Hardly any industry is as dynamic, fast and overcharged as the packaging sector: innovation is moving rapidly with new ground-breaking technologies and materials introduced in a fast-paced environment. Brand development and the need for smart packaging have been driving innovation across a large number of different sectors, making it difficult to differentiate quality from quantity.
Keeping track of all the new ideas and distinguishing between 'good' and 'bad' can become a tough task. But events such as the annual Packaging and Converting Executive (PACE) forum offer some support in tackling this pressing issue.
Organised by Arena International, the event offers some vital information and encourages communication and a collaborative approach to innovation between the international packaging communities.
The seventh edition of the PACE forum took place on 8 to 10 February in London, UK, and brought together some of the industry's key figures from the global fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) field in one single creative space. 2012's event showcased a number of visionary keynote presentations with special focus on sustainability and bio-plastics, with workshops and one-to-one business meetings, showing off a unique forum for packaging industry leaders.
Focus on sustainable packaging
"In the realm of so many diverse packaging events around the world that often overwhelm the packaging professional with their sheer numbers and magnitude, PACE shines by virtue of focus," said Packaging / Brody president and CEO Aaron Brody after attending last year's event.
This focus on key trends of an industry is particularly important in times of the currently difficult current economic climate, which has created a challenging operating environment and redefined opportunities for businesses and competitors. Despite the downturn, companies need to continue to invest in new and sustainable innovations to keep a good balance between commercial needs and environmental obligations.
PACE 2012 made it its main objective to forecast and present some of the key trends of packaging across FMCG to 2020. One of the main developments is the movement towards more sustainability. This, however, does not come without complications as the industry needs to be prepared for the challenges, dilemmas and opportunities in order to be successful in the future.
For this matter, the PACE forum showcased several examples and case studies of the successful implementation of sustainable packaging and its implications for packaging innovation and design. Among the highlights of the event was the presentation of Unilever corporate packaging sustainability director Louis Lindenburg, who talked about strategies behind sustainable packaging.
In his speech, Lindenburg defined ways of how to meet market criteria with packaging in terms of both performance and costs and assessed strategies regarding their sustainability and maintainability. But also, the face-to-face meetings, which make so PACE different from conventional trade shows and conferences, were dominated by discussions and debates about how sustainability can be implemented in a successful packaging model.
Investment in bio-plastics
In his keynote presentation, Louis Lindenburg also talked about bio-plastics and compostable materials as one of the main trends to focus on in the future, with the number of potential applications expected to skyrocket. One of the highlights in the bio-plastic stream was the case study presentation by the Taghleef Industries sales manager Paolo Serafin, who presented winning examples of replacing oil-based packaging films with bio-based and compostable polylactic acid (PLA) films.
Bio-plastics, which are a form of plastics derived from renewable biomass sources such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, pea starch and microbiota, are currently mainly used for trays and containers for fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat, as well as for dairy products and as blister foils. Biodegradable bio-plastics are also often used for organic waste bags, where they can be composted together with the food or green waste.
It is forecasted that bio-plastics will become an increasingly more popular and acceptable choice for packaging applications. This is supported by current developments with major beverage companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, focusing on green versions of their beverage bottles. Only recently, Coca-Cola signed another agreement, this time with research and technology firm Avantium, to develop the next generation of 100% plant-based plastic, PEF.
At PACE 2012, Avantium introduces its YXY technology, which converts carbohydrates into Furancis, the new green building blocks for materials and fuels, using biomass as feedstock - and is also the base for the new green plant-based plastic bottles.
Avantium's CEO Ton van Aken said in December 2011: "Our YXY solution for the packaging industry creates a new bio-based plastic with exceptional functional properties at a competitive price. We believe it is economically viable and has a significantly reduced environmental footprint."
"We have already made bottles with exceptional barrier and thermal properties and our production process fits well with existing supply chains," he explained. "We plan to initiate commercial production of PEF in about three to four years."
The BOX collaboration project
PACE 2012 also saw the packaging firms Blue Marlin, Korsnas, HP, AB Graphics and Esko coming together to create and produce an innovative packaging that housed the PACE seminar info pack. The aim of the collaboration was to showcase how the industry's best practices can be implemented and supported by the latest technology, to drive a more integrated, shorter development process that would pinpoint key areas of packaging innovation.
BM London client consulting director Phillip Stevenson said the project demonstrated the best practices of top industry suppliers working together to drive innovation and produce inspiring and compelling results.
The 'Box' was revealed in a presentation on 8 February, the opening day of PACE. Later at the event, the delegates had the opportunity to hold the box in their hands and follow the creation and manufacturing process in a presentation showcasing the workflow process from conception through to finishing.
The emphasis was on digital, lean manufacturing processes, enabling innovation, combining to produce a unique piece with some outstanding features.
Looking towards 2013
Looking ahead to the upcoming year, PACE organisers take on the topic of the currently miserable economic climate and ask the question if packaging companies can blindly trust their converters and current supplier base.
According to the organisers, there is an increasing pressure to meet the requirements of an ever more sophisticated consumer and to balance them with sustainability and price.
These are some of the issues going to be discussed at the next annual PACE forum, taking place in Prague, Czech Republic, on 13 to 15 February 2013. It will once more support vital communication and encourage a collaborative approach to innovation between the international packaging communities.
Most importantly however, delegates will again have the unique opportunity to hear the stories behind different companies all along the packaging supply chain, as HAVI Global Solutions vice president of innovations Harry Epstein said at the PACE 2012 event.
Upcoming PACE events:
PACE USA, 23-25 May 2012, Miami, US
PACE Asia, 6-8 November 2012, Shanghai, China
PACE Europe, 13-15 February 2013, Prague, Czech Republic