As part of our 10th Anniversary celebration, Flexible Packaging invited leaders in the flexible packaging industry to answer this forward-reaching question: What will be the greatest challenges or opportunities for flexible packaging converters in the next decade and why?



John Baumann

President/chief executive officer

Ampac Packaging

The greatest opportunities are in rigid packaging replacement and innovative packaging that incorporates consumer convenience with branding.

Rigid replacement will continue as retailers, brands and consumers realize that source reduction and flexible packaging go hand in hand. The environmental advantages will drive the change to reduce the energy, greenhouse gases and costs associated with the distribution, storage and sale of rigid containers. Consumers see this daily in the trash they take to the curb. Wherever a significant improvement in the product-to-package ratio can be made, it will happen-especially when the economic benefits of flexible packaging are factored in on top of the environmental advantages.

The challenge is developing innovations that combine consumer convenience with branding. Packages that are difficult to use put the consumer’s focus on the packaging rather than the product. The challenge is developing flexible packaging that adds “ease of use” for the consumer and gives the brand “Wow!” on the shelf.

Mike Nowak

President

Coating Excellence Int'l

The greatest challenge and opportunity for the flexible packaging industry is how it responds to sustainability initiatives. Grass roots consumers are becoming acutely aware of what they perceive to be environmentally “friendly” products and are showing their preference by buying these products. Unfortunately consumers frequently choose the less favorable environmental alternative because it is perceived to be better.

Another challenge is educating consumers on why flexible packaging is the better environmental choice. The opportunity for the industry is huge and can be seen in any grocery store by the large amount of packaging remaining in rigid packages. These packages can be replaced by more environmentally friendly, less expensive flexible packages providing a huge benefit for the environment, consumers and the flexible packaging industry. The industry must strive to improve its recyclability and expand recycle programs for flexible packages.

Jerry Henson

Flexible Packaging sales manager

Mark Andy Inc.

Lean manufacturing techniques, just-in-time delivery requirements, promotional packaging, as well as smaller private label products will continue to drive shorter production runs. Printers will be forced to rethink a certain segment of their market and be more productive and profitable on their short run work to remain competitive.

This trend will open the door for flexo printers familiar with smaller quantities and willing to enter the flexible packaging market, as well as provide growth opportunity for the traditional flexible packaging converter willing to step away from conventional manufacturing methods. Those who master short runs will see opportunity and growth in the next decade.

Ron Cotterman

Executive Director, Sustainability

Sealed Air Corp.

Flexible packaging will continue to evolve toward thinner and lighter materials while maintaining or improving performance, to increase use of alternate materials such as recycled or renewable materials and to decrease overall packaging amounts through streamlining and simplification of package design.

One of the greatest opportunities for converters will be to work with brand owners and retailers to design packaging systems that simultaneously provide product protection and address end-of-life of the packaging.

The future will also require manufacturers to address end-of-life options for the packaging through “reduce, reuse and recovery.” “Recovery” will encompass recycling, energy conversion and composting. Converters will need to collaborate with other members of the supply chain to broaden the infrastructure for collecting, sorting and recovering end-of-life value from flexible packaging.

Dennis Love

President

Printpack Inc.

I see several main challenges/opportunities:

Valley of Death-Converters must continue to differentiate their products and services in an environment where value creation is being pulled back to material/equipment vendors and being pulled forward into the retailer and consumer packaged goods (CPG) company.

Sustainability-We must work to change the consumer’s perception of plastics and encourage recognition of the value of plastics in a viable waste-to-energy model. We must educate the public that using plastics as an energy source is more productive than digging coal out of the ground, especially since it has less energy value in the first place.

Talent Management-We will have large numbers of Baby Boomers retiring. We need to transfer their tremendous knowledge to the next generation. We also need to figure out how to make our manufacturing jobs attractive to the Generation Y graduates entering the workforce.

Battle of the Brands: CPGs versus Mega-Retailers-This is far more prevalent in Europe than the U.S., so it is likely that more shifts of market control will come from CPGs to retailers. The dynamics of being in the middle of this battle could be challenging for all aspects of sales, marketing, manufacturing and innovation.

Michelle Hearn

Director of Marketing, North American Inks

Sun Chemical

The current economic downturn has led to many immediate challenges for flexible packaging converters that may change the market over the next decade.

A shift in man hours and the number of days the manufacturing facility operates are some key changes converters are already making. Additionally, converters want to be more efficient and are turning faster presses and printing processes to help realize this efficiency.

Sustainability will continue to be a major opportunity, driven largely by federal legislations similar to those currently being considered by Congress and partly by consumer interest, initiatives by retailers and by greater societal concerns about the environment and global warming. Source reduction, a smaller number of packaging layers, along with a decrease in packaging size continue to be ways consumer packaged goods companies are looking for support in their sustainability efforts. Sustainability will create opportunities for flexographic printers as CPGs seek more environmentally friendly packaging.

Mike Greely

Vice president and sales manager

Totani America Inc.

Looking back at the many changes that have taken place in the bag-making industry over the past decade, it’s difficult to predict where it will be 10 years from now. But there are some trends to watch.

One is the increasing popularity of the box pouch, due to its environmental, aesthetic and structural performance advantages over alternative packaging structures. The number of box pouch machines in operation worldwide doubled to 16 in 2008; similar growth is expected this year and beyond. The reason? Box pouches are more compact and shelf-stable than traditional stand-up pouches, reduce film consumption by 10% to 15%, offer greater aesthetic appeal and maximize retail store shelf utilization.

In addition to the new box pouch, converters of the more traditional package styles will require machines that provide even quicker changeovers allowing for more profitable, short-run production. Regarding high-volume production: Converting two or more lanes across the web at higher run speeds will increase production volumes while reducing waste. In-line splicing and roll changing while the machine continues to run enables more efficient production and should become more popular for high volume runs.

User-friendly features such as spouts, fitments, zippers and sliders will also continue to accelerate consumer interest and acceptance, especially as they become more affordable with increased demand.

Andrew Wheeler

Vice president

Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp.

Flexible packaging suppliers have a reputation to overcome. Millions and millions of dollars are spent each year on R&D, which leads to innovative technologies and advances in new substrates and processes. All of these developments are aimed at creating packaging which requires less material, creates less waste, and achieves higher sustainability.

Regardless of these developments, the industry is regarded as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. With the ever-increasing emphasis on the environment, producers are challenged not only to be more efficient, but also to be as green as possible, while still providing the flexible packaging that the marketplace demands.

The greatest challenge to flexible packaging suppliers in the next 10 years will be overcoming the public perception of the industry as problem-makers, to the understanding that the industry is made up of problem-solvers. The only way to do this will be to get out of our defensive mode and move positively toward collaborative solutions.