Zimbabwean manufacturer Treger Plastics is in the midst of a complete recapitalisation, the culmination of which in August will see the company push into new territories with the aid of significantly upgraded technical capabilities.
Bulawayo-based Treger Products headhunted new General Manager Craig Lowe, who was working as Chief Operating Officer for South African packaging company Astrapak, to spearhead the $3.5m investment strategy in its plastics division and modernise processes across its manufacturing facilities.
With new optimised heavy equipment from Germany, alongside a parallel IT upgrade that will drive down administrative costs, Lowe believes Treger Plastics now has the tools to effectively compete with international rivals and ultimately export its quality products to additional states.
He said: “Treger wanted to bring in modern, world class technology that allows us to compete with the outside world; that’s really the bottom line. It had fallen behind the curve quite a bit, and the duty was not fully implemented for imports that were starting to get taken up by South Africa and other surrounding countries including India.”
That the company’s technology was becoming dated meant such competitors had been able to produce goods faster and more cheaply than Treger, consequently limiting its exports to Zambia and Botswana.
With this investment, Treger Plastics will combine the expertise of its staff with the best tools for the job, and build upon its reputation as a producer of market-leading products, which has been solidified during a long history in Zimbabwe.
A comprehensive range of the latest high-end machinery from Germany, Italy and China will take production to the next level, and allow the company to enter new lines including high-end sheeting.
The multi-million-dollar investments include a three-layer excluder, an eight-colour gearless printer for high-quality labelling, a brand new recycler to tap into ongoing sustainability initiatives, several high-speed bag makers, and a poly-part machine to gain ground in the anticipated Zimbabwean infrastructure boom by providing parts for irrigation and similar activities.
Importantly, the Treger Plastics staff will also receive the best possible training in the use of their new equipment, ensuring a fast and efficient return on the investment.
Lowe said: “We’ve partnered with our equipment suppliers, and all staff will be trained in the country of the equipment’s origin. When we buy from Germany the staff will be trained by on-site specialist engineers in Germany, and the same for Italy and China.”
The company has always prided itself on bringing international standards to its home-nation, providing not just domestically but internationally accredited plastic products that its Zimbabwean rivals cannot match.
This has allowed it to dominate the bread bag and carrier bag markets, (both virgin and recycled), and excel in high-density HDPE pipes, PVC pipes and Rollfilm.
“There are not many competitors that can produce a bread bag or carrier bag at the quality that the market requires, so in selected markets we provide the customer with what they could get from anywhere in the world,” said Lowe.
As a division of Treger Products, Africa’s largest manufacturer of household, cookware and appliances, access to the parent company’s purchasing division facilitates good lines of credit, allowing the plastics arm to purchase necessary raw materials and operate the financial end of the business even more effectively.
It also benefits from access to a well-established supply chain via Treger Products’ construction and steel businesses, as well as its own transport division. Long-standing relationships with suppliers in South Africa have been complemented by Lowe’s own contacts, and once orders are placed, the transport company swiftly takes the materials across the border, ensuring a seamless operation.
Lowe said: “We are probably the longest-established firm in the market, and we’ve been doing it for many years so you’ve got staff that are well-trained, and also through our buying arm we get exposure to what the rest of the world is doing, which has helped us to bring in the right equipment to ensure we continue to give a world class benefit.
“We are the largest in the country and we have companies in South Africa bringing in expertise. We are giving Zimbabwe world-class manufacturing on its doorstep.”
This Zimbabwean success story also aims to give back in other ways, and the entire Treger Goup endeavours to operate in a manner that not only benefits itself, but the country too.
Lowe explained: “Our mission is to be socially responsible. Anything we can source locally, for example inks, we do. We want to put money into Zimbabwe. Coupled with that we take on staff with social issues, and are also driving into recycling; that’s one way to keep the carbon footprint down and at the same time provide the populous with a cheap bag.”
The General Manager also foresees more money coming into the country, and a bright future for business in Zimbabwe as it bounces back from a challenging year marred by limited credit access, with a relaxation of indigenisation policy set to spur on business and provide opportunities for far-sighted companies like Treger that have invested for the future in a difficult current climate.
Lowe said: “I think those that take a long-term view and hang in through the hard times will succeed. Once the political issues are ironed out in the future, the potential will be exercised.
“The Tregers have been around for so many years now and they’ve seen it come and go and they are very confident that things are going to get better, so they are forging ahead with this investment at great expense to themselves.”
The completion in August of the recapitalisation will represent the conclusion of Lowe’s short-term strategy to bring Treger Plastics to the forefront as a modern, efficient manufacturer, more than justifying this considerable outlay and paving the way for the company to bring ever more products to ever more customers.
But it is in fact only the beginning of a longer game. Lowe concluded: “My vision in the medium-term is to solidify our position as the premier plastics supplier in the region, and the longer-term vision for three to five years is to take it beyond the borders because we’ve bought the right equipment to do this and provide a premium offering at the right price.”