Bunzl plc is a multinational distribution and outsourcing business based in London, England. Founded in 1940 as a manufacturer of cigarette filters, crêpe and tissue paper, Bunzl is today primarily a distributor of a diverse range of products including food packaging, cleaning and hygiene supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE) and carrier bags. The company's customers include contract cleaners, retailers, catering firms and food processors. Almost half of Bunzl's business is conducted in North America, with the company also operating in the British Isles, Continental Europe and to a lesser extent Australasia. Bunzl became a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index for the third time on 30 April, 2008.
From 1888 they began manufacturing paper in Ortmann, and then at Wattens paper mill. From 1925 Hungarian inventor Boris Aivaz, who had patented the process of making cigarette filters from crepe paper, with some variants including cellulose wadding, experimented at the Ortmann plant. Aivaz produced the first cigarette filter from 1927 in co-operation with Bunzl's Filtronic subsidiary, but up take was low due to a lack of machinery to produce cigarettes with the filtered tip.
From 1935, a British company began producing a machine to make cigarettes that incorporated the filter tip, and so the Bunzl family developed their British interests. Following the Anschluss in 1938, with many Jewish assets and companies seized by the Nazi regime, the Bunzl family emigrated from Austria. While some moved to the United States and Switzerland, the majority settled in England to developed their small British operation.
International expansion followed throughout the 1950s: a filter production factory was opened in South Africa, while a separately-run company named American Filtrona was set up in the United States in 1954. Use of cigarette filters increased markedly in the 1950s as links between smoking and cancer were established, and Bunzl soon became the exclusive supplier to both Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher Group. Between 1956 and 1964, Bunzl's production of filters increased by a factor of twelve.
In 1970 the original Austrian business Bunzl & Biach was acquired, meaning that the company was now involved in the manufacture of paper for the first time, and adhesive tape and plastics divisions were also established later in the decade. The strategy failed to stem declining profits in the long term, which were exacerbated by a smaller cigarette filter market as tobacco companies began to manufacture them in-house. A foray into data processing services also proved particularly unsuccessful, losing money for the company.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the outsourcing and distribution businesses in the US, Europe and Australia expanded, particularly in the area of disposable food packaging. This growth helped the company enter the FTSE 100 for the first time in October 1986, replacing financial services group British & Commonwealth Holdings. At the same time, the company sold off a number of non-core and underperforming assets, a process accelerated under the guidance of Anthony Habgood, who replaced White as CEO in 1991. Foodservice, paper merchanting and building material supply businesses were all divested by 1994. The company's plastics and fibres interests were also consolidated with the purchase of American Filtrona, the company originally established by the Bunzl family, for $178 million in 1997.
Bunzl's last link with the paper industry was severed in 2002 with the sale of its fine paper distribution arm. This left the company with just two remaining business divisions: Outsourcing Services and Filtrona (encompassing fibres, cigarette filters and plastics). Three years later, Filtrona was spun-off as a stand-alone entity, leaving Bunzl with just its distribution business. The same year, former Goodyear Dunlop executive Michael Roney was appointed CEO, with Habgood becoming Chairman.
The company divides itself geographically into four business units: North America is the largest, contributing 48% of operating profit in 2007, followed by the UK and Ireland, Continental Europe and the rest of the world (principally Australasia).
Bunzl's largest two markets, generating over half of total business between them, are foodservice and food retail companies. Products distributed include machinery and safety and hygiene equipment for food processors and chemicals, packaging and disposable tableware for caterers and retailers. The company's other markets include cleaning and safety, where personal protective equipment, cleaning machinery and first aid kits are supplied, and convenience stores, to which carrier bags, point of sale displays and packaging and labelling are amongst the major products distributed. In North America, Bunzl is also a major wholesaler of foodservice and janitorial products, and in the UK the company provides the supply and maintenance of vending machines.
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