• Mid-Cork Pallets & Packaging produces 35,000 pallets per week.
• It processes 50% of all the pallet wood produced in Ireland.
• Along with Palfab, MCP is a partner in composite block manufacturer Eirebloc.
• Eirebloc produces 55 million composite blocks per year.

When a devastating fire struck Mid-Cork Pallets & Packaging (MCP) at 7.30am on December 18 last year, destroying 80,000ft² of warehousing and stock, it wasn’t just altruism that saw the company’s suppliers open up over Christmas to restock the business. There was also a large element of self-preservation.

With a 60-70% market share and a turnover of €20m – four times that of its nearest competitor – Macroom-based MCP is Ireland’s largest pallet manufacturer, producing around 35,000 pallets per week.

Perhaps the most significant statistic, however, is that 50% of all the pallet wood sold in Ireland is destined for MCP – hence the sawmillers’ swing into overdrive to ensure an outlet for their product.

It wasn’t just sawmillers that rode to the rescue. Staff and neighbours were at the scene almost immediately, building a barrier between the fire and the machinery, which remained undamaged (there was some damage to the kilns but this has now been repaired).

Within a matter of hours Lucey Transport, a local warehousing company, had offered 30,000ft² of undercover storage and 60,000ft² had been secured at the nearby Green Glens Arena.

Competititors’ help

And, MCP’s vital role in the sector was further recognised by the help it received from its competitors in the UK. Unit Pallets, HLC Wood Products, Pontrilas Group Packaging and Scott Timber all offered pallets, and Tyne and Wear Pallets delivered 10,000 new Europallets to MCP’s Dublin depot within a week of the fire.

“It looked devastating but it could have been an awful lot worse and I’m tremendously grateful to all the people involved on the day and in the weeks afterwards,” said managing director Sean Lehane.

The former teacher established MCP in 1977 when major corporations began to set up shop in Ireland, kick-starting “the palletised revolution”.

“Up until that time everything in Ireland was being carried on people’s shoulders but when Apple opened up in Cork and Cadbury opened a factory 15 or 20 minutes from us, we saw our opportunity,” said Mr Lehane.

Other blue chip businesses developed or arrived on the scene and MCP soon counted dairy product manufacturer Kerry Group, baby food manufacturer Wyeth (now Pfizer) and Pepsi Cola among its customers. Through the Diaggio group, MCP is also the sole supplier to that most iconic Irish product, Guinness. While, on the face of it, only around 10% of MCP’s output is exported, the reality is that 90% is ultimately exported under its customers’ product.

Automated production

Production has been automated since 2000 when the company invested in a Corali line which automatically chamfers, corner cuts, brands and stacks. It has the capability of making seven pallets a minute, or 2,500 in an eight-hour shift, with four operators – prior to that two operators would have made 250 pallets in the same shift.

A Viking line manufactures two-way pallets and has a capacity of four pallets per minute.

The company is licensed to make the EPAL (European Pallet Association Ltd) Europallet and authorised to heat treat to ISPM15 and, along with all types of pallets (including a specialised pallet design service), it also manufactures crates and corrugated boxes.

While the Irish domestic market remains depressed, Sean Lehane is upbeat about the company’s future. The warehousing is being rebuilt – complete with an abundance of fire safety measures – and is expected to be up and running in September/October.

And MCP is also ready to roll on a combined heat and power plant which it hopes will be operational by mid to late 2013.

“We’ll generate about 1.3MW of electricity – exporting 100% of it – and 7MW of heat,” said Mr Lehane.

And as for the core business? “Exports are going very well,” he said. “Our turnover in 2011 was ahead of 2010 and we expect to grow further in 2012 and 2013.”