Case Study

Charpak – technology and advanced manufacturing

Charpak HQFamily-run Charpak is an award-winning thermoform packaging company responsible for creating the UK’s first localised circular economy and is based in Huntingdon.

Starting out as St Neots-based toy manufacturer Charbens Toys in the 1970s the company found success making toys for High Street retailers but as the side line of manufacturing packaging started to overtake the core toy business the Smith family made the astute decision to focus on that and purchased its first in-line thermoforming machine in 1991.

By 1995 they had four machines and turnover hit £1m the next year, it’s currently at around £13m with the aim to grow to £20m within the next few years.

Huntingdon accommodates growth

Outgrowing the original premises the company moved to its current home in St Peter’s Road, Huntingdon in 1998 Conscious of future growth the fact the adjacent building would be available at some point helped with the decision to base the business in this location.

In the early days following the move from St Neots the firm put on a minibus to bring staff to work but as transport links improved this was no longer necessary. Now the company employs around 125 people and is always on the lookout for talent to join the close-knit team.

And in 2002 Charpak did acquire that neighbouring building adding a further 20,000sq ft to accommodate growth. As growth continued it was necessary to build a 13,000sq ft extension in 2015 to increase production capacity, and in 2017 additional warehousing space was acquired at Tower Close in Huntingdon. Thanks to the abundance of viable growth space to choose from the company acquired in July 2022 a further 50,000sq ft.

Chocolate Packaging - The Truffle TreeManaging Director Paul Smith says: “Huntingdon is the perfect location for us. We knew when purchasing this site the next one was coming up for lease and thinking into the future it’s important to have room to expand and grow without having to relocate. I’m not sure where else we’d have found such a significant space.

“The type of work we do is skilled and technical and we may lose our skillset if we move out of Huntingdon and staff don’t want to commute. We’ve got the space to remain here and a good pool of people. We’ve used local recruitment agencies to help bolster the workforce and took on about 20 people in the last four months. We’re always on the lookout for more people and are confident of finding them in the local area thanks to the improved infrastructure and new houses being built.”

Award-winning innovation

Charpak has gone from strength to strength working with clients including Hotel Chocolat, Waitrose and M&S to design and manufacturer bespoke packaging, for which they own the IP, for products from food to alcohol and gifts. Ever innovative, and having a knack for identifying the next niche, under the direction of Managing Director Paul Smith they are currently moving into the electric vehicle market to create packaging to transport components for car manufacturers.

Food and Drink PackagingThe company concentrates on niche areas within markets and as a vertically integrated company with all design, prototyping, tooling, engineering and manufacturing capabilities taking place in-house is able to offer agile and responsive lead-times using hand-finished techniques and state-of-the-art machinery. Seasonal work is very popular with requests for unique packaging shapes such as Christmas puddings or stars which can be done on small production runs.

In 2018 Charpak won the UK Packaging Awards SME of the Year and the following year took home the Innovation of the Year for the lockable and re-usable Twist-Loc rPET Tub which can be seen in stores including Waitrose and Tesco.

Localised circular economy

Thanks to a well-connected network of partners contacts at Huntingdonshire District Council helped get the ball rolling on the localised circular economy by putting Charpak in touch with Corby-based recycling centre Jayplas. Charpak recruited partners including Jayplas and Amey to achieve a full circle in the plastics economy to lead the way in minimising environmental impact.

Led by Charpak and developed in partnership with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Waste Partnership, the Cambridgeshire-wide initiative takes kerbside collected household plastic waste, which is sorted, recycled, and cleaned before being taken to Charpak to be re-manufactured into new packaging products – transforming waste into resource.

By processing waste locally, the circular economy is helping to reduce CO2 emissions in a solution that has the scope to be deployed across the country, in other regions, and other materials.

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