It was so great to get back out into world and check the pulse of the industry! PMMI’s 3-day show typically alternates each year between Chicago and Las Vegas and co-locates PACK EXPO with the Healthcare➕ Packaging EXPO. This Vegas show was the first PMMI EXPO since 2019, following pandemic-related cancellation of the 2020 show.
There was a great vibe at the show; lots of energy and optimism for a growing industry. There were over 23,000 attendees and 1,500 exhibitors. A review from Packaging World Magazine notes it as the largest trade show in the U.S. in 2021 so far.
“In a word, PACK EXPO Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging EXPO was a success,” said Jim Pittas, president and CEO, PMMI. “Exhibitors and attendees alike were energized by the number of people who attended and more importantly the business conducted from the moment we opened the doors on Monday.”
Companies across Food & Beverage, Personal Care, Healthcare and Automotive:
- Abbott Laboratories
- Albertsons Companies
- Argelith Ceramic Tiles Inc.
- Avery Dennison Corporation
- Bigelow Tea
- Bimbo Bakeries
- Blue Bell Creameries LP
- Blue Buffalo
- Bristol-Myers Squibb
- Bumble Bee Foods
- Conagra Foods
- Constellation Brands
- CVS Health Corporation
- Dole Food Company Inc
- E&J Gallo Winery
- Eastman Chemical Co.
- General Mills
- Gluten Free Foods Mfg. LLC
- Good Earth Organics Corp.
- Hanford Pharmaceuticals
- Hershey Co.
- Impossible Foods
- J.M. Smucker Co
- Johnson & Johnson
- Kellogg Co.
- Kikkoman Foods Inc.
- Kraft Heinz
- L'Oreal USA
- Maple Leaf Foods
- Mars Inc.
- Mars Petcare
- T. Marzetti Company
- Mead Johnson Nutrition
- Molson Coors Beverage Co.
- Nestle Purina Petcare Co.
- Ocean Spray Cranberries USA
- Pacific Pharmaceuticals USA LLC
- Perdue Farms
- Philz Coffee
- Pilgram Pride
- Procter & Gamble
- Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery
- San Francisco Bay Coffee
- Sargento Foods
- SC Johnson
- See's Candies
- Smithfield Foods
- The Bountiful Company
- Thomas Foods International USA
- Tyson Foods
- Valvoline LLC
Walking the show, the themes that emerged included robotics (addressing labor challenges), ecommerce, and IIoT (Industry 4.0) solutions for operational performance and resilience. Sustainability is, without question, the main theme in packaging today. This fundamental aspect was reflected in both the exhibitor booths and the speaker presentations throughout the show.
Designing for robotics and pick-place equipment all through the supply chain is predicted to become a more critical concern as optical robotics make their way into distribution centers and even store aisles.
Ecommerce challenges include returns, which are a whopping 30% of on-line sales.
Several exhibitors were present to share their technology solutions for capturing and capitalizing on data as machines become smarter and generate ever more data. A convergence of IT and OT, if done well, was promised to deliver faster innovation, not just faster production. The key is to contextualize the data and create actionable decision points.
Dassault Systems share their Virtual Twin simulation software for design and development, which includes dynamic material selection capability for real-time LCA, among other features.
Sustainable solutions have become ubiquitous in the packaging world, with at least a nod to protecting the environment in most exhibitor booths. There were several talks each day on this specific subject, as industry works to differentiate across the abundance of “green” options now available. Recycle-ready is the new objective, with many new innovations arriving on the scene to balance product protection and production efficiency with mono-material design. Attention to sustainability is also pushing readily into peripheral aspects like strapping, shrink wrap alternatives, hotmelt adhesives, etc. This EXPO featured exhibitors of reusable transport packaging products and related services in The Reusable Packaging Pavilion.
Highlights and Awards
Canovation Won 2 Technology Excellence Awards
I love finding something completely new at a show, and this company caught my attention. Canovation won in both the food and beverage as well as the personal care and pharmaceutical categories for their CanReseal® design. They license their design to container manufacturers and other relevant entities worldwide. They tout CanReseal as an economical and fully sustainable, all-metal resealable can.
The can end is threaded just below the double-seam, allowing a metal closure to be screwed into the top of the can to create an air and liquid tight seal. They have various closures designs available, including the Stay-On Tab opening, universally known to beverage consumers.
Liquibox Ameristar Winner in the Beverages category
Liquipure™ Ultra is the first recycle-ready, mono-material bag-in-box flexible package suitable for liquids requiring barrier protection.
Colgate-Palmolive won Best in Show for Colgate Elixir package
A perfect use for LiquiGlide technology, this unique bottle allows highly recyclable PET to be used with more viscous toothpastes. The cap opening vents air back into the bottle to allow smooth dispensing of toothpaste. The thick-walled PET-E cap is compatible with the PET recyclability stream. The bottle is produced through a Single Stage ISBM process and assembled with an injection molded PP shoulder shroud and a thick-walled PET-E cap.
As in prior shows, pouches are literally everywhere. Features abound, including: spouted, recycle-able (sometimes referred to, oddly, as “reusable packaging”), compostable, hook and loop closure, child-resistant, etc. When questioned, the pouch exhibitor making ‘reusable’ claims explained that meant it was recycle-able, but they could not address specific questions about recycle-ability and the separation of multiple layers, nor could they share who would collect and manage the pouches post-consumer use.
Other exhibitors did a better job presenting their claims, openly addressing the lack of current infrastructure for film recycling and their efforts to support advancements in technology for cost effective sortation and reprocessing. Glenroy, for example, took a highly transparent approach in their presentation of food pouches, noting the gap for recycle-ability. To address this they’ve launched an all-PE stand cap pouch that is undergoing APR review as a recycle-ready pouch with PCR.
Food Waste and Recycling
Food waste drives the majority of food and beverage packaging innovations, which address the top tier of the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy by extending shelf life. The USDA notes that 20% of the material in landfills is food waste. The challenge remains how to balance these food preservation benefits against the economics of collecting, sorting and recycling high-performance packaging. One presenter stated there is a $30B gap per year for recycling management.
EPR legislation is active in several countries, helping to cover these material management costs. We see clear signs that EPR legislation will roll out across the US in the very near future. Maine is the first state to pass a bill, which excludes beverage containers (Maine has a container deposit program), long-term storage materials, paint containers and other materials, but does cover the bulk of consumer product packaging. The program will use packaging producer payments to cover operational costs for recycling.
This type of fee-based legislation will drive rigorous application of further packaging improvements following guidance such as the Consumer Goods Forum’s (CGF) nine “Golden Rules” of product design. Globally replacing 20% of packaging with recycle-ready alternatives represents a $10B circular economy opportunity.
Compostable / biodegradable materials were touted as the must-watch technology. The Presto Products Company went so far as to warn the audience, “Don’t be last.” Their presenter shared an honest overview of what compostable means: “It doesn’t breakdown in oceans, or in landfills, as commonly believed.” Bio-compounding (blending bio-based with fossil fuel-based polymers) offer biodegradable innovations that meet certification standards for compost-ability. The beauty of bio-compounding is realizing the processing benefits of traditional resins while meeting strong consumer demand for compostable offerings. Compostable materials are expected to grow 18% through 2027. While not for every product (the end use product must be soil safe), it’s excellent for food packaging because the dirtier it is, the more compost-friendly it is.
Kaneka Biopolymers offers marine biodegradable materials that are strictly biobased, along with home and industrial compostable materials.
This EXPO featured a Processing Pavilion that covered a broad range of applications, from compounding to coating to sealing. This zone of exhibitors is reflective of the increasingly interwoven relationship between processing and packaging.
Laser Perforating / Venting companies like Preco highlighted precision micro-perforation capabilities for film venting and precision scoring for easy-open peel features.
The challenges of distribution, both for initial sales and for the high level of returns for ecomm, were addressed from many different angles, including the need for specialized testing to evaluate denting, cracking, caps loosening, leaks and spills, etc.
Ways to reduce unnecessary headspace in shipping containers included innovations like custom inflatable sleeves, or strapping a product to a base corrugate panel for efficient packing on an auto-box line.
CPGs who are building or improving their ecommerce packaging can work with suppliers (like Sonoco and Ring Container) who have joined the Amazon Packaging Support and Supplier Network (APASS). These companies can help design packaging that will meet Amazon’s unique requirements for Prep-Free Packaging (PFP) Ships-In-Own-Container (SIOC) or Frustration Free Packaging (FFP).
Child resistant packaging features are always of interest, and at this show we learned of QDP, a company with a patent on an elegantly simple film pouch zipper design that passes both CR and Senior Friendly protocols. Canovation offers licensable push-turn metal can CR options for items such as cannabis-containing products. Deca has a beautiful and unique tilt-to-open CR design for small tins.
Aplix manufactures a zipper close feature that uses hook & loop technology that is far more forgiving than a traditional zipper seal format. They claim it offers an air tight seal, which is something to explore as pouches become more prevalent in the nutritionals and personal care space.
Sustainability is making its way into the healthcare / pharma conversation, with exhibitors presenting recycle-able mono-material options. This will perhaps be a topic to watch in the future as recycling management technologies advance. Blister cards, for example, don’t currently process through MRFs due to collection and sortation challenges.
 CITEO in France (fees up 13% in 2021), CEFLEX D4ACE in Europe, UK Packaging Tax (in effect April 1 2022)