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									A reprint from Joseph Coates Consulting Futurist, Inc.                                  
Call 202-363-7440 or e-mail us at

The Future of Packaging Joe Coates from Inside Supply Management
The packaging industry is very dynamic       continue to grow larger. Something          Whatever the current number, there is
and has undergone a great deal of            will have to be done to clean them up.      excessive packaging, which translates
change because the universe in which                                                     into a waste of energy and a source of
it works is changing. laws and               Globalization. A quite different trend      carbon dioxide production as the
regulations, new products, the               is globalization. As American firms         material is burned.
globalization of technologies, and a         globalize, what they're going to find is
general increase in competitiveness          that in much of the world there's a         More broadly, there's a movement in
have accelerated in the last 10 years,       tremendous desire and demand for            society that has a new slogan called
but there are greater concerns with          reusable packaging: not necessarily to      sustainability. Packaging is going to
health and reliability issues such as        reuse it for packaging, but to reuse it     have to satisfy a consumer market and,
greater commercial pressure for              for domestic or household use. Supply       in turn, a business market that
freshness in foods. In the drug sector,      management organizations moving             packaging is part of the sustain ability
there's also been pressure to tell the       into Europe will find severe stresses by    cycle. Whatever that may turn out to
consumer greater details about the           law on the nature of packaging. There's     mean, that may have different
drug, its effects, and side effects.         also going to be the opportunity to         connotations for different products. In
                                             look at local products and how they         the next few years, supply
With those pressures in the packaging        might be differently packaged. Another      management organizations will
industry starting to take effect, it's       factor that's important with                eventually see a tally on packaging of
important to examine how packaging           globalization is symbology—the              its energy content and the energy
is likely to change in the future.           significance of color, names, numbers,      content of the material inside the
Because the packaging industry is            etc. For example, in China, the number      package to make consumers more fully
essentially a business-to-business           four is a bad number and the number         aware of what's being consumed.
activity, packagers may not be aware of      eight is a good number. In different
the larger trends in society, particularly   parts of the world, orange, yellow, and     Family. At the family level, great things
from a consumer point of view. Also,         green are positive or extremely             are happening to affect packaging.
because the packaging industry is an         negative colors. As businesses              Household makeup and sizes are
enormous system involving everything         globalize, they must accommodate            changing. The largest response to
from raw materials to waste disposal,        their packaging to reflect the culture.     these changes in food packaging is
each level may experience a relatively                                                   single servings. Because people are
narrow view of the future. There's a         E-commerce. On a quite different level      moving to more grazing, they want
need for a more comprehensive and            are the things going on in e-commerce.      more sealable and resealable
integrated view to putting the industry      E-commerce is going to push for             packaging, which has increased the
on a more solid planning basis. The          standard sizes. Why? Because e-             movement to pre-prepared food. All of
following are societal areas where the       commerce means more packages                this has to do with unconventional
influence of packaging will play a larger    going to more places and standardized       daily schedules of eating. More eating
role in the not-so-distant future.           sizes make so much more sense. What's       away from home shapes the things
                                             giving an edge to e-commerce is the         that are being eaten at home. While
Environment. Environmentalism has            development of radio frequency              the basic example of pre-prepared
played a large role for several decades      identification. Supply management           food is pizza, it's only a narrow end of a
and continues to produce new things.         organizations will soon be in a position    broad wedge. In the near future,
For example, the current move toward         where a product leaving the                 consumers can expect slot-machine
bottled water is producing 1.5 million       warehouse or the factory is never           food dispensers with both hot and cold
tons of plastic waste each year. In many     touched by a human hand until the           foods because it cuts labor costs, and
areas of the country, the most               consumer receives it. This is possible by   the dispensers will accept not only
conspicuous kind of trash on the street      integrating radio frequency identifi-       dollars and coins but credit cards as
is plastic water bottles. This is going to   cation within the entire transportation     well.
create a large problem if the industry       system.
doesn't start tapping into the                                                           Legal regulations. Domestic and
environmental issue this will cause.         Energy. The idea of rationing energy        overseas regulations will push three
                                             use or carbon dioxide production has        major areas of importance:
Also, the different levels of mine waste     increased from a possibility to a
heaps are not only becoming a chronic        probability, which will have a direct         Recycling – That is, running the
nuisance in society but affecting            effect on packaging. Years ago, the           package through another use cycle.
terrain, aquifers, and flowing water.        average American product was                  Reclamation – Recovering usable
While society finally tries to deal with     eightfold excessively packaged.               parts.
the situation, the waste heaps will

The Future of Packaging Joseph Coates from Inside Supply Management (February 2003)                         Page 1 of 2
A reprint from Joseph Coates Consulting Futurist, Inc.                        
Call 202-363-7440 or e-mail us at

  Remanufacturing – Recycling is well         Taking into account the areas of future
  known with packaging, but                   importance discussed previously,
  reclamation and remanufacturing             supply management organizations will
  will largely apply to the things that       be in a position not only to radically
  are packaged. As reclamation and            change a package's appearance but to
  remanufacturing occur, there's going        reduce their costs as well.
  to be a need for packaging that
  allows the consumer to send things
  back to the manufacturer or to the
  manufacturer's reclamation station.

Recycling is already happening with
the black powder that's used in jet
printers. It's also occurring with
computers and computer equipment. It
would be unwise for consumers to
throw away the packaging that the
computer equipment arrived in
because if the equipment needs to be
sent out for repair, that's the best way
to send it.

Information technology. Smart
packaging is going to become more
important in the kitchen as information
technology becomes more advanced.
Eventually, there will be a point where
the household appliances will talk to
each other. The stove will talk to the
refrigerator, the refrigerator will talk to
the householder, and the trash bin will
discuss with them all. All of that implies
smart packaging to reduce the actual
amount of human time in the kitchen.
The ultimate goal would be a dinner
setting of a family of four where one
member makes a 15-second walk
through the kitchen, talks to the
equipment, tells it what he or she
wants, and 30 minutes later a meal for
four is prepared and ready. This is
followed by seven minutes of cleanup.
All of that is doable today in principle.
The problem is to reduce it to practice.

Other changes are on the horizon with
information technology and its impact
on packaging. Consider food and other
products that are subject to decay and
wear-and-tear. Information technology
will provide an electronic tying of the
expiration date to a price discount. For
example, suppose a gallon of milk has
three days before expiration: it would
make sense to have that product
automatically discounted 20-40

The Future of Packaging Joseph Coates from Inside Supply Management (February 2003)      Page 2 of 2

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