The focus group consisted of executives from Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) companies who noted several challenges and opportunities that are shaping business and the marketplace in general.
Workforce Issues: Good Help is Hard to Find.
From engineering to operations, manufacturers say it's difficult to recruit and retain employees who have the technologies and workplace attitudes they require. Downsizing and the growing wave of retiring baby boomers intensify the need to find a solution.
The report stated that CPGs are coping by asking OEMs to provide training to expand workers' skills; implementing technologies that reduce headcounts and corral costs; co-packing, contract manufacturing and other outsourced production resources to address the issue.
Workforce development is a key concern I've heard from various manufacturers and industry trade groups. Projections show that the need for skilled packaging professionals far exceeds the number of packaging graduates.
"I think the packaging industry is the best kept secret in design and manufacturing," said Jim Higley, professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology at Purdue University, told me at Pack Expo 2012. "There's a bright future for those who go into packaging, but the key is to get students excited about it."
As baby boomers reach retirement age, every manufacturing sector realizes it's crucial to recruit the younger generation to the field. David Palmer, chairman of the Canadian Association of Moldmakers (CAMM), told me at Expoplast that CAMM will have a specialized focus on recruitment in 2013.
"We must get the younger generation thinking about moldmaking," he said. "We need to go to the high school level and college to get kids involved. But we need the big players in the industry to work with us and universities to see how we can rejuvenate the workforce."
Changing Consumer Marketplace: Baby Boomers are Giving Way to Gen Y
Call them "New Millennials," "Gen Y" or "Echo Boomers," but people born between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s make up more than one-third of the U.S. population, and they are coming of age. In fact, demographers are looking at Gen Y as a new baby boom-like generation, and with that, comes high value on convenience, product quality and safety and non-traditional marketplace attitudes and behaviors, significant disposable income, and diversity, the report stated.
This made me think of the surge in popularity for pouches. For instance, Campbell Soup Co. recently introduced several varieties of pouch soups in a range of distinctive global flavors, such as Coconut Curry and Moroccan Chicken, in the hopes of appealing to the younger generation with elaborate graphics.
One analyst for PCI Films told me that research suggests that the 18-to-25-yr-old demographic finds cans "old fashioned" and actually prefers the pouch format.
"There's a real marketing element here and now stand-up pouches are offered in different shapes, sizes and colors; it's just really caught on," the analyst said. "There's huge potential."
Social Media: Network Your Way to the Customers Heart
The battle for consumers' heart and soul reaches online, as social media adds a new ripple to the world of marketing and communications, the report stated. And as Gen Y comes into its own, it's worth remembering that this is the first generation to grow up considering Internet access and cell phones as standard day-to-day tools.
Social media is rapidly becoming a primary method for consumers to learn about and purchase many products, and brands are using social media for reputation management, market research, and as a promotional tool. The plastic packaging industry has taken note of this trend.
At NPE 2012, several plastic companies, both large and small, talked with me about participating in the social media arena.
Steve Trapp, president of custom injection molder Venture Plastics, said he is completely on board with the company pursuing social media.
Trapp said one challenge of working in a specialized market is finding the right avenue to reach its target market. With that said, social media has served as a successful marketing platform.
"We have actually received leads off of our Facebook page," he said. "That made us stop and pay more attention to those mediums."
Operational Reliability: Stay Efficient & Reliable
Participants need machinery to be efficient, reliable and to keep the line going without stoppages that reduce plant performance. In a continuous change environment, customers expect overall, compressed lead times from purchase to delivery; balance between customized designs and in-stock designs, flexibility, speed and ease-of-cleaning; factory acceptance tests to minimize gaps in actual and anticipated performance, efficient, timely installation and start-up procedures; technical support and training, the report stated.
I can't tell you how many product releases we receive that highlight the efficiency of a machine along with compressed lead times. I'm sure we'll receive just as many, if not more, about those kinds of machines going forward.
So there you have it, another list with items to consider in the New Year. Tell us, what do you think will be a key trend that will affect the packaging industry in 2013?