Behind Melitta's success is a focus on constant optimization of its products. Being so close to the consumer and making a food-related product such as coffee filters means that legislation is at its toughest and consumers at their most demanding.
Ingolf Ewe, head of strategic purchasing for production materials at Melitta, has worked for the company for 35 years, some 22 of those in pulp procurement. He's seen a lot of changes to the coffee filter market in that time, but the overriding constant remains delivering a product that does the job for the consumer better than anything else on the market.
In the case of coffee filter paper, that means delivering a paper with high porosity (so the water can flow freely during the filtration process) and high strength (to prevent the paper breaking on the converting line and the filter breaking during filtration or removal from the machine for disposal). It's an exact and exacting science.
That's why Melitta makes its own paper, with two paper mills at Minden and Berlin, Germany. Converting operations are based at Minden which uses mother rolls from both sites. "We have a very short supply chain," Ewe remarks, "which means we are very close to both our customers and our pulp producers."
Working closely with Södra Cell, Melitta's main totally chlorine-free (TCF) pulp supplier, involves regular meetings at the company's site so Södra can see its pulp in action and keep asking the same question: How can filtration time be improved without losing any key strength properties? "The coffee filter business is too small for Södra to produce a specialized pulp solely for us," Ewe explains, "but they do get as close as possible to our needs and they're able to tailor their production campaigns to us. They know minute by minute what they have produced and they can select individual units which they know will best meet our needs. That's one of the reasons why we've been able to count on a stable quality for all these years."
Coffee filter paper has to have high porosity and and strength
A longterm partnership
Södra and Melitta have been working together since 1992 when Melitta switched from elemental chlorine-free (ECF) to TCF pulp. Until 1988, Melitta had only used chlorine-bleached pine pulp from the southern US due to its high porosity. But in 1987, Greenpeace launched a campaign warning consumers of the detrimental environmental and health effects caused by bleaching with elemental chlorine. Melitta was quick to take action and began to offer the first unbleached filter papers in response to consumer demand.
By 1990, a few pulp mills could offer chlorine dioxide bleached (ECF) pulp, but it wasn't until the end of 1991 that TCF bleaching became available, from Södra's Mönsterås mill.
Melitta didn't hesitate. "Because we make a product that comes into contact with food, we have to ensure we are always delivering the best we can," Ewe says. "The German consumer is highly environmentally aware and legislation is stringent. We decided on a strategy of two suppliers to reduce our dependence on a single source for both unbleached and TCF pulp and to mix the grades to achieve optimum quality."