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A Watershed moment

Watershed Packaging uses MPS flexo press technology to produce labels

Anna Wood, group director at Watershed Packaging, pulls no punches when she sets out her company’s strategy for the future: ‘We aim to become the brand in the flexible print and packaging industry across Europe.’

To deliver on this promise, the UK converter has reinvigorated its management structure to create a leaner, more agile business. This has seen it install a new management team and instigate a flatter organizational structure that puts responsibility for the company’s success directly in the hands of the team. 

‘It is a fresh and new team,’ says Wood. ‘Many do not come from a printing background but it is a team hungry for success. It has been a huge cultural change to the business that is now bearing fruit.’

This drive for quality and success has been translated into investment in technology. MPS flexo presses form the backbone of Watershed Packaging’s production. Three EF machines run at its headquarters in Leeds, producing long runs of shrink sleeves, lids and flexible packaging. Around them sit a Berhalter B 500 die-cutting machine for producing lids, a Koenig & Bauer laminator to build flexible packaging structures, and an Omet hybrid press combining litho offset, flexo and gravure for high quality shrink sleeves. Four further MPS flexo presses and finishing equipment produce labels in shorter runs at a satellite site in South Wales. The company runs Tharstern MIS, utilizes a suite of Esko pre-press software, uses GMG for color matching and makes all of its own HD flexo plates. 

A range of ancillary equipment is offered to provide added value to the supply chain and allow its customers to enter new markets. This includes case erectors, pallet wrappers, palletizers, taping machines, checkweighers, label applicators, shrink sleeve applicators and steam tunnels.

‘We’ve been in shrink sleeves for a number of years,’ adds Wood. ‘While the Omet press has opened new doors for us, we are able to help our customers open new doors. If they’re new to shrink sleeves, we can offer a whole package.’

Alongside technology, Watershed Packaging has established a series of brand values to set the company on a path to growth. These include: 1) Customer-centric, with the customer experience governing decisionmaking at every level; 2) Innovation, to deal in creative solutions, not problems; 3) Investment, in people, technology, production and the community; and 4) Action, encouraging feedback, listening to it and acting on it.

The ‘Watershed Experience’ goes as far as an open-door policy at its headquarters in an enterprise zone on the outskirts of Leeds. This purpose-built facility is laid out in a way that allows Watershed to give access to the entire downstairs floor, excluding the BRC AA rated production area, to customers. A balcony provides a viewing platform across the production hall. Examples of events this is tailored to include offsite sales meetings and product development seminars. A fully functioning kitchen is available.

‘We give it to customers for free. These whole-day experiences allow customers to gain a fully immersive experience of the company. They can get to meet and know all our teams, understand our processes and production, and see and learn what it takes to make print.’

The company is now investing in the next generation of its workforce, partnering with BPIF and Leeds Trinity University to tap into a ready source of graduates that will benefit each of the company’s different teams.

‘We’re bringing new people into the business to keep it going and moving forward. This is also pushing us to modernize our practices by bringing in flexible working hours. This wouldn’t have happened under the old management structure.’

Such activities are helping Wood and the team at Watershed Packaging lay the foundations for future growth.

Woods concludes: ‘We have permission to double our production space here in Leeds, which will allow us to grow the business. Our mission is to be the biggest and best flexo print and packaging company. We have big ambitions. We’re all here for the long haul. We’ve only just got started really and we’re building the foundations for the future.’

David Pittman


David Pittman is former deputy editor of Labels & Labeling.

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