Just as containers are a fundamental piece in world trade as the basis of international maritime transport, the same could be said of one of its little brothers, the pallet. A simple team that hardly anyone notices, but without which today we cannot understand the supply and logistics chains that maintain the flows of industry and commerce.
And like its older brother, in recent months pallets have become an object of desire due to their scarcity. The sharp rise in the prices of raw materials in recent months with the economic reactivation after the Covid has also reached wood, which came to multiply its price by four until May.
Beyond the effects of this increase in the costs of the producers of traditional pallets, the situation caused a real shortage of product in that market. “Suppliers have chosen to allocate their wood to clients in other sectors with which they obtain higher margins,” explains Sergio Altur, CEO of Upalet, which in 2014 set out to develop and market its own line of cardboard pallets.
The company expects to double both production and sales this year and exceed one million euros. “The situation of wood has been very noticeable,” acknowledges Altur, who points out that although the price of cardboard has also risen, by using recycled material it does not suffer from a lack of raw material in the same way as other sectors.
But that has not been the only reason behind the growth of Upalet, a division that the Valencian manufacturer specialized in cardboard tubes and rings Mandriladora Alpesa launched to diversify its production. “We have consolidated a second shift, with an average of 510 pallets per shift, when two years ago we were at 180,” he explains.
50% for ‘e-commerce’
Of its catalog of cardboard pallets, its true best seller is the one destined for electronic commerce. “It is a single-use or one-way product that has the great advantage that due to its dimensions and weight, when it reaches the buyer, it can be deposited in a cardboard and paper container with what this entails in environmental costs. The strong pull of e-commerce with the pandemic has made it account for half of its sales.
The rest of its cardboard pallets are directed to industries of all kinds. According to Altur, although the company’s patented system includes pallets that can support weights of up to 1,500 kilograms, “where we are really competitive is those destined for between 150 and 800 kilos.” One of its advantages is that it has less weight, which means savings in space and transport.
But in addition to fulfilling this functionality, clients such as the home equipment manufacturer Porcelanosa also seek sustainability that allows them to use a material that is easy to recover and 100% recyclable for a single use.
“Only in the manufacture of each pallet is it avoided to produce 5.8 kilos of CO2 and that is something that large companies that are committed to being sustainable are beginning to appreciate,” says Altur. Another advantage of cardboard compared to the classic wooden product is that when it comes to crossing borders it does not have the phytosanitary controls that are required for this material and that, on occasions, it causes goods to be immobilized or to be disinfected.
Although at the moment its success is concentrated in oneway pallets, one of its growth lines is to promote products that can have various uses. A system that is already used internally by the Alpesa Group itself, which in addition to its main factory in Tavernes de la Valldigna in Valencia has plants in Martorelles (Barcelona), Puente Genil (Córdoba) and Alhama de Murcia (Murcia). “We are giving up to seven uses to our pallets”, says Altur, who recognizes that in this case it is more difficult to compete with the standard pallet due to the need for a specialized manager.
Although now is when Upalet begins to reap benefits, the commitment to innovate has not been easy. “We have invested 1.8 million euros only in machinery and it has cost a lot of work to put it on the market”, explains the manager. Alpesa’s objective is that in the long term, Alpesa’s sales represent between 20% and 30% of its total business, which last year reached 30 million euros.
Ikea, the great reference
One of the best guarantees of the reliability of cardboard pallets is the fact that one of the giants that distributes the most wood in the world, the Swedish furniture and decoration chain Ikea, uses only cardboard pallets to move its goods. An alternative that it implemented in 2011 to reduce costs. “Ikea adapted all its machinery, such as forklifts or racks, to its own pallet. That is an investment that few companies can afford,” explains Altur.