Innovation and Tradition: an Interview with Chris Brown of James Cropper

Posted November 25, 2014 at 3:26 pm in Features, Heritage
  • landscape, Burneside Mills, Cumbria, Lake District, James Cropper
    Burneside Mills, the Lake District, where James Cropper is based

PAPER remains a fundamental part of our lives, even though the digital age has long predicted its death. At the centre of the paper industry are big corporate giants but also smaller firms that have been in business for hundreds of year. One such place is James Cropper, a British paper and advanced materials company that has been in operation since 1845.

We spoke to Chris Brown, commercial director for James Cropper, to discover more about the company, its heritage, and how they are staying relevant in today’s digitised world.

The James Cropper mill and brand dates back to the mid-18th century. What role does heritage play in your brand today?
Working for, doing business with or visiting James Cropper, you can’t help but feel the heritage and pedigree of the company, whether that’s in the quality of our product, our attention to customer service or the simple fact that our Chairman is the sixth generation of the same family to take his seat in that office. As a successful family business, our people are valued in the same way that the environment around our historic mill is preserved. Doing business in a responsible way, putting individuals first and striving to develop ambitious, market-leading products in the spirit of the first James Cropper, are all inherent to our organisational culture.

What value, in your opinion, do your customers place on the value of tradition?
Our customers want a product that is perfectly matched to their needs, and I am pleased that we are able to go beyond their expectations more often than not. If it wasn’t for the pride that people feel in the expertise they offer our customers, which is a direct result of our traditions, then we might not be able to provide that high level of service and product. It can’t be ignored that, as well as delivering the right product at the right time, having nearly two centuries of paper-making experience gives many customers confidence that we can deliver.

 Your current chairman, Mark Cropper, is the great-great-great-grandson of the company founder. How does this family ownership and legacy feed into the culture of your company and its vision?
Mark is a proud custodian of the family name, even researching and writing a book on the history of the company, so you can’t fail to find his pride infectious. However, he and everyone else at the company are forward-looking, with a prime example of that attitude being the success of our Technical Fibre Products company, which takes the principles of paper-making to create strong and lightweight, nonwoven carbon-based products for the aerospace industry, amongst many others. We have offices around the world, as far as China and the USA, so the walls of our historic mill don’t contain us, but we use our history and traditions as a catalyst to maintain our standards in product quality and service.

 The James Cropper mill is located in the small town of Burneside in a historically paper-making area of the Lake District. How does this slightly remote location affect how you do business and market your products?
Burneside Mill lies roughly 10 miles from the motorway network, just over an hour from international flights at Manchester Airport and London can be reached in less than three hours by train from nearby Oxenholme station, so we don’t feel remote. Our customers are based internationally, with our calendar dominated by trade events in Shanghai, Frankfurt and Monaco, and our sales team in offices around the world, speaking local languages, so our reach isn’t limited by geography at all.

In turn, how has James Cropper worked to differentiate itself from competitors over the years?
Colour has always been, and will continue to be, an area in which James Cropper has sought to lead. Custom-made papers requested by the most discerning of luxury brands require an exemplary eye for detail and we have been able to provide that consistently. Textures and finishes, with our own converting business co-located with the mill, is another strength which we recognise as difficult for other manufacturers to compete with. Our Reclaimed Cup Fibre Facility, opened with an investment of £5m, means that we are developing more high-specification papers containing post-consumer waste than ever before, responding to the needs of our customers to develop packaging that is sustainably sourced.

What innovations has your company made in the paper industry?
Last year, we opened a pioneering plant for recycling paper coffee cups. It has opened up an opportunity, for the first time, for the paper industry to recover the 2.5 million paper cups otherwise destined to landfill each year. By separating the plastic from the high-quality pulp, James Cropper can make the highest quality paper from this former waste material. In the same year, our award-winning paper containing a percentage of cocoa shells – a waste product of the chocolate industry – was developed in collaboration with the chocolate wholesaler, Barry Callebeaut. We are focused on problem solving and up to now there have been very few challenges that have left us scratching our heads.

 From where are your materials mainly sourced?
We source our materials from a variety of sources. Virgin paper pulp is commonly sourced from sustainable forestry organisations in Scandinavia, where we are made very comfortable by their exemplary environmental credentials. The cup material for our Reclaimed Fibre Facility constituting around a fifth of our fibre requirement comes from the UK.  We work very closely with all of our suppliers to ensure that our raw materials and products meet the exacting environmental and safety standards that our customers expect.

 What efforts does James Cropper make to be more sustainable?
Our mill sits on the River Kent, and sat further upstream is an electricity generating facility that turns the flow of the water into power for the mill. Of course, we don’t rely solely on its output, but it is investments like this that gets us closer to where we all want to be. In the last decade, we have invested in technologies and facilities that means our contribution to landfill is less, turning our paper-making sludge into a dryer cake which can and does get used to fertilise local farmland. We operate a highly efficient Quality Assured CHP plant for the heat and energy required for papermaking.

Installing a Waste Heat Recovery Unit has allowed us to recycle some of that energy, reducing our reliance on natural gas by 6 per cent per annum. Papermaking also requires plenty of water, which we are indebted to the River Kent for also. Water drawn from the River Kent is retained and recycled within the production process before being discharged to our own effluent plant for processing. There is plenty that we do, hitting the targets that are important to us and the environment around us. It’s a sensible way to do business.

 How important are digital and social media to your marketing and branding efforts?
News of our product developments can spread around the internet very quickly, so we are very aware of how digital communications can influence our customers as well as our competitors. Some of our marketing activities, such as sponsorship of the Gerald exhibition in New York last year, are considered with this in mind and we create campaigns accordingly. On other occasions, we understand that the direct approach of our busy sales team will be more appropriate, given that we hold valuable, long-standing relationships with our customers who require custom-made solutions. In the coming months, social media and our website will tell more of the James Cropper story as we approach a busy period of product development.

by Jessica Quillin

Tags: > > > > >

Please share this story