Late last night, long after most European journalists had gone home for the day, Heidelberg slipped out a press release announcing that it had sold off its Gallus narrow web label press business to the Swiss packaging company Benpac holding AG, based in Stans, for around €120 million.
Rainer Hundsdörfer, Heidelberg’s CEO, explained: “We are selling our narrow-web rotary and rotary flexographic printing activities to focus more closely on innovative solutions for the entire printed sheet value chain. We will be retaining our in-house digital expertise and, by collaborating with Benpac on the Gallus Labelfire, we will also be making further progress with the digitization of conventional presses. At the same time, we will remain a major supplier on the growing label market with our sheetfed offset presses.”
The Gallus Group is made up of Gallus Holding AG in St. Gallen, Gallus Ferd. Rüesch AG, also in St. Gallen, Gallus Druckmaschinen GmbH in Langgöns, Heidelberg Web Carton Converting GmbH (WCC) in Weiden in der Oberpfalz, and Menschick Trockensysteme GmbH in Renningen – five sites with a total of 430 employees in Germany and Switzerland.
For the most part, Gallus has operated as a standalone unit because flexo presses and label printing were not a core part of Heidelberg’s operation. However, Heidelberg was heavily involved in developing the digital print unit for the Gallus Labelfire. Heidelberg has said that it will continue to supply the digital printing unit and consumables for this press though it’s worth pointing out that most of this comes from Fujifilm, which developed the printhead and inks. The other issue is that Gallus has tapped into Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow, including the Cerm label MIS, which Heidelberg has owned since 2011 so Gallus will need to develop its own software if it’s to be truly independent at any point in the future.
For the foreseeable future, Heidelberg will work with Benpac and continue to manage the sales and service of the Gallus portfolio. This will give Gallus customers some continuity, particularly since Gallus is heavily reliant on Heidelberg’s global network of dealers and distributors and Benpac doesn’t seem to have anything close to that sort of operation.
Benpac claims to be active in producing high-precision and high-performance filling machines, cappers, labeling solutions, plastic injection molding technology and paper-based packing technology. However, Benpac does not come across as a major global player that’s used to operating in the limelight. The Benpac Holding AG website at benpac.ch, which is just a couple of pages, looks like it was thrown together in an afternoon. It’s in German, but there’s an identical version in English at benpac.com, which relates to Benpac Holding inc, based in Fifth Avenue, New York, USA. The group also owns Benpac Packaging Ltd, based in Thailand, which was formerly PackSys Global Thailand until Benpac took it over in June 2019. This company has its own website, benpacpackaging.com, which seems to suggest that there are also sites in China and South America. It is a bit light on information though the company does make an offset printer for plastic tubes and sleeves, as well as production lines for aluminium aerosol cans and tubes plus closure systems.
Benpac’s interest in Gallus seems to go back to the end of last year. The local Swiss newspaper Tagblatt carried a story in December 2019 detailing how Benpac Maschinenbau AG took on 40 employees and eight apprentices from the Gallus plant in St Gallen that would otherwise have been made redundant. The newspaper quotes Marco Corvi, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Benpac Holding AG, saying that the plan was to initially take over Gallus’ highly trained employees and then install its own machines. According to Tagblatt, Corvi said then that he had secured a right of first refusal on the company premises.
Clearly Corvi saw Gallus as a huge opportunity to expand the group, saying: “The acquisition of the Gallus Group is of great strategic importance for Benpac Holding AG. It completes our overall range in the packaging sector and ensures that the entire value chain is covered. The expertise of the Gallus Group will contribute to the further development of our group of companies.”
Heidelberg is expecting the deal to generate earnings in the mid two-digit million-euro range, though it will have a better idea when the deal closes, which is expected to be later this year assuming all the relevant bodies approve.
Marcus A. Wassenberg, Heidelberg’s CFO and only other board member, commented: “Our aim is to ensure the long-term financial stability of Heidelberg, and all the measures since our transformation started in March this year have been geared toward this objective. Selling the Gallus Group is another key part of our realignment and follows on from the successes we have achieved so far during the transformation process. This further major boost to our liquidity and Group equity will be a big help, especially during the coronavirus crisis.”
This appears to be a rather desperate move, albeit forced upon Heidelberg by the pandemic and the economic havoc its wreaking. But it leaves the company reliant on selling sheetfed offset presses, with little in the way of inkjet technology and no real foothold in the label and packaging sector, which together represent the most obvious sources of likely growth and revenue. So, little wonder Heidelberg is pushing its subscription model though the company is also developing an interesting industrial sideline, which I’ll cover in another story in a few days.