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'We are slaves to our own success': Tetra Pak R&D veteran

By Mark Astley+

18-Dec-2013

Tetra Pak could not have achieved "much more than it has done" in the last 30 years, Paolo Benedetti, the self-proclaimed "oldest technician at Tetra Pak", has claimed.

DairyReporter.com spoke with packaging technology officer, Benedetti, who joined Tetra Pak in 1983, during a visit to the company's research and development centre in Modena, Italy. 

Thirty years and 44 patents later, Benedetti is "absolutely satisfied" with his and the company's achievements over the last three decades.

“There were things that didn’t work – many,” Benedetti joked. “But I am absolutely satisfied. I don’t think Tetra Pak could have done much more than it has done, and there is a clear path into the future.”

“Looking back 30 years now, I think we have done something quite, quite impressive,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we are slaves to our own success."

"Not easy to start"

In 1979, Tetra Pak, which was then headquartered in Sweden, set up a small assembly centre in Modena. Four year later, it established the R&D department. Benedetti, who had until then had worked in the local ceramic tile manufacturing industry, was an early addition to the team.

“When I joined Tetra Pak in 1983, exactly 30 years ago, R&D was six or seven people employed to design new things. It was quite a big jump for me because everyone was speaking English. The first six months, I only understood a small part.”

It was also a big jump for the company, he added.

“Imagine if today Tetra Pak decided to open a new R&D centre 2,000 kilometres south of here. We would be in Africa. An initiative to develop a new machine in Egypt or Libya would be looked upon with suspicion,” he said. “It was not easy to start.”

During its first 10 years in Italy, between 1983 and 1993, the R&D department in Modena grew from “six or seven” to around 50, said Benedetti. At this time, the team specialized in modifying basic machinery to fill special, often high-viscose products. 

Then in September 1993, “the lightning struck” and the decision was made in Sweden to move the Tetra Brik system to Modena. “Three months later the Swedish families started arriving. We had more than 100 Swedish employees working in Modena,” said Benedetti.

From 1994 to 2002, Benedetti was responsible for Tetra Pak’s aseptic developments. Then in 2002, at his own request, Benedetti was appointed packaging technology officer.

“Slaves to our own success”

Benedetti added that while the last 30 years has been laden with achievements, success wasn't always a given for the company.

“Tetra Pak developed its first advanced packaging system in the late 1940s. The first machine went out in 1952 and they didn’t make any money for 20 years. Ruben Rausing owned another packaging company, which is still in existence. He sold the good company to finance the crazy one.”

“I wasn’t there, but I have been told that it was very difficult in ’68, ’69, and ’70. Then 1970 was the turning point. If you look at the number of packages sold from 1952 to 1970, you’ll see a flat line, and then a slope up that has not stopped since,” he said.

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