Six Essentials To Managing Packaging Innovation

“Your goal as a packaging professional is to develop innovative packaging solutions that empower the developers to provide new product offerings.”

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There's been an awful lot said and written lately regarding packaging innovation. Everyone is in favor of it. Everyone wants more of it. But, how do you start to take those first steps toward creating an organization, much less a culture that supports packaging innovation?

1. Partner early and often. When attempting to shift an organization from a mindset of “business as usual” to one that is constantly looking to shake things up and push innovative ideas, it is critical to partner early on in the process. Who should I be partnering with? It's simple. You want to build as many alliances in the process as possible.

2. Start with your sales/marketing partners. In most organizations, this is the team that is closest to your consumer. Partner with them to conduct research to gain critical insights into what's working and not working with your packaging, identify emerging marketplace trends, and ensure alignment with their business strategy. Everyone within an organization should be constantly monitoring the marketplace and interfacing with their customers. These guys live it day in and day out.

You'll need to partner with your operations and purchasing counterparts. If brought in the loop early, they can provide feedback that could negatively impact the business if ignored until later in the process. If they can't economically produce your innovation, it doesn't matter how good it is or how many consumers or customers want it. If you want to make your innovation reality, you have to be able to manufacture it efficiently.

Don't forget to involve your product developers. Whether you're packaging food, cosmetics, chemicals or furniture, there are aspects of the product that can only be adjusted if you're talking early. Your goal as a packaging professional is to develop innovative packaging solutions that empower the developers to provide new product offerings.

3. Build a toolbox. One source of frustration for packaging professionals is being expected to innovate under increasingly tight time constraints. The relationships that you established will facilitate your becoming involved much earlier in the development process.

If you wait to begin the innovation process until the business comes to you with a new product idea, you will always be behind the eight ball in terms of being able to provide innovative solutions. You need to assemble a toolbox of packaging solutions that have been screened for feasibility and are in development before the business team is screaming for an innovative solution for their hot new launch.

4. Innovate—strategically. One of the keys to assembling that toolbox it to focus your team's efforts. Sending everyone off to “innovate” will yield a lot of creative ideas, but make it hard to bring any of them to market effectively. Innovation needs to be driven by your established business strategy—embrace that strategy, then be creative. That's why the partnerships that you've established with your business partners are so important. Based on consumer input, customer feedback, and competitive analysis, you need to prioritize your efforts. Are your consumers looking for products that are easier to dispense? Are your competitors providing features that you aren't? Are your customers concerned with the sustainability of your packaging? Is your market seeing a trend from rigid toward flexible packaging? Know where you want to innovate before you start.

5. Build supplier relationships. Once you know what you're looking for, you need to find the right suppliers. While it's intuitive to constantly be scanning the packaging industry for new ideas that fit your strategy, don't forget that one of your best sources of innovative solutions can be your established packaging supplier base. These suppliers are already invested in your business and have an interest in your success. As your business grows, so does theirs. Engage your key suppliers in your strategy. You need to focus their R&D efforts as much as your own.

6. Share the ideas. The last step in the innovation process is communication. You've engaged all of the players that need to be involved up front, established your priorities, and filled your toolbox with a multitude of new innovative packaging technologies; you need to ensure that your ideas are shared. Your communication strategy can be as simple as conducting regularly scheduled reviews with the key decision makers or as complicated as developing an innovation database that tracks incoming technologies. Whatever the process, you need a formalized review and prioritization process to get your ideas heard.

So the next time you're talking innovation, don't forget the basics.

About the author: Jane Chase, CPP, is vice president of packaging R&D for U.S. Foodservice, Rosemont, IL. Jane is also IoPP's executive vice president of education. Her undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering from Marquette University, and she has an M.S. in engineering management from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.