Tikitea – Your Partner in Hygiene

The largest tissue converter in French Polynesia is a company called Tikitea, which provides about 60% of the tissue products used in French Polynesia. The company presently converts around 800 tons per year of tissue on its converting lines near Papeete on Tahiti.

Tikitea is a diversified hygiene supply company with total turnover in 2004 of XPF 1.3 billion, which equals about Euro 11 million.

Of this turnover, paper products make up approximately 25%, with detergents, plastic bottles and plastic bags representing another 25%, and the remaining 50% accounted for by imported products, mainly industrial cleaning equipment and supplies.

The company started as a detergent manufacturer with an associated bottling plant for the liquid detergents and soaps. That was in 1978, when the company was originally called Tikichimic. ‘Tiki’ is a Polynesian word for a small religious statue and ‘chimique’ means chemical in French.

In 1981 Tikitea entered the tissue paper business with the installation of some second hand equipment. In 1983 the plant moved from its original site in Fare Ute near the port of Papeete to its present location in Punaruu, a few kilometers south of the city. In 1992 the operation was sold to STI, which is a privately owned Tahitian holding company and in 2000 the company was renamed Tikitea to reflect the fact that it is involved in activities other than simply chemicals and detergents. The word ‘tea’ means white in Polynesian, signifying the hygiene aspect of the company. Tikitea entered the plastic bag business in 2001 with the purchase of Pacific Sacs.

EVERYTHING UNDER ONE ROOF. Today the Punaruu plant covers 6,000 m2, including the tissue lines, plastic bag and bottle manufacturing, detergent formulation and workshop for machine repair. The tissue converting equipment consists of a Fabio Perini S.p.A. model 813 line including rewinder, accumulator, and log saw, followed by a Casmatic model 602 wrapping line. This equipment was installed in 2002 as part of a major modernization of the tissue operation. In addition a new Fabio Perini S.p.A. model 702 rewinder for jumbo roll tissue (JRT) was installed in 2004. Other machinery in the converting plant includes a napkin folding line and a hanky line. The operations employ about 70 people with production generally carried out eight hours a day, five days a week. Products made at Tikitea include toilet tissue, hand towels, hankies and napkins.

Yoann Lamisse is the Technical Manager at Tikitea. A 32 year-old Frenchman, Lamisse was looking for a change from the big city life in Paris, where he had worked as a mechanical engineer. Sailing is a favorite hobby and somehow through his love of sailing and spirit of adventure he wound up in Tahiti about six years ago.

CHALLENGES OF A REMOTE LOCATION. One of the company’s biggest challenges, explains Lamisse, is the supply of jumbo rolls (parent reels) for the tissue lines. As with numerous other independent converters around the world, he says that the market for jumbo tissue rolls is generally tight, making it hard to get the right quality at the right price and time. Adding to the complexity, of course, is the location in the South Pacific, several thousand miles straight south of Hawaii.

Although jumbos are sourced from various places around the world, the majority of Tikitea’s tissue presently comes from the USA, where Lamisse says the company gets the best combination of price, quality and reliability.

“We have bought some tonnage from Asia, mainly China, in the past,” explains Lamisse. “But the supply is sometimes unreliable so we weren’t sure we would get paper when we needed it. Therefore we found a supplier in the USA that we have a very good relation with. In addition, shipping from the USA to the South Pacific is relatively cheap, especially compared with rates coming from Asia, which are rather high.”

Wrapping film, as well, comes from outside Tahiti so the company must order in large enough quantities for the supplier to be interested in making it. The problem is that the quantities are so large that it covers several years’ consumption at Tikitea.

“Obviously,” says Frederic Turconi, General Manager of Tikitea, “this severely limits our ability to change the packaging on short notice.”

CLOSE RELATION WITH GP. Tikitea is a Georgia-Pacific licensee for numerous products. Among the best known is the Lotus brand. The relation between Tikitea and GP can be traced back to the old Beghin-Say company in France. Beghin-Say, a major sugar producer, was also in the tissue paper business until the mid 1980s when it sold its operations to James River Europe.

James River then became, successively, Jmont, Fort James Europe and, most recently, Georgia-Pacific Europe.

In any case, Tikitea’s main relation with GP continues to go through the French channels, especially with the Kunheim mill in Alsace. To make the Lotus brand, Tikitea imports pre-embossed tissue jumbo rolls from Kunheim and then rewinds this into individual rolls. Lamisse explains that the single embosser on the rewinder at Tikitea is too simple to create the high quality embossing that Lotus requires. For some specialty products such as the Moltonel colored toilet tissue, finished product is imported from France, as the market is too small in Tahiti to justify making it on site.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF MARKET. It‘s a different kind of market here. As we drive through the Papeete port area, Lamisse points to various ships being loaded in the harbor. “These are essentially delivery ships which will go out to the outlying islands to supply them with just about everything.” These boats go out on weekly rounds for the nearby islands and only every two months for those lying farther out. They deliver food, clothing, energy, household goods, commercial supplies and pretty much anything you can think of. Frederic Turconi, General Manager, was previously Commercial Manager and is still very involved in the sales and marketing aspects of the company. “We are a small tissue converter, far away from the rest of the world. But in Tahiti we are big so we have a rather important role here.” In addition to the somewhat unique delivery boats, the larger retail market in French Polynesia covers a wide spectrum of outlets, says Turconi, ranging from giant ‘hypermarkets’, to small Chinese grocers with stores on every corner.

By far the biggest player is the French retail giant Carrefour, which has two hypermarkets of around 5,000 m2 each on Tahiti.

In addition, Champion, which is also owned by Carrefour, has seven supermarkets in French Polynesia. Turconi estimates that the combined Carrefour/Champion stores account for about 60% of the retail turnover in the territory. A second big French chain, Hyper U, has a store of 5,000 m2 near Papeete as well.

Other retail outlets include Cash & Carry, a Tahitian chain, as well as about 30 independent supermarkets on the order of 400-1,000 m2 and hundreds of the previously mentioned Chinese markets.

Turconi says that the Tahitian tissue market is stable but not growing - a reflection of the economy which has been stagnant.

Adding to the economic concerns is a somewhat uncertain political climate which has made investment less desirable for the present time. The tourism sector in Tahiti is a major consumer of tissue with about 40% of Tikitea’s production going to the AFH (Away-From-Home) sector and 60% being sold to consumers through the retail channels. •

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