Alexir becomes employee owned

Alexir: growing demand for its board-based alternative to plastic
Alexir: growing demand for its board-based alternative to plastic

The Alexir Partnership has moved to retain its independent status by becoming employee owned.

The packaging specialist was set up 31 years ago by current chairman Robert Davison and has grown to encompasses a group of related companies offering creative design services, litho and digital printing, and co-packing.

It has sites in Kent and Surrey.

The packaging industry is increasingly dominated by large multi-national groups, and Davison said that the firm had been on the receiving end of takeover approaches over the years but did not want to go down that route.

“We have been approached to sell the business on numerous occasions, but we knew that this would not meet our criteria for protecting jobs and ensuring the whole Alexir family has a future,” he said.

Davison said the creation of an EOT was “the best solution” to ensure the firm retained its independence.

Davison and his brother, finance director Ian Davison, will stay on to support the team for a transition period of two-to-three years.

Managing director Jeremy Keable said that the EOT had been established last September, but it had taken some time to re-organise the businesses.

The £35m turnover, 162 employee group had previously been owned by around 20 different shareholders including past and current directors, employees, and the Davison family.

“We wanted to ensure a smooth transition and that takes time,” he said. “The key for us is to keep Alexir independent and reflect the fact that lots of our staff have been with us for many years, and we wanted them to share in the success.”

Keable said the firm wanted to avoid the fate of some companies that had been subsumed into large groups.

“We’ve seen other firms where the factory has been closed down or amalgamated after two-to-three years, with jobs exported to Eastern Europe, and that industry is then lost to the UK.

“France and Germany treasure their manufacturing sectors and invest in it. That’s never been the case here in the UK," he noted. 

The firm has also benefited from a £750,000 CBILS loan via long-term banking partner HSBC.

Its client mix includes large retailers and a wide range of brands. Some ‘food to go’ customers have been closed during lockdown, but the company has also picked up new work due to the pandemic including government food boxes for vulnerable people sheltering at home during the crisis.

“We are quite fortunate as we are very focused on the retail sector, so we have not been as badly affected as some. HSBC has been very helpful during this period. We are well funded with a strong balance sheet,” Keable added.

He said the business had locked down two weeks before the government mandated restrictions came into force at the end of March.

“I could see the way things were going because the UK is very densely populated. We locked down early and implemented alternate days working in the office and will carry on doing that.”

Keable said “a very few” staff working in specialist areas were currently furloughed.

He said the firm was enjoying burgeoning demand for its patented Halopack board trays that replace plastic trays for modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) of fresh foods: “We’ve seen huge uptake by supermarkets.”

The firm is also seeing evidence of work being re-shored to the UK due to Brexit.

“We are now having conversations with people we couldn’t have conceived of having conversations with before that,” Keable added.

Alexir has also become a member of the 400-strong Employee Ownership Association network.