When I was asked to write a blog about the upcoming PACK EXPO International scheduled for November in Chicago, I began to think about what the show has meant to me over the years. I can’t remember exactly when I attended my first PACK EXPO, but if I had to guess, it would be 1988.

The past 25 years, each show has been the highlight of my work year, not only from a news and technology standpoint, but also because of the tight-knit community. People I’ve met during the show have become essential sources for Food Engineering articles and key business partners. Some have become life-long friends. 

Over the years, I’ve seen many industry changes at PACK EXPO. Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, terms like nanotechnology and sustainability were rarely uttered. During that era, the rise of MAP, improved package microwaveability, increasing equipment speed and decreasing line changeover time were front and center. Later in the ‘90s, automation, software and robotics were top themes at the show. 

The environment-focused era gained traction in the early 2000s. Shortly thereafter, the industry experienced the rise of Walmart’s influence, a development PACK EXPO addressed in 2006 with its first sustainability scorecard meetings. RFID technologies, resealable packages and HMIs also dominated the decade.

I’ve seen PACK EXPO morph into a modern, engaging forum with educational sessions on the show floor, social media interactions and multimedia presentations. I’ve also witnessed the evolution of PACK EXPO in terms of social responsibility, and not just in package reductions or energy-related sustainability. For example, show organizer PMMI recently started a new program called PACK Gives Back. This year’s show will feature a performance by Jay Leno, with a portion of proceeds being donated to K9s for Warriors. Other recent show additions include multiple industry pavilions, the Food Safety Summit Resource Center and a new co-location with Pharma Expo.

Last, but not least, is the change in the show organizer’s tagline—PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. PACK EXPO has grown to include the entire manufacturing process and provides all attendees solutions to processing and packaging challenges.

But the one thing I recall about most PACK EXPO over the years—and this has never changed—is the lively spirit, not just on the show floor, but at after-show events as well. During PACK EXPO International, you can’t be in most restaurants or hotels in Chicago without running into someone you know. The city takes on a small town feeling, and so does PACK EXPO. Though there may be over 65,000 total attendance, PACK EXPO is still a place where everybody knows your name.