Sustainable packaging: Walmart seeks innovations
April expo gives suppliers opportunity to showcase sustainable developments in their packaging.
Packaging Digest Staff -- Packaging Digest, 3/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
“Energy efficiency and carbon reduction are central issues in the world today,” proclaims Mike Duke, Walmart president and CEO. “We've been working to make a difference in these areas, both in our own footprint and our supply chain.”
Showing how they can contribute to this effort will be the central challenge for an expected 175 packaging vendors who will attend Walmart's fifth annual Sustainable Packaging Exposition, to be held April 6-7 at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers, AR, near Walmart's Bentonville headquarters. The expo will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Attendance expected to be up
This year's expo will see an increase in the number of exhibiting companies, and is expected to draw more than 2,000 Walmart and Sam's Club associates, buyers and product suppliers, according to Amy Zettlemoyer-Lazar, Sam's Club senior director of supplier diversity and packaging. She says Walmart welcomes packaging professionals, logistics and manufacturing personnel as well as salespeople from its current product suppliers, who can obtain invitations to the expo through the Walmart buyers with whom they work. “The expo is targeted so our buyers and product suppliers can walk through together and be able to make some decisions on the spot,” she added.
Ron Sasine, senior director of packaging, Walmart private brands, says they expect the packaging world to descend on Arkansas in early April. He adds that Walmart believes attendance will be up in all three areas that they measure: How many exhibitors are registered; how many attendees are registered; and how many attendees have signed up for the classes offered at the expo.
The classes are organized by Walmart, and draw from association, government, business and academic officials. Zettlemoyer-Lazar says Walmart has tightened the focus on the types of sustainability information in the classes, but they present both basic and more-detailed information for all levels of experience among Walmart buyers. She adds that sessions explaining how suppliers and buyers have successfully worked together are among the most popular, and these have been expanded at this year's expo.
Still, Sasine says, they also will focus on getting attendees onto the floor to see the developments displayed by exhibitors.
In a new development, Sasine says, packaging vendors at the expo can take part in Walmart's quarterly sustainable milestone meeting on Wednesday, April 7, through a video uplink. Meanwhile members of the Packaging Sustainability Steering Committee will attend in person at the Walmart home office. Their attendance gives them a chance to hear from Walmart's most senior management what the company has going, its goals and how packaging plays a part, Sasine says.
At the expo, Zettlemoyer-Lazar says, Walmart is concentrating on measuring and quantifying success stories, and making sure those stories are innovative and provide value to our customers. “The focus on sustainability has not changed,” she explains. “What has changed, fortunately, is people's knowledge around the subject and our ability to deliver results.
“The expo brings potential innovations directly to our buyers and product suppliers so they can look at solutions together and pick the top two or three that are most viable to work on,” Zettlemoyer-Lazar adds.
Sasine recalls one project that started at the expo when a group of Walmart logistics personnel were shown an idea. “They began working with a group of suppliers that day,” he reports. “There is no event that gets people inside Walmart thinking more about how packaging relates to sustainability than this two-day expo.”
Three visits to sell idea
Zettlemoyer-Lazar says one supplier came to the expo three times before the right Walmart buyer recognized the opportunity the exhibitor offered. As she recalls it, the exhibitor got better explaining his message and customizing his solution to meet the needs of Sam's Club.
Both Walmart leaders pointed out that suppliers don't have to be major consumer product goods companies to find success at the expo. If you've got an innovation, the sustainability expo is a great place to show it off with just two or three salespeople, says Zettlemoyer-Lazar. Family-owned companies and the little guy can do well at the expo because it's cost-effective, with a low fee compared to a major trade show, Sasine says.
He adds that the simple nature of the expo fits in well with Walmart's slogan of “Save money, live better.”