Canadian Plastics

A Quiet, Quite Effective Approach

By Michael Legault   

Forget about three hundred-pound gorillas. To Don Farnell, founder of Farnell Packaging Ltd., it never has been about who's the biggest and baddest. From the very earliest days as owner of a small Atlantic-based sales agency, Farnell's approach to...

Forget about three hundred-pound gorillas. To Don Farnell, founder of Farnell Packaging Ltd., it never has been about who’s the biggest and baddest. From the very earliest days as owner of a small Atlantic-based sales agency, Farnell’s approach toward business has always been about values, service and doing the right thing. The method has proved successful, meaning there’s probably a moral to the story, although he isn’t looking for one. It’s simply the way he is, and the world may judge him as it sees fit.

And the world has: Industry Leader. The honor puts Farnell among the giants of the industry, men and women whose photographs hang on the wall of the main boardroom at the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. Farnell was chosen for the award not only for the leadership displayed in building a thriving packaging company from scratch in the hardscrabble Atlantic coast of Canada, but for his innovation, involvement in the industry and grasp of the bigger picture.

“The first thing that strikes you about Don is his honesty and integrity,” says David Stanfield, sales and marketing manager at Farnell Packaging. “He treats everyone with respect and can communicate equally well with a CEO or a machine operator on the plant floor.”

Farnell’s involvement with the plastics industry began somewhat by accident when he opened a small sales agency in Dartmouth, NS in 1961. The agency took on a variety of work, eventually acting in the capacity of a distributor of a line of plastic packaging products. The company’s evolution into a manufacturer of those products was the next logical step, according to Farnell.


“As a distributor, you can’t call all your own shots,” he says. “I found plastic packaging exciting and believed I could do more than what was being done.”

Farnell brought his own ideas to the flexible packaging industry, building up his company on the core ideas of innovation and customer service. The company converted to flexographic printing machines long before many competitors, reaping the advantage of the technology’s shorter set-up times, increased efficiency and better flexibility. Today, the company’s product line runs the gamut, from packaging for food products ranging from private-label baked goods to bags for vegetables, fish and other foods. It supplements its core business in custom packaging products by manufacturing die-cut paper and plastic pressure sensitive labels, and also acts as a distributor for other packaging lines.

After 40-plus years of running a family business, Farnell says he feels satisfied at having done it his way, but he also allows that there have been a “few bumps in the road.” In the heat of those moments, Farnell is famous for his composure and clear, level-headed thinking.

“Don’s always the calmest guy in the room, no matter how bad it gets,” says Stanfield.

Farnell’s “big picture” outlook led to his involvement with CPIA’s Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC) where he lent his expertise to a number of plastic packaging/recycling issues. The experience motivated Farnell to support a research and development project on biodegradable film. In 2002, after 12 years of labor, Farnell became the first Canadian company to have a compostable product certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). The company’s compostable films and bags are manufactured with Eastman’s Eastar Bio copolyesters. The film is designed to biodegrade to biomass, water and carbon dioxide in 180 days in a commercial composting environment.

“It’s a more expensive product and a tougher sell right now, but we believe it will be a great success some day,” says Farnell, observing that an ideal application for the material would be a leaf/compost bag.

Farnell credits much of his success to the support of his wife Amy. He is still involved in day-to-day operations and, according to Stanfield, one of company’s best “ideas guys” — someone who is usually ahead of everyone else when it comes to seeing and embracing the benefits of new technology. Fittingly, the company is not standing still. It has recently added new extrusion capacity as well as a new eight-color wide-web printing machine. Farnell says the company is also planning to branch into other areas of packaging in the near future.

You can rest assured the plans have been carefully thought through.


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