Active & Interactive

Posted: September 21, 2009 by
John Luke

John Luke, Chairman and CEO of MeadWestvaco Corporation, gave a standing room only keynote address on the second day of Pack Expo, October 16th, titled "Brand Sustainability: The New Relationship Between Sustainable Packaging and Winning Brands. "Telling the audience that it is in the packaging industry's best interest that the sustainability movement flourishes, Luke emphasized that to deliver on the stewardship promise, winning brands must go beyond mere compliance. Luke agreed to share with Package Design Magazine his thoughts on a number of trends driving package design today.

Q: What does MeadWestvaco see in the marketplace that will affect consumer goods packaging in the near future and a few years down the pike?

A: We have seen and continue to see an increasing focus on attractive and rapidly growing markets like Eastern Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America, where large consumer populations with growing disposable incomes are demanding higher quality products and packaging.

This trend is also very evident in production. As brand owners locate their manufacturing footprints to service these populations, they are also looking to their consumer goods packaging partners to do the same. Our global footprint is based on our ability to anticipate the brand owners' needs in key markets throughout the world and deliver consistent quality for any given brand on a global scale.

Also, we are seeing a growing interest in environment- and social-related issues and a need for packaging to reflect a company's sustainability-driven business approach. As a global packaging solutions provider and leader in sustainable business practices, we have the ability to ensure innovative design, brand competitiveness, and sustainability are strategically incorporated into our customers' packaging solutions, and done so in a meaningful way.

Q: Proprietary shapes and brand protection are emerging trends. How does MeadWestvaco see this trend growing or changing in the future? What does MeadWestvaco think will be most effective in this area?

A: Brand owners want their products to be unique in the marketplace, and to grow brand loyalty among consumers worldwide. Proprietary shapes are one way to do this, but counterfeiters are increasingly able to reproduce the latest technologies faster and more accurately putting brand protection at risk. Packaging solutions must take more than just shape into consideration to combat counterfeiting and theft.

One method of defense is a layered approach that mixes both overt and covert technologies. Innovative designs should be combined with the use of proven technologies. Red Tag, an antitheft locking system for standard DVD cases is one example of a layered approach that has been successfully implemented in the marketplace.

Q: How will interactive packaging and near field technologies affect the shopping experience? Do you believe there will be a quick influx of competing technologies?

A: Packaging can do more than simply be a container for the primary product. Retail shelf space is becoming more crowded and complicated, and products have to stand out and instantly capture the consumer within the first three to seven seconds of the encounter. Interactive packaging can provide an opportunity to engage the consumer, but it must walk a fine line between being gimmicky and providing value. To do the latter, smart packaging should inform, promote, and speak to the consumer.

In some instances, the packaging itself can provide real-life benefits to consumers. For example, we have recently partnered with Confidant to develop innovative, electronic-enabled pharmaceutical packaging technology solutions that support prescription adherence for consumers and their caregivers.

Currently, there are a lot of competing technologies with no clear winner or standard, and we continue to explore these options and their value-add at our Center for Packaging Innovation. We expect to see more willingness from consumer products companies to adopt these technologies as the technology advances and the prices drop due to economies of scale.

Q: What sustainable initiatives is MeadWestvaco pursuing, and what will be the biggest area of growth for the near future?

A: While sustainability is gaining interest in product marketing and as an area of genuine concern for environmental and social issues, MeadWestvaco has been operating with a sustainability-driven mindset for several decades. From the way in which we manage our forestlands and source fiber for our paperboard products, to the way in which we operate our facilities and support the human and natural resources entrusted to us, sustainability is reflected in all that we do. We believe it benefits all of us to ensure this topic has long-lasting effects.

I believe sustainability is providing all of us in the industry with a wonderful opportunity for further creativity and innovation surrounding packaging solutions. When viewed as an opportunity, sustainability can push us toward new levels of collaboration with partners and customers, helping us to reach new levels of brand loyalty among consumers, and contribute profitably to the environment and the bottom line.

Q: In your R&D Centers, how are designers encouraged to innovate? Do they have blue sky projects without limitations?

A: Our Center for Packaging Innovation in Raleigh, N.C., was created to foster "market focused innovation" by closely integrating consumer insights with our forward-thinking design capabilities. This environment is specifically designed to stimulate collaboration, creativity, and research throughout the package design process to explore new and effective ways to increase the value of our packaging solutions for our customers.

Our CPI facility showcases the latest features and applications in packaging solutions including radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology; anti-counterfeiting technologies; and interactive "smart packaging" concepts. We also offer our customers the opportunity to experience package design possibilities through hands-on exposure to multiple materials and finishing options.

Q: How do you define a successful relationship between brand and consumer that is able to last, and grow, for years and years?

A: We believe that the definition of a successful relationship between the brand and a consumer has gone through a major evolution. Due to increased competition on the store shelves and the overwhelming volume of information directly available to the consumer, brands have to work harder than ever to capture the customer's attention, make a good impression, and constantly engage them every time they walk in the store.

The first step in this cycle is the packaging. It is the visual gateway that first grabs the customer's attention. It is also an important factor in the ongoing relationship with the consumer. An older product in an innovative and updated package can refresh the brand perception attracting new customers and reinvigorating existing relationships. And the consumer wants all of this—while being assured that the brand is doing everything possible to be a responsible corporate citizen that takes measures to protect and reduce our impact on the environment—which brings us right back to sustainability.