Dr Joseph Hotchkiss
About: Dr Joseph Hotchkiss - Director, Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability, Michigan State University

Packaging directors should be open minded and literally think outside the box, advises Dr Joseph Hotchkiss, Director, School of Packaging & Director, Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability, Michigan State University. “They should think about packaging in a much broader sense. The most far-reaching ideas will be the winners in the marketplace,” he adds.

1. What is the packaging world struggling with today?

There are many competing needs to address. Executives want the packaging of their products to be sustainable and environmentally friendly, while maintaining performance and being cost efficient. They are trying to balance between efficiency, differentiation and consumer satisfaction. As they remove materials, they risk damaging or wasting products. Those who find the sweet spot between these competing needs will win in the marketplace.

2. What are your criteria for designing packaging?
We consider several things. First, the package has to contain the product, even for long distances. In this globalised world, products are getting shipped halfway across the world and they must arrive in their optimal condition.

Packaging should also protect the product and help people use it. Consumers want packaging to interact with them, they want to understand and use products easily.

3. What innovative packaging solutions do you see making an impact in the marketplace?

The current trend is to use standard polymers made from biological sources, which we are going to see a lot more of in the next five to eight years. Over the decade, we will also see new materials, such as polymers made from biological fermentation, biopolymers from microorganisms, nano and soya materials in packaging. There is a whole new world of materials that packaging directors have to keep abreast of and try to understand.

On the consumer side, there will be a number of developments, with unique ways to open and reseal packaging, and containers that dispense products easily. In industrial packaging, we will see returnable containers with RFID embedded in them, so I expect advancements in reverse logistics technologies.

4. How can the industry be more innovative?

Most companies build an appliance then consider a packaging system for it. The industry must literally think outside the box. Why shouldn’t the package be a part of the product? Why shouldn’t product and packaging be integrated, and get build as one unit?

There are dozens of trends that are going to develop, driven by cost, performance and functionality. I think it is exciting times to be a part of the packaging world.