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A platform for growth

So you're at a party and someone asks, "If you could only have one book (or one song or one food) on a deserted island, what would it be?" Do you have a ready answer? Many people do. But for those who don't, coming up with something reasonable usually doesn't take too long.

So you're at a business meeting and someone asks, "If you could only have one package format for your product, what would it be?" What then?

It's not that outlandish of a question, despite the fact that consumers still want choice. They want milk in single-serve bottles, family-size gallons and, perhaps, shelf-stable aseptic cartons. They want brick cheese, shredded cheese, cheese sticks and cheese sauce. They want pills and patches, liquid foundation makeup and powder.

Despite all that, you are often faced with the difficult decision of choosing a packaging platform that will define your product, your brand, maybe even your company, for some time to come. You must choose wisely.

And now, with many CEOs scrutinizing and/or limiting capital equipment expenditures, the decision of which package format to invest in for the future has never been more critical.

So when Campbell Soup introduced its Go Soup, Skillet Sauces and Slow Cooker Sauces in stand-up retort pouches earlier this year, many packaging people took notice. Because they realized that such a massive change signaled a significant shift in the acceptance of the flexible packaging platform in the U.S. by a leading company previously married to metal cans.

Was this the tipping point? Where Americans finally, fully!, embrace pouches with all their plusses and minuses?

That's where we've been headed for at least a decade. Flexible packaging growth in the U.S. in recent years has been about double our GDP growth. In the 2012 State of the Industry Report, the Flexible Packaging Assn. projected that sales of flexible packaging in the U.S. in 2012 would reach $26.6 billion, an increase from 2011 of 4.5 percent.

Flexible packaging fares even better globally. In the same 2012 report, the FPA cites the value of the global market at about US$68 billion, or 15 percent of the total worldwide packaging market. The November 2013 report Flexible Packaging Market by End-Use & Material—Global Trends & Forecast to 2018 from Research and Markets sets the 2012 global market value a bit higher at $73.8 billion, and projects it will reach nearly $100 billion by 2018, growing at 5.1 percent from 2013 to 2018.

I recently had two separate conversations with researchers asking probing questions about flexible packaging—the pros and cons from consumer and manufacturing points of view. The direction of their queries revealed a lot of what we might be seeing in the near future. Talk about disruptive technologies with huge potential!

But it sounds like it all will work with the same packaging equipment in use today. Now that's a flexible format that doesn't inhibit innovation. I wonder how much more cereal could have, would have been sold if cereal makers had initially chosen a format other than bag-in-box?



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