Already one of the world's largest trade shows, Pack Expo Intl./Process Expo in late October eked out 553 more attendees (to 45,741 total buyer attendees) than its comparable 2004 show, 260 more exhibiting companies (2,302 in all) and 21,000 more square feet to eclipse 1.2 million sq. ft.
During the show, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI), one of the sponsors, announced U.S. packaging shipments increased 8.1 percent, to $5.765 billion, in 2005. PMMI predicts another 3 percent sales increase when the current year is tallied.
"Machinery purchasers recognize the benefit of incorporating the latest packaging technology into their lines in order to strengthen their operations," said Charles Yuska, president of PMMI. "Whether the reason is reducing maintenance costs, increasing line speeds or raising productivity, packaging machinery end users are looking for innovation."
And innovation they got at this year's show, which for the first time incorporated the Converting & Package Printing Expo. Four trends the association was promoting at the show were radio frequency identification (RFID), robotics, flexible packaging and brand security.
The three shows are not all about packaging, nor are they devoted to food; there was even a small handful of ingredient suppliers in the Process Expo portion of the show. Here are food-specific highlights:
Microwavable steel can
Combining the perfect delivery system with modern convenience, the Fusion-Tek microwaveable steel can made its debut at Pack Expo, and commercial production begins this month.
It took Ball Corp., Broomfield, Colo., 11 years to develop the technology with R&D cooperation between its Aerospace and Metal Food divisions. Curiously, it was developed using an $89 microwave oven.
The can, which uses recycled steel, has a plastic bottom. Microwave energy passes thru the plastic end, creating an antenna, and the food inside heats evenly in 2-3 minutes to 170°. It also has an easy-open top end and plastic cap. When it was tested with consumers, they knew instantly it was a microwaveable product because of the plastic cap. Designed by Stull Technologies, Somerset, N.J., the cap has an audible click when it's locked.
Ideal for soups, stews, vegetables, baked beans, the 15-oz. single-serve can (Ball can make other sizes as well) is convenient, microwaveable, safe to the touch after heating, contains a foam label and is 100 percent recyclable. Fusion-Tek cans are designed to run on existing steel can filling lines, and are packaged, stacked, shipped and stored like steel cans. Fusion-Tek has the same shelf-life (18 to 24 months) as regular cans.
"Innovation costs money, so it should create value," says Michael Vaughn, Ball's vice president packaging innovation.
"Creating a sustainable future: Growing the bioresin market in a greening economy," one of the technical sessions, was sponsored by NatureWorks LLC (www.natureworksllc.com), Minneapolis.
NatureWorks is one of the founding members of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which promotes a "true cradle-to-cradle system for all packaging."
Dennis McGrew, president and CEO of the Cargill Inc.-owned company, made a strong case for the increased use of polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastics. PLA is a plastic suitable for food packaging derived from "abundant, annually renewable resources like ordinary field maize."
McGrew presented "four critical areas related to growing the market for a new bio-based material:"
- The growth of corporate social responsibility not only as a corporate value, but as an economic decision as well.
- The global greening consumer - a very powerful emerging trend.
- The importance of collaboration through the supply chain to facilitate market adoption.
- The importance of listening to many voices for the ongoing issues that will need to be addressed as the bioresin market grows.
In his introduction, McGrew quoted Sunny Misser, PricewaterhouseCoopers' Global Leader of Sustainable Business Solutions: "Sustainability has moved from the fringes of the business world to the top of the agenda for shareholders, employees, regulators, and customers. Any miscalculation of issues related to sustainability can have serious repercussions on how the world judges a company and values its shares."
PLA packaging is a key part of the sustainability equation. When used in food packaging such as clamshell containers, bottles, cups and disposable cutlery, PLA provides a strong, durable alternative to petroleum-based products. It also can be manipulated for application in flexible films, wrap products and labels - all without using toxic or petroleum-based chemicals that would persist in the environment. When composted, PLA breaks down completely in about 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the environmental conditions.
Attendees at the show had the chance to pick their favorite package from among 15 on display as part of the Pack Expo Selects competition. All were developed, designed, converted or produced by Pack Expo exhibitors.
Winner was Beneful Prepared Meals dog food, which was developed by Alcoa Packaging, Hans Rychiger AG, PDC International Corp., Orics Industries and Printpack Inc. The other top four packages, in order, were: Meow Mix Select Cup, Lipton Green Tea to Go, Simpads (a packaging cushion) and Cool Java.