Packaging is surrounded by many buzzwords that describe the challenges and opportunities this industry is facing. Sustainability, innovation, automation and Industry 4.0 are just a few of the words a packaging professional is likely to hear bandied about each day. Another word you are likely hear is collaboration, which seems to be experiencing growing importance these days. The fact is, companies that are competitors frequently must work together to meet the needs of their customers.

Collaboration sometimes has a negative connotation. Certainly, there are laws to prevent collaboration that restricts competition or aims to set prices. However, in today’s current environment in which packaging is part of a continuous process that employs machinery and materials from multiple vendors, many businesses are finding that collaboration might be key to growth or even survival.

Alliances are nothing new to the packaging industry. Examples abound of companies working together to establish standards that benefit the industry and create openings to exploit new technologies. Then there are numerous organizations that have been formed to represent the interests of an industry segment, such as PMMI or the Flexible Packaging Association. Other groups have crystallized around issues, such as finding ways to make packaging more sustainable.

What seems to be growing is the number of companies that are cooperating to create innovative solutions that cut across industry silos. There were a number of examples at the recent Global Pouch Forum. Keynote speaker Ken McGuire of Procter & Gamble presented on the multiyear effort to develop the Aeroflexx pouch, detailing the many iterations of the package and help received from multiple companies. Bear Naked, the granola company, discussed how they worked with Dow, Berry Global, Fresh-Lock and Colormasters to develop a recyclable pouch.

These examples are increasingly becoming the norm.  And that’s a good thing. A study by Booz, Allen & Hamilton reports that alliances are growing at a rate of about 25 percent each year. Fast Company points out the many benefits of these relationships:

  • Saving money on shared expenses.
  • Expanding your customer base.
  • Utilizing on a partner’s expertise in a given area.
  • Having a trusted advisor.
  • Capitalizing on another company’s size or prestige.

However, it’s not always easy to make such a collaboration create success. Stefan Guertzgen, senior director at SAP, offers three elements that are key to successful collaboration:

  • A win-win business proposition, where each stakeholder stands to benefit.
  • A strong, trusting relationship. Co-innovation is predicated on companies developing mutual trust to share data in the pursuit of new concepts.
  • A common platform for sharing the data needed to develop, fine-tune and find a market for co-created products.

Finding the right partners and forming an alliance might be key to your company’s future. Good luck and good hunting!