One great ice-breaker among food and beverage industry execs is to talk about the calls they’ve received from people who want to break into the business. I’m sure you and/or your colleagues have fielded them; magazines get them, too. I’m talking about the guy whose mother-in-law makes this great beef stew, and it would sell like wildfire if they could just get it into the supermarkets.

One guy, an ops manager for a manufacturer of private label sauces and condiments, told me about one such call from a woman who wanted to market her spaghetti sauce. She wanted a machine that could fill the jars, label them, cap them and put them in cases. And, oh yes, this machine couldn’t cost more than $200.

“I’ll take one of those myself,” I told him.

“Hey, I was impressed-at least she knew these were all things she’d have to do,” he laughed.

Machinery suppliers probably feel as though that lady is now head of procurement for their major customers.

Packaging equipment is called upon to fulfill more roles than ever, some of which are contradictory. It has to be fast, yet versatile; it has to be robust and have a high capacity, yet not take up too much room; unique and customized, yet plug-and-play; sophisticated, yet operable by workers with low education levels and/or English proficiency.

Luckily, machinery manufacturers are on the case. Or the carton. Or the bottle.

In this year’s Packaging Machinery Design Gallery, you’ll find guides to some of the most advanced packaging equipment available. It also has rundowns on the latest in motors, robots and other fast-evolving technology.

So dive in. You won’t find anything that can solve all your problems for $200, but you might find some help you weren’t expecting.F&BP