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Reinventing food and beverage packaging: Spilling the beans in New Orleans

Reinventing food and beverage packaging: Spilling the beans in New Orleans
Food for thought: New Orleans event tackles the evolving food and beverage packaging industry.

New Orleans is arguably a food magnet in the USA. It is the Mecca of Cajun cooking, spicy stews and rich cross-culinary fare. It is also the birthplace of Jazz, along with a reigning tradition of festivals and celebration, including Mardi Gras.

But this spring, New Orleans is serving up a different fare—food for thought.

For two days in May (9th and 10th), some of the industry-leading professionals, technologists, academics and advocates are gathering to brainstorm the evolution of the food and beverage industry. The two-day convention is called Reinventing the Food and Beverage Industry:Driving the Next Generation Excellence and will be held at the Hilton New Orleans Airport hotel.

The idea was conceived by Chicagoan Dan Balan, a prominent supply chain expert and corporate transformation leader, who is also heads Fastraqq Corp. Earlier, he prognosticated the remaking of the global packaging industry, along with its impact on several dependent industries that make up the economy. To drive the next generation learning, he created the Packaging 360 Leadership Program, available through the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP). This convention is an example of how various industries are remaking themselves, and the underpinnings that drive the next evolution.

Dan Balan

Packaging Digest sat down with Balan to discuss.

Why is the food and beverage industry undergoing massive change?

Balan: The creative destruction that we saw in the digital world in replicating itself is fanning across multiple industries, food and beverage being one of them. There is a set of concurrent forces acting all at once on the industry itself:

• The recomposition of the market now includes Millennials and an aging population.

• The intersection of health, wellness and fitness—with the food and beverage industry—is spawning a series of innovations that further segment the mass market.

• The evolution of Big Data and information systems is creating knowledge-based ecosystems.

• The growing ethnic population is also engendering its own culinary microcosms.

• Packaging innovations are creating new market spaces and challenging the traditional mold and mindset.

• A raise in supply chain consciousness is impacting the trajectory from concept to shelf.

• Finally, the rising chorus of sustainable business and health advocacy groups is shifting the ramparts of the industry.

What are some elements of change?

Balan: The elements of change are greater transparency in the supply chain from original supplier to final customer with traceability and track-ability throughout. The need for truer ingredient declaration will become a required business practice. The pressure to innovate in an integrated manner will bring products, markets, customers, brands and value closer together.

Companies will have to relentlessly leverage the power of packaging to exploit white spaces in the market. The issue of sustainability will ascend to a corporate function versus a series of mis-coordinated, unsupported attempts. Sustainability will come to mean sustainable business with proactive participation from suppliers, retailers and other stakeholders.

Finally, the biggest element of change is for an organizational shift that embraces the business, the customer and the marketplace first, and then only the functional requirements to satisfy the needs of the business.

Who should attend and why?

Balan: It is first and foremost for business and industry professionals. Regardless of your functional area, building correlational understanding of the business has become a dire necessity. This convention will propel your opportunities and prospects. Further, your level of learning the entire industry will be unmatched. If you are in food development, brand management, manufacturing and operations, sustainability, packaging design and development, or business development, then this convention is the place to be!

Who else will benefit from the conference?

Balan: Both academics and students in their respective and diverse fields. Academics will benefit because the two days will stimulate their imagination, open up research possibilities and enable them to network with industry professionals. They will be exposed to the cross-functional aspects of the entire industry, which will broaden their academic footprint.

If you are a student in food, nutritional sciences or packaging, this is a golden opportunity for you to quantum leap your learning, network with industry executives and get a head start in your profession. In only two days, you will have an immersion that will skyrocket your understanding of the different facets of the food and beverage industry.

You are bringing all the key driving elements of what can change in an industry. Is this unique to food and beverage or even other industries?

Balan: The elements that drive change in an entire industry are pain points and pressure points, coming from tier suppliers, tier customers and all other intermediaries in the value chain. Irritation causes innovation.

But there are also discontinuous technologies that drive agility, efficiency, collaboration and speed of response. And there are macro-forces that impinge on the industry itself.

In the case of food and beverage, it is the health advocacy, the need for ingredient transparency and the social responsibility of manufacturers. In the case of the digital world, the need to bring voice, data, music, photography, news and communication—all on a single platform—became a necessity. In pharmaceuticals, a similar shift is happening with the power of informatics, mobile technologies and more vigilante patient care.

You are also raising social issues and advocacy initiatives as an extension of the industry. What specific targets do you have in mind?

Balan: First and foremost is battling food and material waste. Waste occurs in multiple forms. From raw material to finished goods to packaging materials and their disposability, waste is pervasive.

At the convention, we will have an expert panel to discuss how we can counter—at a systemic level—food and material waste, and what creative possibilities exist to battle this global phenomenon. Obviously, this will require participation, social responsibility and commitment from a number of constituencies. But I do believe the time has come for food and beverage companies to act in ways that benefit communities and citizenry in a symbiotic manner.

Of all the industries, the food and beverage industry can create a pervasive global impact, and that is an issue that will be addressed in New Orleans.

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