This is a town renowned in cigar business circles for more than a century, being home for various cigar manufacturing firms dating back into the 19th century. One of the best known of these was the factory producing the long popular Willem II cigars. The cigar tradition lives on heartily here as Swedish Match Cigars, which acquired Willem II, and is among the largest cigar companies in the world, also has its headquarters in Valkenswaard.
For those wondering, the colorful town name-Valkenswaard-is indicative of what one might imagine as before cigars came the town was famed for its citizens' art in capturing and training falcons for European royalty, as far back as the middle ages.
One might say today that in times of old the people of Valkenswaard gave 'added value' to falcons. The Lareka company, in Valkenswaard, still has this spirit although with falcons long gone it is motivating the company's work with tobacco product machinery.
Itself a spin-off from Swedish Match-Lareka became an independent company in 2005-the firm specializes in adding, producing, sourcing 'added value' to both cigarette and cigar factory packaging and making equipment.
The company operates two divisions, Lareka Tobacco Equipment BV and Lareka Confectionery Equipment BV. The confectionery equipment sector offers packaging for a wide variety of products, led by candy and chocolates.
The tobacco equipment sector, more complex, is subdivided into cigarette and cigar machinery areas, which are each again divided into three core activities; rebuilding, building new machinery and supplying turnkey end-of-line packaging concepts. In the tobacco equipment sector, Lareka has a partnership with ITM/SCM (International Tobacco Machinery). They have been selling the Lareka products and services in the industry for more than 25 years.
Such a range of specialties, particularly in tobacco product machinery, demands a high degree of engineering expertise. This is one of Lareka's most important attributes. Engineering prowess in fact makes it something of a 'think tank' resource for both the cigar and cigarette industries. This is quite so in 'making,' yet with perhaps more impact in tobacco product packaging and end-of-line machinery.
Lareka is headquartered in a spacious new facility where it combines large workshops, servicing centers, and its engineering department under one roof. Its cigar, cigarette, and confectionery sectors contribute equal thirds to turnover.
Henk Somers is the general manager of Lareka. He brings 12.5 years of tobacco machinery experience to the company. "The concept of added value is at the heart of what we do at Lareka. 'Gearing up productivity' is a motto we use. I think it sums us up," he explains. "We are both rebuilders and creators.
"We rebuild for cigar and cigarette manufacturers in many nations. We sell them our own machines too. Packaging is a nucleus, although increasingly by no means our only focus. Our clients include both the largest manufacturers and small ones too.
"You learn a lot after many years of rebuilding making and packaging machines. It's a tradition here. In setting up Lareka as an independent company we expanded extensively on that expertise, using it to design our own new machines and equipment.
"Essentially, we think of ourselves as partnering with our customers. We've proven ourselves capable of solving some of the most complex packaging needs. This means that in addition to rebuilding and creating our own machinery, we are a turnkey supplier of tobacco product end of line packaging solutions."
The company's rebuilding work for cigarette and cigar making and packaging machinery entails everything from fixing or replacing damaged parts to upgrading performance. This calls for total dismantling, then repair and/or upgrading-including incorporating the latest in electronics-then spray painting the hundreds of parts and carefully reassembling them.
Rebuilding in the cigarette area is mainly for overwrappers and bundlers-most models. For cigars it includes makers, packers, and tube fillers. Again, this is for many familiar models commonly in use in cigarette factories.
Lareka's own contributions to tobacco product packaging are already surprisingly numerous. These include the SIRIUS cellophane overwrapper, which at full speed can wrap 300 packs per minute. Another Lareka creation is the TWC (Tight Wrap Conveyor, for cigarettepacks or cigarspacks).
In collaboration with the Sluis Company, Lareka's complete cigar forming line MIR-LS for natural tobacco can hit a running rate of 47 cigars per minute. According to Somers this speed is going up to 100 units per minute by incorporating double-forming technology.
"We've been rather busy in the two years since going independent," says Somers. "I guess it was inspirational," he adds with a smile.
"Most recently we've come out with machines for adding wooden and plastic filter tips to cigars and cigarillos, fully integrated into the cigar making process."
The wooden filters can be added to a range of cigar types. For the specialty markets both the wooden and plastic tips can be flavored in a rainbow of tastes-peach, grape, melon, apple, so forth and so on. For another, particular flourish, the plastic filter tips can be multi-colored.
An important angle in Lareka's filtertip machine business is of course for that most typical of Dutch smokes, the Roll-Your-Own. Lareka is building RYO filtertip packers. These are making short and long tips (detachable units in a stick-style format). The whole process is available fully automated - cutting the filter 'logs' then packaging them in a variety of formats.
Exemplary of this, the company makes an RYO filter maker/packer line that forms at end a flip-top cigarette styled box package-with option to include the rolling papers too-and then overwraps.
Lareka, a source and a supplier of add value in tobacco making and packaging machinery, can be further reviewed at www.lareka.com.