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Improving economy should help packaging industry

There is a direct correlation between the ups and downs of the economy and the sales trends associated with the packaging manufacturing industry. At least that is what the figures suggest, according to Andrew Duguay, who is a senior economist with the Institute for Trend Research in Boscawen, NH.

In January, Mr. Duguay was featured in an economics outlook webinar presented to the membership of Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, which is a trade association of more than 600 member companies that manufacture packaging, strawberryclamshellClamshells are one of the top packaging options for the produce industry, and most customers want clamshells made from recycled PET. (Photo courtesy of Kurt Zuhlke & Associates Inc.)processing and related converting machinery in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The economist said that, going back decades, industry sales mirror almost exactly the high and lows of the economy.

From 2008 to 2011, packaging equipment sales was down. In 2012, the industry saw a significant rebound. Mr. Duguay predicts the same for the first three quarters of 2013. He expects an economic downturn during the last quarter of this year that will spill over into 2014. But by 2015, he is predicting another robust economic year, which again, should lead to packaging innovations across the board.

The innovations are in many areas of packaging but one area most visible in 2012 that should continue throughout 2013 is advancements in the actual labels on packaging.

In another recent PMMI webinar, Donna Ritson, president of DDR Communications LLC in Lindenhurst, IL, said label choices are increasing almost exponentially as suppliers look for ways to differentiate themselves in supermarkets and other stores.

She said one of the mottos driving innovation is “cheaper, faster, better.” Companies are looking for equipment that can label product faster and less expensively. One place that has manifested itself is in the development of thinner labels. She said suppliers are looking for the use of materials that can create a very thin label. That typically means less cost and less waste, which plays right into another trend.

Ms. Ritson said using recyclable material on the label is a very important trend as it plays to the green movement, which consumers support. “Consumers want more eco-friendly packaging and labels,” she said. “This is definitely being driven by consumer demand.”

Not only do they want their container — such as produce clamshells — made from recycled PET, but they want the labels made from biodegradable materials as well. She said one product currently being tested is a soy-based material. Other tree-free materials are also being tested, including one made from ground stone.

In general, Ms. Ritson said these labels tend to be in limited supply and don’t work as well for high-volume products. In fact, she said they are better suited for gourmet specialty items. She indicated that specialty food could be a great fit.

Another label innovation perfect for food and fresh produce is the peel-back label. Ms. Ritson said this allows suppliers to add more data to a label, including recipes and nutrition information.

Another high-end labeling idea just beginning to surface utilizes foil-based labels. The packaging expert said this is a high-cost option and only makes sense for smaller runs of specialty or gourmet products.

Still another innovation involves using thermographic inks. Currently this innovation, which results in color changes due to temperature sensitivity, has been used successfully by a beer manufacturer. In that instance, the label allows the customer to know when the beer is at the right temperature for consumption.

Ms. Ritson said that these inks might be used on labels to verify cold-chain integrity in the not-too-distant future. She believes a label could be developed to turn a specific color if the cold chain is broken.

Ms. Ritson said other trends affecting label innovation include food safety, smart phones and supply chain traceability. Each of these areas includes putting more information on the label for the consumer. The new food-safety law requires additional information about food allergens. With so many people carrying smart phones, Ms. Ritson said more and more suppliers want to communicate with those customers through the use of QR codes or other similar readable information on the label. And of course supply chain traceability includes the use of codes and other information on the label for increased transparency.