During Pack Expo 2019, about 2,000 exhibitors and 30,000 attendees from 40 market verticals gathered in Las Vegas to showcase and discover the “what’s what” and “who’s who” in packaging. With the show’s myriad packaging innovations, new technology solutions—from robots packing for a purpose to new approaches in packaging security—and educational sessions covering trends and product solutions, one thing became very clear: The paper packaging industry has an eye on what’s next.
Here are five trends to watch in the world of paper packaging.
Sustainability Efforts Are Driving Packaging Innovations
Jim Pittas, president and CEO of PMMI, says sustainable action has dominated the packaging industry recently. “This has led to an increased use of recycled materials over the last decade, including recycled corrugated card used in cartons and cases,” he says. “Additionally, packaging suppliers are developing materials that are not only recyclable but compostable and biodegradable and seeking certifications that guarantee their materials meet the specifications for these categories.”
Displays at Pack Expo were full of sustainable paper packaging products made to stay true to the natural properties of paper. Joan Sahlgren, senior director of public relations at the Paper and Packaging Board, says this trend is one of the reasons why it’s an exciting time in the paper packaging industry right now.
“It was clear that companies are innovating in response to consumer demand that products and product packaging serve as part of a solution to preserve the planet,” she says. “Paper packaging companies are innovating at a rapid pace to meet the demand for paper products that can be recycled many times and, in the end, return to the earth.”
The Marketplace Is Craving Natural Packaging for Food
Sustainable packaging solutions will continue to play a big role in food safety, security and the reduction of food waste—prominent topics at Pack Expo. There were food packaging products that solved for recyclability and food freshness and eliminated the need for materials that aren’t as earth-friendly, Sahlgren says.
One exhibitor demonstrating this was Mondi with its perFORMing product, a thermoformable multilayer paper-based packaging material that’s naturally brown without the use of dyes. “PerFORMing provides high barrier properties while reducing plastic use by up to 80 percent compared with traditional shallow trays,” Pittas says. “The substrate can be used for packaging meats and cheeses on food trays, as well as for portion packs and many other applications.”
Learn more about how paper packaging transports food products safely on How Life Unfolds.
Packagers Are Doing More with Less
While walking the floor of Pack Expo, custom-size packing solutions were evidence that the industry is evolving toward doing more with less. “I was struck by the diversity of packaging solutions: custom box sizes and shapes, a wide range of paper packing materials and the beautiful graphics and branding capabilities now available,” says Sarah Meiburg, director of industry outreach at the Paper and Packaging Board. With paper packagers faced with developing sustainable packaging solutions while also meeting consumers’ growing demand for in-home deliveries, Meiburg says it was exciting to experience all the positive energy put into creative solutions to address industry challenges at Pack Expo.
Sahlgren says, “There were packaging solutions that created just-the-right-sized box or case, allowing brands to show off their messages while using this consumer-preferred material [paper], which is also one of the most recycled materials on earth.”
Corrugated Is Getting Creative
It was hard for Pack Expo attendees to miss Clemson University’s booth, which resembled a “tiger’s den” and was created completely of corrugated materials. The booth sat near the top of the convention center’s south hall escalators and enticed exhibitors and attendees to take a closer look at a standing corrugated tiger and animal heads ranging from a dinosaur to a bull—all made of corrugated materials and mounted on corrugated-paneled walls.
“We were able to take a material that is not usually considered decorative and transform it into something eye-catching and beautiful,” says Haley Appleby, lecturer in the Department of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences at Clemson University. Someone who stopped by the school’s booth commented that corrugated could be the next wall paneling material. Though Appleby wasn’t convinced that corrugated wall paneling would catch on as the latest interior design trend, she did say: “I hope we allowed people to think outside the typical corrugated box at alternative possibilities for paper-based materials.”
Automation Is Taking the Stage
During Pack Expo 2019, automation certainly left a mark, perhaps most prominently in the Robotics Zone. There, in coordination with PMMI, “philanth-robots” packed more than 6,000 packages of nutritious snacks for the nonprofit Blessings in a Backpack. But even outside of the Robotics Zone, the exposition was packed with automation innovations and information. Among automation technology’s many benefits on display: helping to further improve upon the material advantages of corrugated boxboard, and allowing on-demand packagers to create more densely packed boxes, reducing waste and saving money. Learn more about how the entire packaging process is benefiting from advances in automation on How Life Unfolds.
For all our coverage from the show, go to How Life Unfolds at Pack Expo 2019.