Food Manufacturing spoke with Scott Pleune of Priority Metrics Group about recent trends in food packaging and how manufacturers can utilize the latest packaging tools to improve their operations.
Q: What are some of the major trends currently taking off in the global packaging industry?
A: Probably the key trend, or impact, here is “consumerism,” driven by the increased awareness created by today’s 24/7 media, especially the social media sites. Consumerism is certainly not new, but the level of information available today is unprecedented. This has created an entire generation of consumers who know more, and care more, about the impact packaging has on their lives. This has led to tremendous complexity throughout the packaging industry, as all the participants, suppliers and users/fillers strive to find the optimal packaging solutions. In the years ahead, these social media sites will allow for greater data collection and analysis, resulting in more focused “targeted” marketing — creating custom packaging solutions for smaller segments of the marketplace. This heightened consumer awareness has contributed to several key packaging trends that have emerged, and continue to evolve.
Sustainability is one of most significant areas, and it has spawned many specific subcategories relating to how potential solutions are being implemented. Bio-based resins are probably the top trend area here, and this is a very complex issue as the industry seeks to determine if these new bio-based materials will offer long-term, cost-effective and environmentally sound solutions. The traditional paths to improved sustainability continue to also be very important, and these are getting constant attention as technology offers improvements: Material reduction, recycling and recycled content are all critical components to any overall solution.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is also a very necessary component to a long term solution, and this is just beginning to get the attention it deserves. EPR is an approach that uses financial incentives to encourage packaging producers to voluntarily design environmentally-friendly products by making them responsible for managing the product’s end-of-life costs. This approach creates a link between package design, production and disposal (or reuse), which in turn creates an incentive to lower the ultimate waste management or disposal expenses.
Two key industry groups appear to be leading the charge to create EPR solutions that will have a true impact on packaging sustainability: Ameripen and Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). While the purposes of these groups may differ, they share many of the same goals — to educate consumers on the overall benefits and value of packaging, to ensure that all packaging is optimized for is purpose and supply chain, and to ensure all packaging has a minimal impact on the environment, including at its end of life.
Q: What packaging trends will affect manufacturers’ processes the most and why?
A: These broad trends and the resulting specific packaging trends will certainly impact virtually every packaging supplier and converter. It is how they interpret these issues and trends for their own product categories, and their customer base, that is important. Highly innovative, custom packaging solutions will be required, with a constant focus on costs. The recession created increased cost and margin pressures, but these will not end as the recovery expands. Consumers are demanding greater value from their packages, and the most innovation, cost effective solutions will win.
Q: What are some of the major growth opportunities for the packaging industry?
A: Growth opportunities for specific types of packaging will track along with these trends. Some will be basic, as products move to more sustainable and more cost effective packaging formats such as glass to plastics and flexibles, metal cans to plastics and composites, and rigid plastics to flexibles. These types of conversions have been underway for decades, but ongoing improvements in technology continue to drive more innovative solutions. And the more educated consumers of today are seeking packaging solutions they feel offer the necessary convenience and performance, without the downside of environmental negatives.
Q: What are some of the latest technological advances regarding packaging?
A: Some of the specific technologies and developments that support these trends include:
- Bio-based resins have really just begun to show the ultimate promise that they may hold. Many questions remain, but clearly the ongoing investments by some of the world’s largest CPG companies will allow these materials to be fully vetted in the years ahead.
- Recycled content, such as r-PET, is not new, but improving technologies are allowing for the recycled content in many packages to now reach 50 to 100 percent. This trend will continue to expand, and it is important that the bio-based materials be compatible with these goals.
- EPR is picking up momentum, which offers significant scale for improved environment solutions.
- Wide-mouth PET jars for hot-filled foods, based on improved package technology, offer greater sustainable packaging solutions for many food products.
- Flexible pouches with improved fitments and spouts offer greater sustainable solutions for many beverage products.
Interview by Lindsey Coblentz, Associate Editor