On the final day of Pack Expo Las Vegas, Packaging Strategies editorial director Kristin Joker sat down with PMMI President and CEO Jim Pittas to talk about challenges and opportunities, and how he plans to change what frustrates him most.

PS: With all the ways to share information, why are trade shows still crucial?

Pittas: The more digital we get, the more need there is for face-to-face interaction. People are looking for that. If you look at shows and conferences, in most industries, over the past 2 years numbers are up. Some of them run their course–and you’ll always see that—but there’s a greater need than ever to connect.

PS: Given your background in trade shows, how do you want PACK EXPO to evolve year-to-year?

Pittas: We’re working on something big for 2020 in the west building. I can’t talk about it yet, but I can tell you it won’t be a static display. I think we’re also going to bring the Robotics Zone back because it was such a hit.

PS: What aspects of the packaging industry will be the most profoundly changed in the next couple of years?

Pittas: The big topics are robots, sustainability and e-commerce. I’m going to put cannabis to the side right now but those three are important topics we’re placing an emphasis on.

PMMI is materials agnostic — what we do is offer information but I think the 'war on plastic' is going to be a game changer and a great opportunity for our members. There’s no one in the world who thinks e-commerce is going to go backwards. It’s not just going forward; it’s exploding. It’s completely different to package a product that goes into a carton and gets sent to a retailer versus a product that will go directly in a shipping box. That’s a huge opportunity for our members. We do a lot with contract packagers and CPGs between OpX and IOPP. We are tapped into that group [contract packagers] and they are all talking about e-commerce. We’ve put out numerous studies on the growth of e-commerce and I’m hoping members are taking advantage of the opportunity.

PS: What makes PMMI unique?

Pittas: PMMI isn’t just one thing, it’s many, many things. It’s dozens of smaller communities that comprise one larger group. We offer a lot of studies on vertical [markets] like pharmaceuticals and because they’re focused on one area of business, they’ll find some studies more useful than others.

Groups like OpX Leadership NetworkCPA (Contract Packaging Association) and IoPP (The Institute of Packaging Professionals) allow PMMI to offer specialized information for certain members. In addition to those we have the Packaging and Processing Women's Leadership Network and Emerging Leaders Network. All of these communities make up PMMI.

PS: Are there any challenging topics we need to be talking (or writing) about more?

Pittas: What I get frustrated with is our play in education and bringing in the next generation. We’re spending a lot of time and money and I’m not sure we’re moving the needle enough. We’re trying something now where PMMI will back members regionally who are supporting the industry for example through a tech school. PMMI will offer a $50,000 match to the amount a member contributes. The thinking is if we can grow it a local level, we can make a difference. And we have the PMMI Member Family Scholarship that allows immediate family members or company employees interested in a career in the industry to apply for a $5,000 scholarship. The scholarships are given annually to the top ten applicants. We do this because we figure the people most likely to work in our industry are the family members of the people already in the industry. Quite frankly, we’ll probably shift more money into that because we’ve gotten more applications than we ever expected.

Another thing I hear constantly from members is “we can’t find qualified people,” so PMMI is doing everything we can to support our members in their endeavors. Our International Fund is an opportunity for members who want to try to enter into another market. If they do, we offer $5,000 a year to offset the cost. If they want, we got it but we’re not going to push them to go anywhere they don’t want to go.