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Executive Forecast: The Path Forward in 2020

Pushback on use of plastics is a major challenge for flexible packaging. Going forward, suppliers look to find eco-friendly alternatives, while educating consumers on the many benefits of this growing packaging segment.

 
February 10, 2020 by John Kalkowski
 
 

To gain an industry-wide perspective on the year that has just ended and the prospects for 2020, Flexible Packaging reached out to executives whose businesses represent the spectrum of flexible packaging.

In their own words, leaders from ProAmpac, Charter NEX, Totani America, Avery Dennison and the Flexible Packaging Association deliver their points of view for our annual Executive Forecast.

Sustainability is once again a leading concern across the board. Companies are looking to find material recourses that will protect the environment and quell rising worries from the public. Executives interviewed for this article point to the need to educate consumers that plastic packaging is not all bad. Indeed, many of its benefits are often overlooked.

After years of steady growth in the U.S., some also expressed concern about the direction the economy will take in 2020, especially in light of recent trade war actions that remain unresolved. Here is what these executives have to say:

CONVERTER

Q: As we enter a new decade, what do you see as the prospects for your company and the packaging market in general in 2020?

A: Sustainable packaging will be a much bigger focus for the North American marketplace moving forward. Sustainability is already very much a part of our global economy, and one of the strategies to meet your sustainable objectives is to reduce usage.  In our world, that means reducing the packaging material content. ProAmpac has numerous examples to date of moving our customers from a rigid plastic, glass or metal format to a flexible packaging format that is 100 percent recyclable. As the U.S. supply moves to become more sustainable, ProAmpac will be a leader in helping our industry to realize its potential.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges this industry currently faces? How do you think those challenges will change throughout 2020?

A: The trade war has created a disconnect between supply and demand for raw materials.  The trade war dynamics have hit the flexible packaging industry hard over the last two years. The policy shifts on import costs have forced many in our industry to implement price increases, identify higher-priced alternative supply or, in some cases, absorb the cost increases.  The pace of policy implementation has been a disruptor to say the very least. Unfortunately, there are many flexible packaging companies struggling financially to deal with the fallout. Moving into 2020, trade policy appears to be shifting to also include Latin America, which will again disrupt supply costs of various raw materials our industry requires to meet the needs of our customers. ProAmpac will continue to manage through these changes, remaining transparent to our customers on changes as they materialize.

Q: What new product features are brand owners and co-packers seeking in materials and machinery for flexible packaging, and what trends are driving these demands?

A: This past year, we’ve seen all our markets request more sustainable flexible packaging options. Also, we are engaging more and more with brands on moving from rigid solutions to flexible packaging. Coupled with better product delivery systems like spouts and closures, a flexible package is not only more sustainable but also easier for consumers to use.

In addition, shelf differentiation remains a priority with brand owners. We have a lot of shaped formats, innovative graphic techniques and differentiating coatings available to help products standout on the shelf while adding consumer appeal and functionality.

Q: These days, the use of plastics — a major component in flexible packaging — seems to be under attack. How should the industry address this issue?

A: Education. As an industry, I think we need to continue to educate our markets about realities of packaging. The Flexible Packaging Association has many great resources available to assist in the conversation about packaging and sustainability.  The word “plastic” now has negative connotation the same as the word “paper” 10 years ago.  However, ProAmpac approaches our markets with a substrate agnostic view, meaning we can use paper, polymers, combinations of and/or any sustainable material necessary to meet form, fit and function required. We want to make sure our customers are getting the performance requirements they need for their product, whatever the material.

Q: Please comment on how 2019 went for your company and what you feel its major achievements were during the last year.

A: In 2019, we celebrated our fourth year of coming together as ProAmpac and delivered another year of organic growth. ProAmpac continues to evolve as a private, family-oriented company that fosters a culture of caring for our teammates and communities. We are proud to have kept in place our small company mindset while offering our customers large-scale capabilities that we continue to build.

We have also had a great year of recognition by various industry organizations for our design and innovation expertise. I am very proud of how far we have come in such a short time all while maintaining our values of integrity, intensity, innovation and involvement. I also need to share how excited we are with the impact of our internal ProAmpac Employee Assistance Fund (PEAF), which is a 501(c )(3) established in 2017. PEAF is funded by our employees to help other ProAmpac employees in times of need. We helped 54 individuals and families this past year, which has made a big difference in many lives.

MATERIAL SUPPLIER

Q: As we enter a new decade, what do you see as the prospects for your company and the packaging market in general in 2020?

A: Certainly, the sustainability of plastics and flexible packaging will be the most apparent theme to take center stage heading into the next decade, underscored with a much greater sense of urgency as we head closer to 2025 when many brands have made commitments to make all of their packaging either 100 percent recyclable or reusable. Similarly, our company has elevated its commitment to sustainability by instituting several sustainable manufacturing initiatives, increasing the usage of PCR, and taking a larger role in industry related advocacy efforts.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges this industry currently faces? How do you think those challenges will change throughout 2020?

A: Consumer pushback on single-use plastics and plastic packaging is almost assured to grow in 2020 and we believe this will be met with further legislative action at the state and federal level. Our industry has done a good job quickly bringing together a single voice through the Flexible Packaging Association. But as an industry and as individual companies, we’ll have an even greater responsibility to educate both consumers and legislators on the value flexible packaging plays in the safe transport of products around the world as well as the reduction of food waste.

Secondly, with the country experiencing unemployment at all-time lows, we’ll certainly see talent recruitment and retainment continue to be a challenge for our industry.

Q: What new product features are brand owners and co-packers seeking in materials and machinery for flexible packaging, and what trends are driving these demands?

A: On the sustainability front, we’ve found that brand owners are reluctant to give up on any of the benefits of multi-material packaging when converting into all-PE recyclable packaging. While providing new solutions that minimize the performance trade-off is a challenge, it does create a large opportunity and market pull for breakthrough products.

One example is our GreenArrow High Clarity PE Print Film, which is set to launch later in 2020. This film harnesses years of R&D, formulation design, manufacturing expertise and end-use knowledge to create a solution that mimics the behavior of PET but in a PE, recyclable format.

Speed has been another factor underpinning the industry. Product life cycles used to be long and steady, but now they continue to get shorter and more dynamic. This has required us to be more nimble and to stay in close collaboration with our customers.

Q: These days, the use of plastics — a major component in flexible packaging — seems to be under attack. How should the industry address this issue?

A: The issue certainly requires a multi-faceted approach and is one of the reasons we joined the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. The Alliance brings together companies from across the plastics value-chain to build a collaborative and comprehensive strategy on addressing the issue.

While we are tackling this issue on many fronts, one of the areas I’m most excited about is how we’ve adopted the use of PCR into our film designs. By driving demand for PCR into films, we can help support the investment thesis for recyclers and reprocessors to invest in the appropriate equipment and technology to truly build a circular economy.

Q: Please comment on how 2019 went for your company and what you feel its major achievements were during the last year.

A: We headed into 2019 with some uncertainty surrounding the economy. Recessionary fears, low unemployment, and trade tensions were all over the headlines and gave us every reason to believe this would be a very challenging year. We stuck by the game plan and stayed laser-focused on execution and staying attentive to our customers’ needs. So I’m glad to say 2019 was another good year for us as a company.

EQUIPMENT SUPPLIER

Q: As we enter a new decade, what do you see as the prospects for your company and the packaging market in general in 2020?

A: In 2019, Totani America had the best year in our history. Totani America is almost 16 yearsrs old. Totani Corporation, based in Japan, was founded in 1952 and incorporated in 1961.

It may be hard to top this record year in 2020, however we do expect to have an above average year at Totani America as we have a good number of machines already on order.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges this industry currently faces? How do you think those challenges will change throughout 2020?

Q: What new product features are brand owners and co-packers seeking in materials and machinery for flexible packaging, and what trends are driving these demands?

A: Sustainable flexible packaging pouches and materials is a trend, including biodegradable, recyclable and recycled materials. This includes our trademarked Box Pouch and stand-up pouches supplied in recyclable formats or made with recycled content. Our traditional Box Pouch made with nonextensible films continues to grow in many markets including lawn and garden, human food, coffee, tea, but most especially in pet food.

A: Educating the consumers on the benefits of flexible packaging has to be an ongoing effort. We need to increase our promotion of flexible packaging as one of the answers to this issue.

LABELS SUPPLIER

Q: As we enter a new decade, what do you see as the prospects for your company and label market in general in 2020?

A: Sustainability will continue to be a factor. Flexible packaging suppliers are shifting their focus from the reduced carbon footprint of their current materials to manufacturing recyclable materials and materials made from post-consumer waste. This allows brand owners access to sustainable flexible packaging materials.

Narrow web converters are also leveraging non-pressure sensitive labeling and packaging materials, including shrink sleeve and flexible packaging, to broaden their offering and give their end users more solutions. A portfolio that includes both pressure-sensitive and non-pressure-sensitive solutions allows converters to compete in higher value segments such as home and personal care, cosmetics and nutraceuticals.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges this industry currently faces? How do you think those challenges will change throughout 2020?

Q: What new product features are brand owners and co-packers seeking in materials and machinery for flexible packaging? What trends are driving these demands?

A: On-the-go consumers are looking for packaging options that support their busy lifestyle. Single-serving food products and travel-sized beauty products in stick-packs are easy for them to carry along throughout the day. Stand-up pouches provide an easy grab-and-go format, and also can be fitted with a reclosure element to keep food products fresh or allow for multiple uses.

Health-focused consumers are looking for packaging formats like clear stand-up pouches that allow them to see the contents of the product they are purchasing. Tamper evident constructions give consumers confidence that products are safe inside their packaging, especially in nutraceutical or pharmaceutical applications.

Flexible packaging formats also offer a 360-degree billboard for branding to engage consumers in the store.

Q: These days, the use of plastics — a major component in flexible packaging — seems to be under attack. How should the industry address this issue?

A: The first step will be educating brand owners about packaging options so they can make an informed decision when choosing the materials their products appear on the shelf. Flexible packaging requires less overall material than containers made of other substrates, requires less resources to manufacture and less energy to store and transport. Its carbon footprint is substantially smaller than other packaging types. We also continue to hear that consumers value sustainability and are invested in choosing sustainably sourced and packaged products. We have been working with our partners to seek out sustainably sourced materials for flexible packaging that you will see in 2020 and continue to expand our growing ClearIntent portfolio.

Q: Please comment on how 2019 went for Avery Dennison and what you feel its major achievements were during the last year.

A: It has been an exciting year for Avery Dennison. We implemented our new e-commerce platform, My Avery Dennison, allowing our customers to find and order products online. In conjunction, we deployed our new ERP system across our sites in North America, which was a big step in modernizing our processes to be able to serve our customers with excellence and enable their growth. We made strides in sustainability with our FSC-Certified Paper Portfolio expanding to total over 500 products — the largest in the industry — and have continued making progress toward our 2025 sustainability goals. We are ready for the challenges and opportunities that 2020 is sure to bring.

ASSOCIATION

Q: As we enter a new decade, what do you see as the prospects for the FPA and the packaging market in general in 2020?

A: FPA is well positioned to help our members navigate the dichotomy of continued growth despite the anti-plastic sentiment that prevails. The growth of packaging and flexible packaging in particular is an essential element in preserving and protecting products, and FPA will not let this fact be lost in the debate regarding packaging and plastic waste. FPA will continue to educate members, customers, policy-makers and consumers on the value of flexible packaging with science and education through multiple platforms.

FPA encourages the entire supply chain to continue to “fight the good fight.” We have started the conversation with new social media platforms and perfectpackaging.org in 2019, where all of our data and communication tools are housed. We will heighten the conversation in 2020 with FlexPack VOICE, our new publication, as well as an influencer program and new research on the environmental benefits of flexible packaging versus traditional packaging for e-commerce. FPA will continue to provide and support alternatives to bad public policy on plastic and packaging waste to promote and protect the industry and a truly sustainable packaging format.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges this industry currently faces? How do you think those challenges will change throughout 2020?

A: The biggest challenge the industry currently faces is the lack of infrastructure to manage its packaging at its end-of-life. Hard to recycle mono and multi-material flexible packaging exists in order to provide sterility and to preserve shelf-life, preventing food borne illnesses as well as food waste and it uses the least amount of material to do so — creating less waste in the first place. The myopic view that sustainability only equates to recyclability is the biggest hurdle to a constructive conversation about end-of-life management for packaging and that conversation must be had in 2020.

Q: What new product features are brand owners and co-packers seeking in materials and machinery for flexible packaging, and what trends are driving these demands?

A: The driving trend in the packaging industry today is solving for end-of-life management. The demand is coming from many of the published commitments by consumer product companies and others in the supply chain, as well as consumer’s demands for fully recyclable packaging in the near future. This is driving innovation for mono-material, easily recyclable, packaging and changes to the current recovery and recycling infrastructure to be able to accept and recycle all packaging types, including flexible films and multi-material packaging.

Q: These days, the use of plastics — a major component in flexible packaging — seems to be under attack. How should the industry address this issue?

A: Again, we have to address it with science and education. Where many policy makers are reacting emotionally to the issue of plastic pollution and packaging waste, FPA and its members as well as the entire supply chain should be responding with data and real solutions. This includes life-cycle analyses of flexible packaging versus traditional packaging types, showing a reduction in water and energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and material to landfill, which are core sustainability features. This also includes support and incentives for viable end-of-life management solutions and work on valuable end markets.

Q: Please comment on how 2019 went for FPA and what you feel its major achievements were during the last year.

A: 2019 presented FPA and its membership with the most challenging year yet regarding legislation that could negatively impact its market. Not surprisingly, the industry rose to the occasion and brought forth concrete solutions and alternatives to the bills we saw introduced at both the state and federal levels. While none of the bills were passed in 2019, they will be back in 2020. We will continue to work with other associations, NGOs and academia to provide real solutions and avoid the unintended consequences of short-sided bans and taxes, which may sacrifice flexible packaging for less environmentally beneficial alternatives.

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