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unPACKed Podcast: Why PACK EXPO International?

Hear PMMI Vice President, Trade Shows Laura Thompson remind everyone of the crucial role the in-person PACK EXPO International experience plays in packaging and processing.

When PMMI closed the curtain on PACK EXPO International 2018, nobody thought it would take four years to return to Chicago’s McCormick Place. This unPACKed with PMMI podcast welcomes PMMI Vice President, Trade Shows Laura Thompson to remind everyone exactly why the  PACK EXPO International 2022 in-person experience is essential to the global packaging and processing community. Thompson covers all of the PACK EXPO staples and takes a deep dive into a laundry list of new features making their 2022 debut.

To subscribe, rate, review, and find more unPACKED podcast episodes, visit pmmi.org/podcast or find us on Apple podcasts, Spotify or iHeart Radio.

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   Read the full transcript below.

Sean Riley:

So with all the fancy introductions out of the way, welcome back to the podcast.

Laura Thompson:

Hey Sean, thanks for having me.

Sean Riley:

Oh, the pleasure is all ours. So it’s been four long years. It’s probably the longest spent not having an international in decades. So I guess just to kick this off, can you refresh everyone’s mind on what sets PACK EXPO International apart as the premier packaging and processing event?

Laura Thompson:

Sure. I have to say, Sean, we’re so excited to get back to Chicago; as you said, it has been a while. What makes PACK EXPO so unique? It is truly the depth and breadth of the show. We have over 2000 exhibitors who have solutions for almost every market. So we’re able to provide so much in one area over these four days of the show. And it truly is the meeting place for the entire industry. In addition to all these exhibitors providing all of these solutions, we have a huge education program and we also have over 30 industry partners. These are industry associations from a variety of different markets that are supporting the show. And in addition, there are over a dozen of them holding their events at the show, whether it’s a reception for their members or a conference, it runs the gamut of the different things being offered at the show. So it truly is the meeting place for the industry.

Sean Riley:

Yeah. And especially after all this time away. And we did. We’ve had Vegas in the meantime and PACK EXPO East, which were both very successful, but this is kind of the flagship that’s really going to bring everybody back together once again, to kind of get together in person and do business, which is what we’re really, the trade shows are kind of built around. So I guess with that in mind, how about some specifics, like say I’m in healthcare or candy or something, and I’m looking for a particular package that I want to package, or maybe I work for a food processor. How’s the show going to specifically serve my needs?

Laura Thompson:

Sure. We have a variety of resources for people to use before they come to the show. They can go online to the website or our mobile app and search by specific product or industry. We also have targeted show floor destinations, which make it very easy for people to find specific solutions. We have the Healthcare Packaging Pavilion. The Processing Zone makes its return this year. And it’s actually the largest it’s ever been. We’re really excited to see how that pavilion has grown. We have a brand new Logistics Pavilion to address a lot of the fulfillment and distribution logistics needs of attendees. And then four more. I know I’m rambling a little bit Sean, but,

Sean Riley:

No, we have tons of pavilions. We have to talk about them.

Laura Thompson:

I know. We have seven of them. On top of the ones I’ve already mentioned, we have the Package Printing Pavilion, the Containers and Materials Pavilion, the Reusable Packaging Pavilion, and the Confectionary Pavilion. And again, these are a great place to start if you’re looking for a specific solution or a specific industry, they’re a good way to help you segment the show floor and get started.

Sean Riley:

Yeah. Because it’s overwhelming if you just walk in, because we do get so many people who haven’t attended before or clearly haven’t been there at least four years. So it can be overwhelming. So having something like the Healthcare Packaging Pavilion, if you’re coming from the healthcare sector, at least gives you somewhere where, okay, I’m going to start here and then I can kind of branch out to the rest of the floors. I know we used to have healthcare packaging separate. I like that we’ve brought it back as a pavilion and have it more organically in the show floor because so many other industries cross-pollinate with their machinery that kind of ties into healthcare. Plus we had other members and other exhibitors as the regular part of PACK EXPO who touched on healthcare. So it kind of brings everything back together. What other new things have we done in 2022 that we haven’t really done in the past?

Laura Thompson:

We have, speaking of the Processing Zone, we’ve added a Processing Innovation Stage on top of our other Innovation Stage programming. We have our new PACK to the Future exhibit at this show. We made a smaller debut in Vegas, and this will be a huge exhibit showing the history of packaging, essentially the past, present, and future. We have several exhibitors who are participating over 30 historical machines, one of them dating back to 1894. So it’s very interesting to see the industry's evolution and look forward. As part of that, we have the PACK to the Future stage, where we will have a lot of thought leaders and forward-looking presentations.

Laura Thompson:

We have the new Emerging Brand Summit. That will take place on Sunday, the first day of the show. And that is targeted to people trying to scale up their operations. They’re very new, they’re emerging brands looking to get started in the industry. It provides very targeted content and access to solutions for that group of people. And as I said, we also have a lot of new partners that we’re working with on the show and we’ve launched our industry Speaks stage where these associations will be sharing their thought leadership about current hot button industries for their specific industries.

Laura Thompson:

And there is just, there’s a lot of new things. And on top of this, I’d like to talk about some of the student programs that we’re doing. As you know for PMMI, it’s very important to invest in the future of the industry. And we’re so excited that we’re launching our first machine building competition for students. It’s called PACK Challenge. There is going to be six teams participating and it’s located in front of the west building. I hope everyone that’s coming to the show can check it out and come talk to some of these students. We also have the Future Innovators Robotics Showcase, and we have the Amazing Packaging Race. So there’s a lot of new things. We’re also bringing back a lot of programs that we’ve had in the past, as I said to really kind of bring the industry together and looking at not only at those who have been in the industry for a long time, but focusing on the people who are new and up and comers to introduce them to the show and everything the industry has to offer.

Sean Riley:

That’s really cool. So are we talking like high school and college kids are doing this?

Laura Thompson:

It’s high school students. Yes.

Sean Riley:

So high school students are taking the blueprints that we’re providing and they’re actually building a machine and then they’re taking the machine and then bringing it to Chicago and putting it back together in a competition.

Laura Thompson:

Yes, Sean they are. This is the first time we’ve done anything like this at this scale. And we already have six local high school teams who have signed up for this.

Sean Riley:

Wow. That just sounds like some really ambitious kids that are doing that. That’s really cool. And I’m,

Laura Thompson:

No kidding.

Sean Riley:

Very impressed. And I will be sure to check that out. I guess, since we’re sort of talking kids in school and we’ve touched on some of the education and some of the paid conference programs that we’re having, I guess, could we go a little bit deeper for people that may have not attended PACK EXPOs in the past? When we talk about things like the Innovation Stage, that’s free, that’s actually on the show floor?

Laura Thompson:

Yes. There are over 100 free education sessions and they are all located on the show floor. We know everybody’s time at the show is precious and it is difficult to try to cover everything you want. So many of these are quick, they’re 30 minutes. You can pop in. You can hear about the latest innovations from everyone who is anyone in the industry. The different stages we have, we have the Innovation Stages for both, three Innovation Stages in the general show space and then we also have the dedicated processing Innovation Stage. We have The Forum, which is a more interactive stage where they typically start with a topic, we’ll do a 10-minute presentation. And then it’s interactive. It’s a lot of conversation within the group.

Laura Thompson:

There’s the PACK to the Future as I’ve said, the industry Speaks. And then the Reusable Packaging Pavilion has a stage where they will be presenting. So I recommend people look at the website or the app so they can see all of the different sessions we have. And we also do have some of them earmarked by content. We have a whole sustainability track. We know sustainability is a huge issue. So you can even search on the website by, specifically by sessions that cover sustainability and it’ll pull up those targeted education sessions for you.

Sean Riley:

I’ve been in the First Timers Lounge that we offer at the shows and it’s people that are completely coming in blind. And a lot of times they’ll sit in on some of these sessions just to get an idea of examples of solutions that are out there that they might not even have thought of. Touching on a sustainability, that was something I was obviously going to ask, because it’s impossible to do a podcast or have a conversation with anyone in packaging and processing these days and not talk about sustainability. So what kind of things are we, I know we’ve always done PACK EXPO Green, that kind of identifies exhibitors that are involved with sustainability. Are we adding any additional things to the show that people who are trying to be more sustainable can sort of find right away?

Laura Thompson:

Yes, absolutely. There’s the, as I mentioned, we have the sustainability track, so you can easily pinpoint the presentations you’re looking for that covers sustainability. We have PACK EXPO Green program. We’ve developed a sustainability finder. So you can go to our website and search and it’s targeted to specific sustainable solutions. In addition, we’re showcasing new materials and packages in our showcase of packaging innovations. We highlight awards from all over the world in this section and there’s always some cool new sustainable solutions featured in this area. In addition, we have a whole sustainability exhibit in the PACK to the Future display. So there are a lot of different places and ways on the show floor to identify sustainable solutions and opportunities for your company.

Sean Riley:

Very cool. So let’s just say you’ve been to dozens of these shows and I’ve been to dozens of these shows, but let’s say you haven’t, and it’s kind of one of your first times and maybe it is your first time and it’s overwhelming to see so many exhibitors, and so many different pavilions, and so many education sessions. Do you have any tips or tools that you like to offer for people attending for the first time to get organized rather than just walking in and being overwhelmed?

Laura Thompson:

Absolutely. Number one, I really recommend planning before you go. The show's beauty is that there is a huge depth and breadth of offerings, but as you mentioned, it can be overwhelming. It’s five exhibit halls. The attendees can search on the website, or they can download the mobile app. They can make a plan before the show to see exactly who they want to visit. We also have a new program called PACK Match, and this is a free consulting service. If you’re registered for the show, you can connect with a consultant, let them know what they’re looking for, and they will help guide you and give you some recommended companies to visit during the show. This is completely free. I highly recommend it, especially if you aren’t quite sure what you’re looking for. You can go to packexpointernational.com. You need to submit a form and a consultant will reach out to you to schedule a time.

Laura Thompson:

Now these are available pre-show. On site, we have the ask the expert counter in our Resource Center where we will have people on site to answer questions and help you identify again, what you’re looking for, or perhaps some exhibitor targets that fit your needs. And as you mentioned, Sean, we have our First Timers Lounge. So if you never been to a show before I recommend starting the show there. In fact, I do believe Sean, you will be starting every day with a packaging 101 session to help get everyone started before they hit the show floor.

Sean Riley:

If everyone can make it through that, then they can make it through the show. That’s how we set it up.

Laura Thompson:

I promise it’s short and valuable. Sean, won’t torture you for too long. No, but seriously, it’s a great way to get started. You do a great job of kind of summarizing how to get started and the show floor highlights at the show. And it’s also a great place to sit down and plan. We do have experts available as well. If you want to have a quick conversation, we have product locators in there where we can help you search and make your plan for the show. So, we have a lot of programs to really help you kind of narrow things down to find the targeted solutions that you’re looking for.

Sean Riley:

Yeah. And in this, especially in this day and age with cell phones, mobile phones, there’s no reason not to use the Map Your Show just because you can have everything in the palm of your hand, kind of leading you around, laying out a plan. And if you have any questions on how to use it, there is people in the first timer’s lounge that can help you sort of walk through that, even if you don’t have it set up ahead of time, although I would recommend setting up ahead of time. So I guess to kind of, to put a pin on this and sort of wrap up, we touched on a little bit of the networking, but are there any other, I don’t want to say fun, but some things that people can do that are a little less business and more networking, can have some refreshments about other people in their particular industry, maybe some things after hours, any things like that that we’re having at PACK EXPO International?

Laura Thompson:

Yes, Sean. I am excited to say PACK gives BACK, is returning this year and it will be a concert for the first time in Chicago. We have Styx performing. PACK gives BACK is always a popular event. It’s a good way to unwind at the end of the show. It takes place on Monday and all proceeds benefit the PMMI education foundation. And in addition to that, we have the Packaging and Processing Women’s Leadership Network breakfast, which is always well attended. It’s a great opportunity for people to sit down and take time and network with each other. And then there is the Young Professionals’ Networking event taking place as well.

Sean Riley:

Yeah, they don’t let me go to that anymore. I have aged.

Laura Thompson:

No, I know. My invitation seems to get lost in the mail as well.

Sean Riley:

Young has a cap on it. Well, we would really, again, like to thank you for taking time. I know you’re very busy right now trying to put all of this together in real time. So thank you for taking time out of your day, to kind of explain this to all the people out there, exactly what we’re going to be offering at the show, how to navigate the show and some of the highlights of the show. So we just want to thank you again for finding time to come on here and do this with us.

Laura Thompson:

Thanks, Sean. We’re really looking forward to seeing everybody in Chicago this year. And again, if you are looking for any information that we’ve talked about today, packexpointernational.com is a great place to get started.

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Where the Entire Industry Meets
Discover solutions from 2,000+ exhibitors to advance your operations and network with colleagues at PACK EXPO International, Oct 23-26.
REGISTER TODAY
Where the Entire Industry Meets