Hear the word ‘wax’, and most minds turn immediately to candles and ears. Some may even combine the two, recalling that scene in Shrek where the eponymous ogre retrieves a sludgy wick from his own ear before lighting it, setting the mood as Donkey sulks outside. But, animated films aside, wax is everywhere. On an industrial level, it’s amazingly versatile.
Founded by Tom Wilcox back in 1962, Chorley-based Kerax Limited are wax experts. From pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to food packaging andhorse racing tracks, there’s Kerax wax in just about everything, and as the only dedicated, large-scale wax-blending plant in the UK they are fast becoming a European leader in the field. And yes, they still do candles.
“The variation is surprising; you just think of candles, but wax goes into so many products,” says Jacqui Wilkinson, the customer service team leader at Kerax. Describing her job as 'you name it, I do it', Jacqui has been with the company for eight years and in her current role for three.
"I look after orders, do invoicing, deal with queries, speak with technical to advise customers, and steer our customers down the right path in terms of what they need,” added Jacqui, 60, who is from Walton-le-Dale. “No two days are the same: it's really varied and interesting. You can get a one-man-band making candles for family and friends to the big businesses who order tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of material, and we've got a good rapport with all our customers.
"My team and the technical team work to get the customers exactly what they need, and if we can't match a need with one of our existing products, we do bespoke stuff as well,” Jacqui continued. “It's an exciting place to work looking forwards as well – we've just got a new coconut wax in our on-site lab, so our own development is offering something people haven't had before.
“We're diverse in what we do, and we seem to have happy customers, so we have very happy staff.”
Under the current ownership since 2006, the company has expanded from 18 employees and a turnover of £4m to 50+ employees and a turnover of around £24m. They have invested £2m in their Chorley HQ on Cowling Road – home since 1974 – and have focused heavily on the research and development side of matters. Their latest concoction is ‘PLASWAX’, a product derived from waste plastic which has taken a decade to perfect. Not to go all Shrek again, but this really is green wax.
A development chemist at the company, Caroline Eatock loves the environmentally friendly side of the job. "It's definitely exciting; Kerax want to embrace anything that will be helpful in saving the planet and we're all working towards being a greener company,” she said. “We're particularly interested in environmentally friendly products.
"In the development lab, we look at product innovation and testing to make sure they perform as the customer would want them to perform,” added Caroline, 51, from Preston. “We focus on biodegradability and on natural waxes in packaging, so we've been doing quite a lot of work along those lines; plastic offers a waterproof protection for food, but so does waxed paper, which is also biodegradable. A lot of people are interested in vegan products now, so we use natural waxes too.”
Having previously worked in cosmetics development, Caroline has been with Kerax for just a year and has been impressed by the numerous applications for wax being explored at the company. "It's very interesting and varied and I'm still learning a lot - before I joined Kerax, it hadn't occurred to me just how far and wide wax is used,” Caroline said. “A lot of people don't think about types of wax or where wax comes from, and from bees wax to vegetable wax to paraffin wax – it's all quite interesting.
“Everybody thinks of candles, but there's a lot more to it than that."