18 Min Read
Seeing into the future




The secret about making predictions is that most people don't remember what you said or don't look back at what you wrote. So you are rarely confronted by critics pointing out how wrong you were.

At the very least, predictions are entertaining to read and, at the most, they act as a springboard to new feasible ideas and solutions.

In anticipation of Packaging Digest's 50th Anniversary celebration issue, we invited packaging professionals to submit their best thoughts on what they see as most likely for tomorrow. More than a dozen people responded—from various aspects of the packaging value chain, including brand owners, suppliers and industry associations—with useful tidbits and/or fun musings. See for yourself...

Alan Blake, executive director, PAC NEXT
My prediction for the future of packaging is that people will actually start appreciating the inherent value of packaging and the pivotal role it plays in promoting, protecting and preserving products.


Oliver Campbell, director of procurement, packaging, Dell
Here are my thoughts on the future—defined to 2020—of packaging. The crystal ball says:

• The rapid rate of innovation within packaging will continue and will strengthen. 

• Sustainability focus will continue to grow and will become more embedded in what packaging means. More companies will have defined packaging goals.

• Utilization of agricultural wastes as a preferred packaging material will continue to increase.

• Cross-industry collaboration will increase and become a preferred method to rapid scaling of economics.

Regulation: Look for more extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs. Do you have measurement systems in place to track your packaging?

Social Media: Customers will increasingly use social media to provide feedback and influence packaging. Do you have a process in place to utilize this information and improve?

People: Packaging will be one of the best industries in which to build a career. It's a great place to be!

Supply Chain: Shifts in supply chains, particularly if fuel costs increase, mean a shift to packaging products closer to the end consumer.


Jen Jones, partner, director of design strategy, Sterling-Rice Group
As consumers become less impressed by traditional design techniques like flashy graphics and health icons, companies are going big on innovation when it comes to packaging form. We're calling this trend Fantastic Forms. Fantastic Forms is about brands packaging their products in unique forms that that solve problems, serve consumers' needs and add a new level of appeal to differentiate on shelf.

There is a breakthrough in packaging form design, which stems from the advancement in technology and new packaging materials. We see even smaller brands, like Le Grand pasta sauces, elevating form design using environmentally friendly aseptic pouches designed to look like a glass jar—complete with a metal lid. Coke recently created shareable cans, which split in half to become a literal translation of its "Share Happiness" campaign. 

There is another trend that has evolved from Fantastic Forms and we are calling it From Shelf To Table. New technology is contributing to form innovation, directly relating to consumer behavior. For example, Tropicana's insight about how consumers serve juice led to its new container designed as a pitcher—so the juice goes straight from fridge to table. In other categories like condiments, olive oil bottles are designed in the shape of a wine decanter so they can beautifully accompany dinner. Plum Organics baby food designed a squeezable container that is not only better for the environment, but better for the busy mom who is now freed up while children feed themselves. Of course, Method's beautiful dish soap packaging was on the leading edge of this trend.

Consumers' behavior is changing with new, innovative forms that allow packaging to become a key part of the consumers' experience. As packaging form design continues to progress, we will see more of this trend expressed across all categories.


Nina Goodrich, executive director, GreenBlue, and director, Sustainable Packaging Coalition
The Bioplastic Revolution: 6 Key Areas to Watch

The ability to capture carbon and create materials through sustainable manufacturing pathways provides a glimmer of hope in our ability to build a regenerative economy. 

1. New sourcing options for plant-based raw materials. Sources for plant-based raw materials can come from traditional crops like corn and sugarcane but are increasingly being derived from non-food sources. New technologies have emerged to concentrate the sugars from these feedstocks locally before shipping for additional processing. These technologies are enabling significant cost reductions in these new feedstock opportunities (agricultural waste, forest waste, municipal solid waste).

2. Drop-in polymers. We have seen simple drop-in polymers like ethylene made from sugar cane. Watch for new chemicals and intermediates that take advantage of biological pathways and sugars to create C4 and C6 carbon intermediates and drop-in chemicals from new feedstock sources (PET, Nylon6,6).

3. New polymers/new functionality. Watch for new polymers like PEF made from bio-pathways with superior properties in barrier and performance. Look for new performance opportunities with current biopolymers, like PLA with improved heat resistance, from the industry's ability to produce specific isomers.

4. Hybrid polymers functionality. Watch for new functionality based on blends of biopolymers with traditional fossil fuel polymers. Advances have been made in performance fabrics and flexible material blends. Look for new combinations of materials like algae and traditional polymers to create hybrid landscape fabrics.

5. Hybrid polymer production technologies. Watch for traditional petro-polymers to be enhanced to more complicated chemical intermediates through bio-based processes.

6. Recovery strategy drivers.
• The China Green Fence will force us to learn how to separate our materials and create new local markets. This will open the door for the collection and sortation of new bio-based materials.
• Food waste and cardboard can be used as feedstock for biopolymers. Look for biopolymer recovery strategies to shift towards collection and re-use.
• The ASTM Resin Identification Codes will be expanded to include many new materials.
• Marker technologies will emerge to help with sortation and recovery of all the new materials.


Michael Richmond, vp, Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions
The Big 5: Important Changes Ahead for Packaging

1. Demands on the packaging industry will grow significantly due to rise in the new, global middle class, expected to exceed 300 million by 2017.

2. Innovation in convenience solution, as well as active and intelligent packaging, will drive new opportunities across the value chain. As new technologies are commercialized to meet rising global consumer expectations, packaging costs will come down.

3. Holistic packaging design companies will move from talking about it to actually doing it, involving all functions and resources early and throughout the package development process. Strategic and systematic approaches will be required to deliver cost-optimized packaging in the future.

4. Changes in the retail environment will create new packaging challenges and opportunities. The growth of e-commerce, heat maps and new retail technologies like virtual reality will help drive new opportunities at retail.

5. Managed services grow globally as more manufacturers move to a "lean-and-mean" operating model. With continued growth in retail private brands, more virtual company growth, and large manufacturers continuing to enhance speed to market, we will see the need for value-added organizations to provide outsourced managed services.


Michael Okoroafor, vp-packaging R&D/Innovation, H.J. Heinz Co.
Convenience and on the go are the consumer trends that will have the most impact on how products are packaged in the future—no question about it. But what will drive packaging for the consumer in the future is this issue of affordability. 

Every time we use the word affordability, people think we're talking about things being cheap. That's not what we are talking about. 

Packaging is simply a delivery vehicle for providing consistent quality to the consumer. The most challenging thing is the ability to deliver food to the consumer when they want it, where they want it and at an affordable price. It has to span the entire demographic. It's not just for the affluent or the middle class. It's also for the struggling class. So that issue of creating value in the consumer's mind—value perception—is going to drive packaging and products in the future.

George Misko, partner, Keller and Heckman
What we may expect to see with respect to issues concerning food packaging? Well, I think the fall-out on food packaging will continue along with the fall-out that we are seeing with chemical substances in general. Over the last couple of decades, we have seen more and more attacks on chemical substances as being inherently harmful to human health and the environment—to the point that the word "chemical" has taken on a bad name. 

This has given rise to the precautionary principle, an oft-used, but little understood term, which in turn has formed the basis for much of the thinking behind the European Union's chemical control law, REACH, and its progeny that we can see springing up on other countries and in several states in the USA. Unfortunately, the precautionary principle, and some of the risk management decisions that are being made under the auspices of the laws that have been driven by it, have been perverted by junk science to the point that harm is no longer determined by looking at hazard and the incidence of exposure, but by hazard alone. Thus leading to the scenario that the mere presence of, or exposure to, a chemical substance is considered harmful. And, more unfortunately, packaging is no longer escaping from this evaluative process. 

This can be seen in spades with respect to the bisphenol-A (BPA) disaster of the last few years, in which poorly done, but well promoted science has led to a spate of state laws banning or restricting its use in packaging as well as its deselection as a packaging material by manufacturers, retailers and consumers despite the fact that the two major food safety agencies in the world—the U.S. FDA and the European Union EFSA—have repeatedly found that the trace exposure that may result from the use of BPA in packaging materials presents no undue health or safety issues. 

In the future, we are likely to see similar levels of scrutiny applied to other substances that are commonly used in food packaging materials and even whole classes of packaging components. The attention that mineral oil hydrocarbons are now receiving in Europe is an example of a chemicals substance (actually, a group of chemical substances) that are just beginning to undergo this scrutiny now. Likewise, the attention that printing inks are receiving in Europe is another example of managing risk before the risk is actually defined. 

The endocrine disruptor issue, which has slowly developed over the last 20 years or so, is likely to fully ripen in the near future. And, again, I don't expect packaging to be immune from the attacks. The difficulty with this issue is that the science is still not well understood for all but the most obvious agents, which could lead to chemicals showing only slight ED affects being branded as inherently harmful when that may not be so.

There are so many other areas in which the same types of concerns may arise, from nanotechnology to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to recycled materials, that both the packaging industry and the food and beverage industry will need to be on guard against unwarranted attacks. We will need to think of better ways in which to educate the public and the regulators to understand and act on the basis of sound science. Otherwise we risk continuing the deselection of materials to the point that we adversely affect the food supply by having only less efficacious materials available for packaging foods. 

The need for manufacturers of food packaging materials to be ready with solid science to show that their products are safe will become more important than ever, as will the need to effectively communicate that information.


John Johnston, owner, American Design & Packaging
My background: 53 years in packaging. PMMI chairman in 1983. Hall of Fame, Class of 2000. President of Doboy (now Bosch) for 26 years. I also started four overseas factories for Doboy. 

My predictions? For years, I have been waiting for someone to extrude (or spray) liquid resin onto a product—something like a chocolate enrober—to replace rollstock, bags, blisters and the like.

Also glass-inside-glass detectors (a guy in Germany in 1965 said he had one but no one saw it work).


John Henry, CPP, owner, Changeover.com, and Packaging Digest blogger KC Boxbottom
1. Printable RFID tags: A hybrid of drop-on-demand (DOD) printing—like the Wolke inkjet systems using HP cartridges—and 3-D printing technology will team up to print RFID codes directly on packages on the packaging line.

2. 3-D printing apps in packaging: Printing components at point of use? I could fantasize about some other uses of 3-D printing in packaging. And, for something really exotic, there is work being done with subatomic printing. This takes electrons, neutrons and protons out of air or water atoms and then rearranges them into other elements that can then be arranged, at the atomic level, into any element or molecule desired.

3. More use of inhalable powders as a means of drug delivery. This will result in some innovative packaging designs and new machinery designs.

4. Two-part products consisting of a base plus a colorant, flavor, active ingredient, ....? The bulk of the product, say a 16-oz jar of spaghetti sauce, would always be the same, allowing a dedicated line and inventory. The flavor to make it garlic, Italian herb or whatever would come concentrated.

5. A two-part product as above where the bottles screw together loosely on the packaging line: The consumer screws them together tightly, breaking seals in both bottles and mixing the two parts. I've been awarded the patent on this idea.

6. More mixing of products on the fly, such as the Oden Mass-Blend system. This avoids batch production and allows even more product variety.

7. More use of robotics in all phases of packaging: Robotics being broadly defined here to include what many of us think of as simple pick-and-place or other machine automation.

8. Not sure if it is packaging but I predict more use of robotics in product dispensing. For example, the robotic yogurt dispenser from Yawasakawa that was at Pack Expo or the robotic makeup mixing and dispensing kiosk that I saw a few years ago. See also the Coke dispenser that mixes on the fly to allow the consumer to dispense 70 to 80 standard flavors and millions of other combinations. As the new healthcare law makes labor more expensive and robotics continue to become cheaper, I see more automated dispensing as a means of eliminating people. Perhaps the packaging hook is that bulk packages will need to be optimized for robotic dispensing. The Coke dispenser uses, I understand, something akin to an inkjet cartridge to microdose the flavors. The inkjet cartridge is itself an interesting "package."

9. Overall more mass customization to give consumers more choice.


Andrew Manly, communications director, Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Assn. (AIPIA)
No No Nano?

The whole area of nano technology, particularly where it relates to packaging is, as someone told me recently, "downright scary, but also incredibly exciting." It would seem that nano particles create a similar reaction in people to the dreaded genetically modified (GM) issue, particularly as nano coatings are generally related to materials in contact with food.

So are we all going to turn into green hairy monsters frothing at the mouth or will our hair and teeth fall out from graphene "poisoning"? Well, l don't think so. But since when did the facts need to get in the way of a good scare story? Let's look at some facts anyway.

The European Union (EU) has already approved three nano products for use in plastic food contact packaging: Silicon Dioxide, Titanium Nitride and Carbon Black. The testing is so rigorous that l doubt this was an easy process. But then, l'm not a scientist.

A spokesman for the Nano Industries Assn. (NIA)—who ARE scientists—comments, "The three approved nano materials for food packing shows that nano materials are safe and have passed the strict EU assessment and authorization process." 

From another perspective, major energy savings are being claimed when making plastics film containing some nano chemicals; up to 38 percent has been mooted by no less a company than PET bottle maker and filler Sidel. Can we afford as an industry to ignore that potential benefit?

As far away as the Philippines, they are grabbing nano-tech firmly. One of that country's Science Establishments has come up with a biodegradable food packaging material that protects and extends a food's shelf life while being kind to the environment through the application of nanotechnology. The Nanoclay, its commercial name, is blended with thermoplastic starch made from corn starch to help increase the latter's strength. And it passes the same migration tests as regular plastics.

Plus, we haven't even got to the conductivity and dispersal benefits of inks that use nano particles. Or how Japanese researchers have introduced a new catalytic system for the fast and complete degradation of ethylene using platinum nanoparticles, to inhibit fruit and vegetables from ripening too quickly.

To be fair, the whole nano thing is moving at such a rate and in so many different directions—solar, cancer and other medical treatments, battery designs—that packaging is just one quite small aspect.

But do we, as an industry, want to ignore the enormous potential that graphene and all its cousins can have on the sector just because it's a bit "scary"? I hope not! Certainly let's be careful. But this is one packaging development that is too good to ignore.


Stephen Birtsas, senior manager, Kalypso
I see four trends that are changing the way consumer products companies develop packaging:

1. There will be an increased focus on consumer research as companies strive to develop insights that identify consumer needs that can be met with new packaging innovations.

2. The gap is shrinking between the design and development processes. The increased use of virtualization and simulation tools will reduce the amount of rework and lower development costs by simulating packaging design, materials and function. Virtualization will also use photorealistic mock-ups to simulate package design performance in virtual retail or consumer environments.

3. We will see a reduction of artwork and labeling complexities through enhanced data management capabilities and increased automation of artwork.

4. For the foreseeable future we will continue to see an increased focus on promotional packaging, displays, digital printing and sustainable packaging.


Bill Hornell, managing director, Mesirow Financial Investment Banking
The packaging industry should continue to feature an active merger and acquisition marketplace in Q3 and Q4 of 2013. Strategic buyers have recently accelerated the pace of international acquisitions to address globalization requirements. No doubt this trend will continue. 

Private equity will also continue to play an active role in shaping the packaging landscape. Within the last year, more than a dozen major private equity groups have announced new platform investments in packaging, including The Carlyle Group, Madison Dearborn Partners and KPS Capital Partners. As the packaging industry continues to evolve how it serves its customers, private equity will find new ways to invest in the industry.

John Panaseny, president of Oystar USA
One of the emerging trends will be a continued movement to aseptic packaging for a variety of foods and beverages. Although aseptic packaging has been in existence for many years, developments in both materials and equipment are opening up new opportunities for companies. 

There are many advantages to aseptic packaging over traditional hot fill or cold fill/ retort. For one, the packaging can be lighter weight vs hot fill, such as going from glass or aluminum can to plastics. For example, one of our customers has decided to move all packaging from glass to aseptically filled plastic containers. The major business driver was freight savings via reduction in package weight. 

As food scientists and packaging engineers become more familiar with aseptic technologies, I believe you will see more of it in the coming years. Other advantages include: 

• When less heat is applied to the product you generally have higher nutrient content and often a better flavor profile.
• Longer shelf life. As food companies look at growing their business in emerging markets, the ability to extend a product's shelf life is critical. Additionally, it is often the case that emerging markets do not have the sophisticated cooled supply chains of developed markets.


Carol Gamsby, director of sales, James Alexander Corp.
As a contract packager and custom filler of unit-dose dispensing systems for skin care and topical applications, we serve a niche market. We fill difficult solutions into our crushable glass ampule packages and high-end products into our patented plastic ampule. All our packs are single use. 

We are seeing an increase in new diagnostics for rapid test kits, law enforcement and military reagents. These are products that generally have to be filled into glass ampules for stability issues. A sign of the improving economy, we have four new customers launching products this year, and are working on new packaging for products that will launch next year.


Ward Smith, director of marketing, Keystone Folding Box Co.
The path forward to greater use of compliance packaging has been paved by healthcare reform. Specifically, healthcare reform evaluates and rewards healthcare providers for improved patient adherence. 

Currently, compliance packaging is one of the lowest cost options available to improve patient adherence. Expect to see more compliance packaging in the marketplace in years ahead. Our Ecoslide-RX eco-friendly compliance package, for example, has been adopted by Walmart pharmacies.


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