The early years were adventurous for Sæplast

Friðrik Vilhelmsson in the production hall in Sæplast. He was in his twenties when he started workin…
Friðrik Vilhelmsson in the production hall in Sæplast. He was in his twenties when he started working at Sæplasti exactly 39 years ago.

The early years were adventurous for Sæplast

says Friðrik Vilhelmsson, who has the longest tenure of the current employees at Sæplast


"When I look back to the early years, it was primarily adventurous. We really enjoyed what we were doing, the company was doing well and development was very fast. Of course, a lot of things went wrong, but the problems were there only to be solved and we were determined that nothing stood in our way in the task of making the company grow. For all of us, this production was a new world and we had to deal with many problems, but somehow everything worked out in the end," says Friðrik Vilhelmsson, who is the Sæplast employee with the longest continuous work experience for the company. He started working in production 39 years ago, in May, 1985. He started on the floor, so to speak.


From fish to containers

"When I joined Sæplast, I was in my twenties, which of course means that I will reach a combined 100 years of life and working age next year," says Friðrik laughing, but before that he worked in fish processing in Dalvík.

"The work at Sæplast had started next door to us and therefore I only moved one house when I changed workplaces," says Friðrik. The production hall at that time was only a small fragment of Sæplast's production hall today, and in fact the oven was placed next to the building and a hole was made on its east side wall to connect it to the hall.

"When I started, work had been done on two-shifts but was being switched to three-shifts around the clock. There were two employees per shift, so the number of employees in production was increasing from four to six. The Sæplast containers were the main production products, but we also had another small oven inside the hall where we produced products such as pallets and various other smaller products. It's actually an interesting fact that right now we're switching completely to electric ovens, that in the beginning the small oven was powered by electricity. In a way, we have been ahead of our time, but of course this oven was a child of its time and it was often better to have the fire extinguishers at hand. A lot of things could happen," says Friðrik smiling.

Hilmar Guðmundsson and Friðrik have long observed the work at Sæplasti and at the beginning worked together in the production. This photo was taken a few years later when the original oven was used for the last time


Perfect timing

Sæplast's growth was fast the first few years and many thought that was enough. The company was bought to Dalvík from the capital region in 1983, production began in 1984, and it quickly became clear that the premises at Ránarbraut (first production building) were in no way suitable for the rapidly growing operations and production. It was therefore decided to build a new 800 square meter production building, which is part of Sæplast's premises to this day. The new building was put in use on June 19th, 1987, and an extension of another 800 square meters was immediately started. By then, there were 22 employees. Today they are around 60 and have been for years. The old oven was immediately moved from the building at Ránarbraut to the new building, but the heart of the new building was a new German machine that made it possible to triple the company's production numbers. Apart from that, Sæplast had bought the industrial company Börk from Hafnarfjörður in 1987 with the aim of moving the operations to Dalvík. The products that Börk manufactured included units in freezer rooms, roof and house units, insulated heating supply pipes and snow melting systems. The pipe production in Börk was actually immediately sold to a company in Flúðir, but was to be involved again in the operation of Sæplast when it was bought and moved to Dalvík in 1994.

Play cards during coffee time. From left: Jón Gunnarsson, Vilhjálmur Reynisson, Pétur Reimarsson and Friðrik Vilhelmsson. Kristinn Kristjánsson is watching the game.

"The timing of everything that Sæplast did was perfect. There were single use boxes used on fishing vessels, and the fishing industry saw the great advantages of using the new Sæplast containers instead, e.g. in terms of landing, treatment of catch, labor saving and many other things. People quickly saw that it was much easier to keep the fish cool in our insulated containers than in the boxes that used to dominate before. We immediately started exporting to foreign markets, e.g. to the Faroe Islands, so the interest in the containers was exactly the same abroad. But then the landscape in the fishing industry both in Iceland and abroad was completely different than it is today, but everyone wanted to take the step in the technological improvement that the containers from Sæplast brought" says Friðrik.


Sæplast immediately became a powerful export company. Here vessels are waiting in line for shipment in Dalvíkurhöfn in 1990..


Things moved fast

When Sæplast bought Börk in 1987, Friðrik's career changed.

"Several employees went south to work at Börk, and then I stopped working the shifts in production. We made all kinds of arrangements around the production, and so my main job became taking care of all the company's handling, receiving raw materials, delivering and loading products into trucks and containers, whether to buyers in Iceland or abroad. I completely took care of this for many years and am still connected to these projects to some extent," says Friðrik, who for over a decade has managed the sales and marketing of Sæplast's construction products as well as performing various office duties. He says that from day one, it has been a great ambition of the employee group that the company does well and that it proves itself in Dalvík. It was also a great blessing that the first managing director, Pétur Reimarsson, was an educated chemical engineer, which often came in handy. "In addition, he was extremely visionary and a powerful leader in the early years of the company," says Friðrik.

Friðrik together with Pétur Reimarsson, Sæplast's first managing director.


"Sæplast was for a long time owned by many people here in Dalvík. After several ownership changes, the company disappeared from the Icelandic stock market during the economic collapse of 2008. Fortunately, however, the Sæplast brand has managed to survive through all this time and transformations. It is very important because I think that in the minds of many people there is a very strong connection between Dalvík and Sæplast. During those early years of great growth, I believe that the Sæplast brand was even better known to the public than it is today. People saw what we were doing and how fast the company's growth was," says Friðrik.


Many things changed – other things did not

The group of colleagues in Sæplast during Friðrik's tenure has become quite large, probably hundreds in all, and three have been 7 CEOs in these 39 years.

"The changes in many areas in the company are quite enormous, working conditions are completely different, but it's still a bit funny that some things are exactly the same as they were 40 years ago. The technology is updates but similar, the molds we use are built in a similar way, and the production process is basically the same. We went to various side branches, e.g. such as Börk's operations, Plasteinangruns injection molding factory and Hula's pipe factory were bought and operated for a while under the Sæplast brand in our plant. Factories were bought and operated abroad and so on. Over the years, the focus has still returned to the foundation and the origin, i.e. production of strong insulated and now recyclable containers and related equipment for use in food production and processing. The only change in philosophy from early years is that today the containers are used in more multifaceted food production than they were then, for example in the meat industry. Sæplast became a powerful export company right from the start, winning the Icelandic President's Export Award in 1994. This emphasis on marketing activities abroad has been very important. The most important thing, I think, when you look over your shoulder, is that this core of employees and owners who stood at Sæplast in the beginning were determined to do excellent things. All the success has been made from that”.


Sæplast receiving the President of Iceland's export award at Bessastadir in 1994.