FPA Annual Meeting Showcases Opportunities in Flexible Packaging
As David Staker, chairman of the Flexible Packaging Association’s board of directors took the stage to open the 2018 FPA Annual Meeting, he made clear that the flexible packaging industry’s strength and growth opportunities were going to be key themes of the event.
“The future of flexible packaging is bright,” said Staker, who is also the president and CEO of Plastic Packaging Technologies. “And the use of flexibles is expected to grow.”
The Annual Meeting, held from March 13-15 at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla., covered an array of top-of-mind subjects in flexible packaging as it continues its rapid growth and evolution.
To kick off the event, the association revealed the winners of its 62nd annual Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards, which span multiple categories including:
- Printing and Shelf Impact
- Packaging Excellence
- Expanding the Use of Flexible Packaging
- Technical Innovation
This year, the Highest Achievement Award, the top honor in the competition, was presented to Plastic Packaging Technologies for its line of “box pouches” it produced for Wells frozen Bunny Snacks ice cream treats. According to the association, these pouches stood out for their high-quality graphics, use of a clear window, and resealable closure.
In addition to the Highest Achievement Award, the box pouches earned Gold Awards in Packaging Excellence and Sustainability, and Silver Awards in Expanding the Use of Flexible Packaging, and Printing and Shelf Impact.
The other Gold Award winners in the Printing and Shelf Impact category included American Packaging Corp., for its Knorr One Skillet Meals pouches and ProAmpac for its Sunrise Growers Organic Cherry Berry Fruit Blend frozen fruit pouch. Over the past year, this flexible pouch has received multiple printing awards, including Best of Show in the 2017 packagePRINTING Excellence Awards.
With the Tuesday night awards ceremony highlighting some of the top flexible packaging achievements from the past year, the remainder of the event featured a variety of speakers who presented a deeper dive into the state of the flexible packaging industry.
Staker’s presentation provided some key statistics that speak to flexible packaging’s strength. Specifically, he said the U.S. flexible packaging industry is an approximately $31 billion industry in terms of total revenue and showed 2.4% growth from 2016 to 2017. He also stated that flexible packaging growth is expected to continue in nearly every market segment.
While the flexible packaging industry is enjoying its position of strength and increasing opportunity, Staker did also point out some key challenges for FPA members to be aware of. Specifically, he mentioned the issue of sustainability and the rise of campaigns targeting the use of plastic. Though consumer negativism toward plastic is certainly a challenge, Staker did explain that this presents an opportunity to improve the end-of-life disposal and recyclability of flexible packaging, as well as increase the awareness of the sustainability advantages flexible packaging provides.
These sustainability advantages were outlined in more detail on Thursday morning in a presentation from Todd Bukowski, a principal with PTIS, a consulting firm specializing in packaging. This sneak preview of a forthcoming report titled “A Holistic View on the Role of Flexible Packaging in a Sustainable World” provided some key insight into how flexible packaging stacks up to some of its competition from a sustainability standpoint.
Bukowski detailed multiple life cycle assessments conducted for the study, comparing the packaging of similar products at similar sizes. In several categories, flexible packaging offered superior sustainability performance. For example, when comparing packaging formats for baby food, a four-ounce pouch with a fitment provided superior performance to a thermoform tub and a glass jar of the same size.
When further comparing the flexible pouch to the glass jar, Bukowski explained the glass jar produced 302% more greenhouse gas emissions. Another eye-opening comparison stemmed from cat litter packaging. A standup bag required significantly less fossil fuel consumption than a barrier carton (504% more fossil fuel consumption) and a rigid pail (1,429% more fossil fuel consumption).
Though Bukowski explained that PTIS’s research revealed flexible packaging’s advantages in fossil fuel usage, greenhouse gas impact, water consumption, product-to-package ratio and material being sent to landfill, there is still opportunity to improve flexible packaging’s sustainability story.
Specifically, Bukowski discussed the importance of increasing flexible packaging’s recyclability, and the advantages the industry could enjoy from aligning flexible packaging with the principles of both sustainable materials management and circular economy. He stated that flexible packaging already aligns very well with the concept of sustainable material management, which focuses primarily on the overall impact of a material. Circular economy meanwhile, focuses specifically on end-of-life of a material, and due to limitations in its recyclability, there is opportunity for certain plastic packages to better align with the circular economy mindset.
“If we can get flexibles to align great with sustainable materials management and circular economy, we can drop the mic and walk away because no other material can do that,” Bukowski said.
Also on the sustainability front, FPA President and CEO Alison Keane revealed steps that the association is taking to combat the negative perception among some consumers of flexible packaging’s environmental impact. Keane provided a sneak peak of a soon-to-launch microsite hosted by the FPA called “Perfect Packaging.”
Keane explained that the site will be geared toward consumer education and will feature information on the sustainability advantages of flexible packaging, along with information regarding recycling. Specifically, she mentioned that the site will provide information on Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), a collaboration of companies working toward a solution for curbside recycling for flexible packaging. Additionally, Keane explained that the Perfect Packaging site will also offer information on in-store drop off programs for plastic packaging recycling.
While sustainability is among the top demands consumers have for products and their packaging, another consumer trend that cannot be ignored is the rapid rise of ecommerce. And when it comes to flexible packaging’s role in ecommerce one of the biggest opportunities appears to be in the food market.
Jonathan Quinn, market development manager for NOVA Chemicals, provided a look at the growth of online food shopping and the role flexible packaging can have in improving the consumer experience.
Quinn explained there are two main segments of food ecommerce — meal kit subscriptions that get delivered to the home and online grocery shopping. The meal kit industry is booming, Quinn said, as companies like Blue Apron, Plated, HelloFresh and many others seek to answer the eternal question of “what’s for dinner?” He cited statistics showing that meal kit subscriptions are expected to be an $11.6 billion market by 2022 and are especially popular in households with children under age 18.
In addition to the opportunities that stem from meal kit services’ rapid growth, Quinn explained there are also opportunities for flexible packaging to improve on how the products are being protected. For example, he cited a research study from Rutgers University that revealed a significant quantity of proteins delivered in meal kits are not fit for consumption once the consumer opens the package.
Keynote speakers from outside the industry provided both an intriguing look at the global economy and an inspiring story of personal triumph and redemption. On Wednesday morning, Vikram Mansharamani, a Harvard University lecturer and author of Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst, provided insight into the current and future state of the global economy and how to be prepared for future scenarios.
On Thursday morning, celebrity chef Jeff Henderson, who has appeared on multiple television shows including “The Chef Jeff Project” and “Flip my Food with Chef Jeff” shared his inspirational backstory. Henderson was sent to prison for 10 years on drug charges, but while he was incarcerated, discovered his love of cooking. After being released he rose through the ranks of high-end Las Vegas restaurants, including Café Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace.
The Flexible Packaging Association will reconvene at its 2018 Fall Executive Conference, to be held Thursday, Oct. 4, at the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile in Chicago, and at its 2019 Annual Meeting, which will run from March 6-8, 2019, at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale, Ariz.