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Working lunch: 'Packaging gets a bad press, but I wouldn't fancy moving dozens of eggs without it'

Philip Woolsey has had a varied career, from nappies and crisps to egg packaging, the Huhtamaki general manager tells Margaret Canning

It's the packaging which came first, jokes Philip Woolsey, general manager at egg packaging firm Huhtamaki, when the inevitable 'chicken or egg' question comes up. The company is part of a Finnish business, and manufactures moulded fibre egg packaging for supermarket multiples like Waitrose, Morrisons and Sainsbury's in the UK, and fast food giant McDonald's. He says most people think it's a Japanese firm from the sound of the name. So I'm not alone.

It's a major manufacturer employing around 290 people in Lurgan - and Hillsborough's famous The Plough seems a good halfway point to meet.

Huhtamaki is a major business with 16,000 global employees across 68 sites, and egg packaging accounts for 11% of net sales. And the company's Gosport site in the south of England is a major maker of disposable coffee cups.

Chances are, you'll encounter at least one set of Huhtamaki products in daily life - including through confectionery, as the company makes sweet wrappers, and pet food pouches, in its flexibles division.

"Packaging gets a bad press, but we need it to move food economically, efficiently and safely. I wouldn't fancy moving dozens of eggs without it," Philip opts for scampi with pea puree and triple-cooked chips, while I choose a chicken ciabatta with a confusing array of accompaniments in small bowls and ramekins. Definitely too much packaging there.

The electrical and electronic engineering graduate enjoys the buzz of manufacturing, opting to go into that sector instead of engineering.

He spent three years with Acordis Cellulosic Fibers in England, then joined Kimberley-Clark as an operations consultant, where he was involved in the manufacture of Huggies nappies, and later as operations manager for Pepsi-Co in Peterlea, working with Walkers Crisps as well as the fizzy drink.

Huhtamaki makes its egg packaging from recycled materials, mainly gathered by social enterprise Bryson House through its kerb collections of recyclable waste.

Philip recalls being intrigued by recycling as a child in Boys' Brigade when they were tasked with collecting vast amounts of waste paper and packaging for recycling. "It's a very circular economy. We take off-cuts and discarded products and turn them into packaging, which can be recycled again."

The partnership with Bryson has been a success - when materials come in to be recycled from Bryson, just 2% is discarded, instead of the 15% under previous arrangements.

The Lurgan base is now part of the core of the Finnish business. He sums up the Finnish attitude to business. "They take a very disciplined and very clear approach. You know what is wanted from you and how you should go about those goals. And they also have a sense of humour."

Next week, Margaret Canning meets Professor Jonny Moore of Cathedral Eye Clinic

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