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How's it going in packaging?

CHICAGO, October 7, 2013 () – After spending some time at Pack Expo late last month and reflecting on other news, it seems to me that on an overall basis the industry is doing well. Headwinds today and on the horizon offer non-trivial challenges to be sure, but there is a vibrancy and energy that evokes confidence in what the industry in total is able to and is delivering.

Another year with record attendance, exhibitor count and square footage in Las Vegas is a strong demonstration of a healthy appetite for information and face-to-face interaction. Aisle traffic was strong each day, and exhibitors I spoke with were generally enthusiastic about the number and quality of contacts they were making.

A solid, but not extravagant 3-day show in the city where everything else is done to excess seems just about right - fewer running machines and the mega-exhibits that are more the province of the sister show in Chicago, and certainly a different scale of investment (time, effort and money) than exhibitors and attendees alike are in for at next year’s Interpack in Dusseldorf.

Topics of discussion and presentation hit recurring and important themes. Clemson University’s Packaging Emporium showcased continuing research into the use of biometrics focused on digital eye tracking to explore how consumers react to packaging. It's a long way from focus groups, and still a lot to be learned, but detecting and analyzing subtle responses offers new insights into that critical moment when a consumer picks out a packaged product from the cacophony of the store shelf.

Clemson and the other colleges and universities involved in education and research in packaging and related disciplines provide not only new, fresh minds to work in the industry, but are also asking the kinds of questions that will lead to insights that will show up in packages in the future. It’s important and valuable for the industry to continue to be aggressive in supporting packaging education.

Exhibits and presentations highlighted new material options and uses, innovative package formats and combinations, package sustainability, convenience of package use, shelf life optimization, ubiquitous digital technology - from the newest hardware and controls for efficient equipment operation to increasingly important social media connection strategies, all with a dash of the changes from mergers and acquisitions.

Not the hype and frenzy of the latest consumer electronics introduction, but solid, meaningful progress in areas that make a difference for consumers every day in the products they buy and use.

Challenges include continuing volatility in food commodities and package raw material pricing, economic uncertainty, package or material bans and fees, and the need to create packages that serve the disparate needs of aging baby boomers as well as millennials.

While not everything is under our control (never was and never will be!), there is plenty we can do to reinforce and grow momentum. Industries and industry segments stagnate when they become less relevant than their competitors. Those that are engaged in continually improving, reinventing and assuring the relevancy of the solutions they provide will prosper.

The good news is that this is a resilient industry, providing a critical element that enables efficient distribution of products that hit every level of Maslow’s hierarchy, from the essential to the frivolous and everything in between. My take from Pack Expo Las Vegas, continuing conversations with colleagues and clients, and tracking innovations is that it’s going pretty well in packaging.

Timothy Bohrer is the owner of Pac Advantage Consulting:

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