: 1967
  • Site in Flanders: Lanaken
  • Number of employees in Flanders: 435 
  • Website: www.sappi.com

Maximizing output, minimizing waste

Fifty years after first buying a plot of land in Lanaken, Sappi decided to give the green light for its transformation project ‘Horse’ at the end of 2016. The project is part of the South African company’s global investment program, which will funnel a total of EUR 305 million into strengthening its production around the world. About EUR 140 million of that amount goes to Sappi’s operations in Europe, the majority of which will be channeled into the Lanaken site.

“The global investment program supports Sappi’s new international strategy,” explains Eric Raedts, mill director at Sappi in Lanaken. “The aim? To continue our growth path of making Sappi a profitable and diversified wood fiber group, while keeping our production costs as low as possible. Transforming our Flanders-based site in Lanaken is one of the keys to succeeding in that mission.”

The transformation will greatly boost the Lanaken production mill’s output. Not only will one of the production lines be converted and modernized, a new state-of-the-art paper cutting machine will be added as well. In addition to expanding the site, Sappi will also use the investment to support its sustainability goals. By deploying novel technologies, it will be able to recuperate more than 90% of a tree for paper production purposes in Lanaken, compared to only 44% using conventional techniques. A major waste minimization initiative, to say the least.

Furthermore, Sappi is also planning on developing new products. Think of biologically degradable paper for the agricultural industry, as well as food packing paper that changes color when the expiration date has been reached or surpassed.

Sappi and Flanders

Currently, Sappi can count on a team that’s approximately 450 strong in Flanders. In October 2017, the South African firm combined the celebration of its 50th anniversary with a two-day open doors event in Lanaken. The paper company offered a transparent look behind the scenes of its factory, which produces half a million tons of paper per year, mainly for the magazine market.

To aid Sappi’s transformation in Lanaken, the government of Flanders provided strategic support for the South African company. “When the investment program is completed, we’re looking at around 100 additional jobs at our Flanders-based site,” concludes Eric Raedts.

Eric Raedts, Mill Director, Sappi Lanaken

Eric Raedts, Mill Director, Sappi Lanaken