All participants remain anonymous, but we are grateful for their generous decision to share insights with their peers. And we asked permission to share some of their comments with all our readers. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that a lot of critical packaging issues are pretty universal.
Sustainability top of list
Most of the interviewees mentioned that exploring sustainable packaging options are on their radar, and any information in case histories or innovation reports is valuable, even outside the pet food industry.
“We want to be sustainable for all of our packages by 2030. The majority of products we launch with currently are not sustainable,” said one pet food producer. “I see that as a challenge. I think we can always use better info on how you get a material approved as recyclable in the U.S.—it’s quite a confusing route. It’s difficult to navigate and it’s changing, too. Developing so fast and yet not fast enough and we need more clarity around that understanding maybe. It is always great (reading in a magazine) the way a company has taken a route to sustainability and how they’ve addressed some of these challenges and working to convert materials.”
Another pet food packager said, “Our biggest focus right now is sustainability with packaging. We’ve done a lot to be better about ingredients and management of raw materials through the years. And now it’s time to focus making things so they don’t go back in the landfill. You look at some of our products packaging … and it’s not really readily recyclable. That’s a real question now to be able to do something about that.”
While the hunt for sustainable materials is happening more and more with changing consumer demand, impact of this shift on packaging machinery and operations remains a key interest. With changes in materials sometimes comes need for modifications, adjustments or replacements of equipment. “Right now there is a big push to go to all recyclable plastics, so I’m always on the lookout for any type of new equipment or programs out there to help us with these things.”
|Read this story about dog and cat food packaging market share.
Another interviewee added, “…when you are building a line, you think about capital equipment cost. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The other part is all of the supporting equipment and packaging equipment maintenance that goes with it. A huge part those things need to be pinpointed before you can make any decisions on whether to pursue. So, it would be good to know what overall equipment needs look like to handle a new material.”
Some pretty sophisticated operations
Some of the pet food processors and packagers we talked to were from larger companies with global parents. “We’re doing a lot of remote monitoring already. I don’t think there is anything we feel we’re lacking. We have quite a bit of access on HMIs that can be sent to you on a computer...really easy to just click over when you get an alert and see if it is pressure or temperature or whatnot. We’re a pretty new facility. We’re lucky we have where it is so easy to get a quick snapshot for trouble shooting.”
Pain points in packaging right now? One reader responded, “Managing changeover speeds. We’re always trying to get more efficient. And getting “first-time-right issues” nailed down.
Logistics and impact on pet food packaging
And what about issues related to warehouse and logistics? “Trying to get end of line to connect to warehouse and end of line to ERP is a big interest, so seeing case studies (covering that topic) could be useful. We have WMS and ERP and they’re not necessarily standard, which makes it challenging. I’d be most interested where it’s interfacing automation and end of line with the warehouse management system.”
“Packaging lead time is a big one,” said another participant. “Both because we have a lot supply chain issues that we’re aware of and because of the difficulty of getting your raw materials, because they are overseas. I’d say supply chain and lead time are our biggest pain points.”
|Read this story about the global pet food market.
Different from readers in other industries we talk to? Not so much. But it’s great to see the pet food market following similar trends—adopting sustainable materials and the effect on existing machinery, some robotics and automation, particularly within new facilities, and finally, the impact e-commerce and logistics are having on the pet food industry.
Learning from both large and small firms
One last interesting observation, while pet food readers like to compare their operations directly to similar-sized companies to get a better feel for where they are at in relation to the peers, most agree that there are lessons to be learned from both large and small firms. “It doesn’t matter to me if it‘s a big brand or not, it’s all about whether its pertinent. The problem we have though with many things is (if it isn’t a big brand), Is whether it is scalable. Often it isn’t. But it does get you thinking, if we did this a bit different, would it work? Sometimes it stimulates you to think about something differently.”