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Ahead of the 30th Awards for Packaging Innovation, organised by Dow, chair of the judging panel David Luttenberger, global packaging director at Mintel Group, shares his perspectives on the renowned competition and on packaging innovation itself with fellow jury member Tim Sykes.

We will be serving together on the jury at Dow’s innovation award in May. On a personal level, what are the ingredients that excite you about a packaging innovation?

It’s exciting to see the results of what’s being imagined and produced either in response to a consumer need or to proactively tackle a challenge associated with the sourcing, design, production, delivery, use and even reuse of a package. The Dow Awards attract innovations that address needs in developed as well as underserved economies. We see the best innovations that span the gamut from ultra-luxury products to those that meet the day-to-day needs of consumers at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

As a returning member – and leader – of the jury, could you characterise the competition and what distinguishes it from many other packaging awards?

The DuPont Packaging Awards – now the Dow Awards for Packaging Innovation moving forward – celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year. This makes it the longest running, independent packaging competition in the world. There are several key components that have contributed to this longevity as well as the prestige that ‘earning’ – not winning – a Dow Award confers. First, the organisers recognise that our world changes – sometimes overnight and sometimes over a period of years. The criteria by which entries are juried continuously morphs to reflect those changes. Second, the leadership at DuPont and now Dow has boldly allocated significant resources year in and year out to ensure the invited jury represents an extraordinary cross-section of professional disciplines and noted individuals from every major region of the world.

The judging process has also been a hallmark of this event. I’ve participated in many competitions around the world, and I can confidently say that none have a more rigorous judging process than these Dow Awards. The responsibilities of jurors begin before they arrive, with research and evaluation of entries even before the official week of jurying begins. We have seen many competitions cutting costs by going ‘virtual’ and attempting to evaluate packaging via email and PDFs. We know packaging is a highly multi-sensory entity. It is critical to evaluate true innovations in three dimensions: by their hand-feel, the ability to easily open package and access and use a product, to gauge the quality of a package by performing a first-hand forensic analysis of a package’s components. You cannot get that by looking at pictures and more importantly, you don’t get the immediate interaction and spirited discussion as you do by hosting a face-to-face gathering of industry professionals from around the world, sitting together for four days, sharing insights, challenging assumptions, and being able to look one another in the eye and come to a consensus. That cannot happen by judging via email. It’s not fair to the entries and efforts of those who’ve toiled oftentimes for years to bring a significant and meaningful packaging solution to commercialisation.

We’re both familiar with many of the macro trends and pressures that have been driving innovation over recent years. Peering just over the horizon, are there any new drivers of packaging innovation you expect to emerge?

I can point to two specific areas. Certainly, the role that packaging does, and will continue to play in the elimination of food waste is a global challenge, but one that also has regional implications. Think about it like this: food waste means two very different things depending on if one lives, for instance in Paris’ wealthy department of Hauts-de-Seine, or in Bahr el Ghazal, one of the poorest areas of South Sudan in east Africa. We are seeing not just package innovations, but true packaging solutions that are helping people preserve, or simply gain access to, the food, drink, and medicines they need, as well as help prevent waste once they have it in their possession. In this context, I am seeing less emphasis on packaging disruptions, meaning being different for difference sake, and much more emphasis being placed on packaging solutions – those which consumers see as being different, but more importantly, they understand what that difference means to making their life easier, better, safer, healthier.

The two ‘horizon’ trends I, as well as the Mintel Global Packaging Team see, are the challenges of ocean plastics and e-commerce packaging. I truly believe many in our industry are missing the bigger picture and greater opportunities associated with ocean plastics. Rather than focusing on novelty, limited edition bottles made from 10 per cent recovered ocean plastics, our future-forward efforts and resources should be focusing on how to divert them from getting there in the first place. For the foreseeable future, that means a much greater emphasis and consumer education campaigns about recovery and recycling. The greater opportunity I spoke of is in how we use the attention being paid to ocean plastics as a catalyst to engage consumers in a bigger conversation about all types of packaging waste and the positive role packaging plays in our lives today and in the future – to include plastics.

Solutions with regard to e-commerce packaging are proving to be as challenging today as were our first efforts around defining sustainable packaging in the early 2000s. Just as we learned then that there is no such thing as ‘the most sustainable package’, we are learning today there are many areas of focus that can lead to a more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible e-commerce packaging solutions that still reflect the equity of a brand that consumers expect.

What do you regard as the most disruptive areas of packaging innovation that will meet them?

I’ll refer back to my earlier comment, and firm belief, that we must break out of the notion of disruptive packaging innovation and begin to think in terms of product and solutions. Ask ‘why are we developing this product, and how can the product and package work together to make consumers’ lives easier, more convenient, safer, healthier’. Getting to these solutions means we must consider all both ‘traditional’ and ‘next-generation’ materials, and sourcing, distribution, design, converting, retailing, and recovery and reuse options. Nothing is off the table.

Are there any recent innovations in packaging formats or materials strike you as particularly impressive or important?

I believe the quest to develop a truly recyclable barrier flexible packaging material is critical. I’ve seen a few early technologies from the Asia-Pacific region that are great strides forward. I believe that materials suppliers, package converters, and brand owners must take greater responsibility for consumer education efforts in context with the environmental responsibility of packaging. We must stop saying that a material is ‘compostable’ when it is really only industrial compostable, not home compostable. We help consumers gain a greater understanding of what is recyclable and exactly how to recycle. I believe the How2Recycle label is a great first step toward that, and I would mention that the How2Recycle label earned a DowDuPont Award in 2017.

Click here to enter the 2018 Awards for Packaging Innovation. The deadline is 12 April 2018.

A 27-year veteran of the packaging industry, David Luttenberger is currently global packaging director at Mintel Group, Ltd., the leading market intelligence firm serving the global CPG and packaging converter markets. David is the former VP/Packaging Strategist at CEB Iconoculture, and the former director of the competitive intelligence firm, Packaging Strategies. In 2015 he was presented with a DuPont Global Packaging Innovation Award for his work and leadership associated with the DuPont Awards and now Dow Awards, for which he has served as Lead Juror for the past six years.