It’s a month after the completion of the Pack Expo Int’l (PEI) trade show, and I still haven’t unpacked all the story leads from my notebook. But for now I wanted to unpack a few observations for a show that I’ve been attending since circa 1986.

In short, it was a terrific show, a throwback to the good old days earlier in the decade when business was bustling. Maybe the excitement I felt this year was the pent-up optimism that had been dampened by the recession clearly reflected at the 2009 Pack Expo Las Vegas.

That’s why, as a Baby Boomer, I thought of the old Ed Sullivan Show, where Ed regularly promised the audience that “We have a really big show [pronounced “shoe”] for you...” and then delivered with a lineup that included Elvis or The Beatles. 

Back to 2010: PMMI president Chuck Yuska and the entire PMMI staff did a bang-up job in delivering a really big show in grand Sullivanesque fashion. The headliners were the hundreds of exhibitors demonstrating the best of packaging in 2010.

The welcome return of optimism

Exemplary of the optimism was this comment from Terry Zarnowksi, director of sales and marketing at Schneider Packaging Equipment Co.: “We ‘ignored’ the recession-our business has grown the last three years. There is pent-up demand from research and development, and that is really starting to break free.”

Various takes on “pent-up demand” and “customers are in a buying mode” were heard widely during the show. Machinery installs are picking up, especially throughout Latin America. A number of managers cited new and upcoming projects in various areas throughout the region.

And there remains opportunity in the “mature” North America market. “Demand is so great in North America that we’re expanding capacity to a second site for manufacturing our vertical form-fill-seal machines,” said John Spears, national sales manager, VFFS, for the HayssenSandiacre div. of Barry Wehmiller.

Packagers continue to react to the ever-constraining pressures of time and space. “Customers are asking us to get ink-jet units off the floor and mounted on a shelf,” said Peter Ryan, senior application support engineer, Videojet Technologies, on floor-space pressures for units that have a footprint of less than 2x 2 feet.

The innovation and change surrounding sustainability definitely has legs, reflected in a few comments from the show that I found of interest:

“We use to see stacks of pallets that were 80% brown and 20% clear in customers’ warehouses. Now we see 20% brown and 80% clear.”
-Lantech chairman Pat Lancaster, referring to a sustainable-driven move away from corrugated cases.

“The standard seal width in this market used to be a 12-millimeter seal, then it was nine, and more recently it is down to seven, though now we’re seeing six millimeters.”
-Michael Green, vice president at tna Americas div. of tna Solutions, regarding the shrinking seal widths on bags as packagers drill further down into material savings.

"We have engineers on staff who help us 'connect the dots' in sustainability."
-Target Stores' Kim Lymn, senior manager, packaging

“It’s amazing what people will do for $25.”
-Ellen Iobst, senior vice-president, manufacturing and technology, Sunny Delight Beverages Co., talking about employee incentives for the company’s sustainability program.

I’m encouraged that the momentum from this year will continue, which bodes well for the whole industry. We’ll recheck the industry’s pulse at Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011, when I expect that the only thing heading downward in late September will be the leaves.