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Readers write back

Recent Packaging World stories-on outsourcing, reader salaries, increased USDA/FDA scrutiny, and Arizona Beverages' uniquely shaped 'can'-spur readers to comment.

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When readers feel compelled to write to Packaging World, we listen-especially when it appears we've struck a chord. In recent months, we've received several comments. Our two-part outsourcing survey examined the trend towards outsourcing packaging functions (see PW, Jan. '98, p. 34, and Dec. '97, p. 28). Sara Lee, mentioned in the story, is banking on the outsourcing of all its manufacturing operations to concentrate on marketing as a key to increasing shareholder value. However, the survey uncovered one seemingly incongruent fact-that nearly half of respondents reported no increase in plant efficiency as a result of outsourcing. That caught the eye of Carl D. Melville, vp marketing, The Power Group, which owns contract packager Power Packaging. "The plant efficiency question, and its initially puzzling response, actually masks a larger issue: removing assets from the balance sheet," Melville wrote us. "While Sara Lee certainly wants to focus on core competencies, it also sees huge benefits in removing untold millions of dollars of assets from its balance sheet-drastically boosting its revenue per employee, return on assets deployed and, most importantly, overall economic value added. The net effect of all this is huge-even if net plant efficiency (measured as a case price or other metric) remains static." Of course, for firms like Mr. Melville's, outsourcing is a welcome trend: "The current boardroom level of interest in outsourcing and focusing on core competencies is driving our growth at record levels," he writes. "Your survey echoes many of the trends we are witnessing." Salaries: more data, please Our three-part salary and job satisfaction survey also captured the attention of packaging people who aren't accustomed to seeing published surveys that are specific to the packaging field (see PW, Sep. '97, p. 52 & 60; Oct. '97, p. 48; Nov. '97, p. 34). In fact, the most common response was a request for even more packaging-specific salary information. An example was the request from EstĂ©e Lauder in Melville, NY. Victor Suben, executive director of package testing, wanted to know if we possessed survey results for packaging engineers who work exclusively in package testing. Answer: we didn't. Nevertheless, Suben said the survey was helpful in determining salary levels for people in his department and said he looks forward to our next salary survey. From Helene Curtis in Chicago, Greg Erickson, a packaging R&D engineer, also wrote in seeking salary data specific to his background and experience. Inspiring new ideas At least one reader was taken with the technical milestones achieved by Arizona Beverages' shaped polypropylene 'sport can' (Nov. '97, p. 28) that resists paneling due to deliberate overfilling to virtually eliminate headspace. After thanking us for an interesting story, Ron Perry, packaging engineer for pharmaceuticals maker Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories in St. Davids, PA, wrote: "Though we have few direct applications in our business (pharmaceutical), we have many indirect opportunities where some of these ideas can be tested. Later this month, I plan to take this article to an idea generation team meeting our group is holding." Doing more with less Some in the packaging field may be disturbed at the trend towards fewer packaging jobs at manufacturers and increased reliance on suppliers for packaging ideas, a trend Pillsbury documented in "We want it 'faster, faster, faster'" (see PW, Aug. '97, p. 72). However, Theron W. Downes, associate director at Michigan State University's School of Packaging, takes the long view: "On balance I view the article as encouraging because...the work (maybe even more work) still needs to be done, meaning that suppliers will need more trained packaging people. Mike's [Mike Kentala, Pillsbury packaging sourcing leader, quoted in the story] remarks about packaging at the core of image and recognition confirm my strong personal belief that packaging will continue to move away from being viewed as a cost center toward recognition as an opportunity center." Other readers who have survived the corporate cuts take a much more pragmatic view of our magazine, like Richard Nedwidek of Eastman Kodak Co. in Rochester, NY. "Your magazine is used widely here by packaging groups within the 35-mm area in which I work. With cutbacks in staff, we have fewer people available to send to trade shows like in the past. This is where it is even more important to have your magazine." Small is beautiful Of course, not all letters heap praise upon our efforts. One reader takes us-and the supplier community-to task for glossing over the needs of smaller packaging operations. That's the verdict of David Auspitz, president of Philadelphia-based Bainbridge Group, which owns that city's Famous 4th Street Cookie Company®, which has a mail-order cookie-baking operation. Auspitz expressed a frustration with equipment suppliers who aren't interested in servicing smaller operations like his. "In this industry [bakery], it's either Mom at home baking cookies, or Nabisco. But nobody's worried about the people in the middle," he says. He suggests for us that "it would be a good idea to add a section to the magazine directed at entry-level packaging equipment for smaller businesses." Mr. Auspitz was happy to learn (as other readers might be, too) that PW is indeed stepping up coverage in this area. In May and November we'll feature a special section showcasing hands-on equipment geared to lower-volume operations. If you have an opinion to share, we'd like to hear it. We can be reached by e-mail ([email protected]), phone (312/222-1010), fax (312/222-1310), and conventional mail (330 N. Wabash, Suite 3131, Chicago, IL 60611). All of the articles mentioned in this story can be retrieved from our web site at www.packworld.com.

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