Interview with
Johann Reiter,
CEO of Vetropack Group

We revised our strategy at the right moment.”

The coronavirus continued to dominate the day-to-day lives of people all around the world in 2021. Whilst the measures and restrictions associated with the pandemic further exacerbated social tensions, many businesses started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Johann Reiter, CEO of Vetropack Group, explains how the Group still managed to push ahead with implementing its new strategy over the past year despite ongoing uncertainties.

The pandemic had more of an influence on our lives in 2021 than many expected it would at the beginning of the year. Just how much of an impact did the coronavirus continue to have for Vetropack in the year under review?

In many places, we were able to relax measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic from the spring of 2021 onwards. This had positive consequences for our Group in many respects... Not only was this, of course, reflected in our pleasing annual results, the spirit of optimism among staff at all our locations was palpable. Having said that, the rapid rise in demand was also a challenge. We’re pleased that we managed to organise our procurement, production and logistics activities in such a way that we were able to satisfy all key customer concerns and requests.


Johann Reiter

CEO of the Vetropack Group

The crises we’re currently experiencing are a positive catalyst at Vetropack.”

So, where specifically was this positive spirit apparent?

One of my personal highlights of the past year was the successful integration of the plant that we acquired in the Republic of Moldova at the end of 2020. We managed this even though restrictions prevented us from spending much time on site and despite the fact that we had to establish and cultivate our new contacts virtually. This was only possible because everyone involved was aware of the opportunity at hand. The pandemic has stunted the growth and development of many businesses. If we make good use of this time and take an agile approach to how we react to ongoing changes, we can generate competitive advantages and emerge from the crisis in an even stronger position. The same principle applies to the construction of our new site in Italy. Whereas in the past people might have resisted such a change due to the fear of insecurity, in today’s climate, this process of transformation is welcomed with open arms. The crises we’re currently experiencing are a positive catalyst at Vetropack – at many different levels.


What’s happening with the implementation of the new strategy that was adopted in 2019? Has this been delayed or inhibited by the pandemic?

We revised our strategy at just the right moment. The challenges presented by the pandemic intensified the rollout of the new strategy. The changes introduced in recent times really caused us to take an in-depth look at our business model. The pandemic significantly boosted our flexibility and our willingness to make changes throughout the Group. Because, what’s evident in all sectors is that the agile companies will be the ones to come out of this crisis on top. We put a lot of time and energy into working on our strategy in 2021 and we didn’t shy away from going back to basics.

But are the five strategic directions still valid in the context of this new normal?

These strategic directions are fundamental and need to be efficacious, even in the context of a crisis. It’s all about what Vetropack represents and intends to do even more successfully in the future. So, the short answer is yes. Having said that, we did spend the past year thinking about their weighting and moved “clearly sustainable”, which stands for a self-evident, lived culture of sustainability, to the top of the list.

We will allocate significantly more resources to innovation.”

How did you come to this decision?

»Environmental issues have long been a concern for Vetropack. We’ve made an effort to use resources in an economical and efficient manner since day one. And, to tell you the truth, this has purely been for commercial reasons. Many other companies take a similar stance. And, although members of the general public do talk and worry about the issue, few are prepared to change their habits and behaviour. The climate crisis firmly hit the spotlight once again in 2021. We’ve now suddenly reached a point where the issue could have a bearing on the day-to-day lives of a huge number of people. Rising energy costs could evolve into a serious problem for many households. This is one of the reasons why our conviction has grown over the past year – we want Vetropack to become a green frontrunner and initiate, demand and exemplify change more quickly and vehemently, for example by using only “green electricity” by 2025. Even if this means that, as of today, our energy costs will rise even higher than they already have in the context of current developments.

What global problems can a company like Vetropack solve?

Our opportunities to exert influence are given by our core business. We consume limited resources, have a high energy demand, employ numerous people and are part of the consumption system through our products. These topics can be found in the United Nations’ Agenda 2030. The mandate is therefore actually clear: We have to contribute to the corresponding goals 5 (“equality”), 9 (“Industry, innovation and infrastructure”), 12 (“Sustainable consumption and production”) and 13 (“Climate protection measures”) for sustainable development. However, we see this as a long-term process. These topics are now newly part of our strategic agenda. However, we are aware that we will also have to push for corresponding measures in the future.

Contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations

These 17 Sustainable Development Goals are very comprehensive and complex. What is your focus – also in operational terms?

Environmental issues have been on our minds at Vetropack for a very long time. We have always strived to use resources sparingly and efficiently. To be honest: for business reasons alone. Many other companies behave in a similar way. And although the general public talks about the issue and is concerned about it, they are hardly prepared to change their behavior. In 2021, however, the climate crisis has become even more acute. We are now suddenly at a point where the issue could affect the everyday lives of very many people. Rising energy costs could become a serious problem for many households. This is one of the reasons why our conviction has grown over the past year: Vetropack should become a “green frontrunner” and initiate, demand and live change more quickly and vehemently. For example, by using only “green electricity” by 2025. Even if this means that our energy costs – as things stand today – will rise even more than they already have in the course of current developments.

Energy prices are certainly posing a challenge to global value chains. What’s the situation for Vetropack on other fronts?

I’m sure the most widely known problem is the chip shortage. Although Vetropack isn’t directly affected by this, I believe that we too will come up against this problem in the near or distant future. Like many industrial enterprises, we’re are also driving forward digitalisation which does, of course, also require us to have hardware and systems that are equipped with more and more IT components. That’s why good supplier relationships are a key asset to us. Having said that, we’re also fully aware that keeping our suppliers happy isn’t the be-all and end-all. We need to look far ahead and be agile and proactive in order to ensure access to scarce resources at any early stage. That’s why we placed more of a strategic emphasis on supply chain management and created a corresponding position on our Board of Directors in 2021. Such a key role is also important when it comes to ensuring that we don’t lose sight of our “Group first” aspiration and enforcing it even more emphatically in the future.


The other end of the value chain are the customers. What was your focus here this past year?

Our main focus is strengthening our innovative power. Glass is the ideal packaging material when it comes to meeting the market’s increased desire for greater sustainability. But we do need to attract attention with innovative products, a perfect example of this being VIP Glass. Tempered glass means less demand for materials, less weight, lower emissions and more comfort. An obvious, promising concept that we plan to keep rolling out. We’re also investing in an innovation centre to ensure that more such examples can follow suit as this development work can no longer be done alongside day-to-day production activities like it used to be. This will allow us to allocate significantly more resources to innovation. This doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to drive forward progress on the ground at each and every one of our locations. Because, our production staff play an important role as nobody sees our production processes with such an exacting eye as they do. We’re confident that we can achieve excellent progress over time by optimising all the building blocks they’ve put in place on an ongoing basis. Our plant in the Czech Republic, for example, has recently taken up the challenge of using recycled glass to manufacture white glass. As a result, we’re now able to produce white glass with a proportion of used glass of more than 70%, which is just outstanding. And, of course, it meets our customers’ desire for sustainable products.

I’m sure you’d agree that such progress is only possible if you can draw on the relevant expertise in the workforce. How is Vetropack investing in this vital resource?

The shortage of skilled workers is an issue in many industries – ours included. That’s why we’re stepping up the amount of training we provide to our staff internally. It goes without saying that we’re delighted to have already won an international award for this young project with the “Merit Award”, and we’re equally pleased to be picking up the “Great Place to Work Switzerland®” Award on 26 May of this year. And, for us it’s clear that Switzerland shouldn’t get special treatment in this respect throughout the Group. In order to be a valued employer for all of our employees, we plan to conduct a comprehensive satisfaction analysis in 2022 and subsequently implement a series of evidence-based measures on the back of this – as we do in all our key areas.

Interview: Sibylle Umiker, Sustainserv GmbH