Three Challenges for Driving Greater Innovation

By Brian Hunt, Berry Global EVP and General Manager of Closures, Bottles, and Specialties

I recently spoke to industry leaders at the virtual 2020 Caps & Closures conference about our industry’s responsibility to deliver better, more sustainable packaging.

As an industry, we all face the test of how to create more responsible packaging that fulfills both the functional and emotional needs of consumers. So I challenged my industry colleagues to three innovation commitments.

Challenge #1 – Increase Your Product Light-Weighting

Too often, innovation is focused on who brings the newest bells and whistles to the marketplace. And many times, these new products are only relevant to a small group of consumers. Consumer research indicates people want more products made from recycled material, but most aren’t willing to pay the price premium that comes with recycled content.

Instead, simple technology changes can sometimes have the biggest sustainability impact without any downside for consumers. Light-weighting is a great example.

We can take large amounts of plastic out of the system without the consumer even knowing there’s a change. If our industry committed to light-weight products by at least 10 percent over the next two years we could eliminate 100 million pounds of resin from the annual production of caps and closures. We would also eliminate approximately 187 million pounds of greenhouse gases.

This challenge addresses an important consumer behavior that you need to continually consider for your business. Consumers won’t change overnight – so we need to create changes in the short-term as we bring them along on our journey.

Challenge #2 – Search and Reapply

Change doesn’t always require a large research budget or the most decorated scientists on staff. We live in a global economy where consumers see and learn what others around the world are doing real-time. They want to apply the experiences of others to their own lives.

I personally have been using search and reapply a lot recently, taking incredible packaging sustainability projects and best practices from my Berry counterparts in Europe and applying them in North America. Likewise, collaborating with partners is another opportunity to apply learning from other experts in the materials and packaging space.

For example, we recently announced a partnership to create a closed-loop system to recover, segregate and reprocess post-consumer resin. Our partner will use its national network of recycled materials suppliers and logistics to procure the post-consumer plastics material to be recycled. We’ll then reprocess the plastics materials into polyethylene film and polypropylene products. This partnership will help supplement the limited market of recycled content while we continue to build the infrastructure to sustain consumers’ continued support for recycling.

We can learn from others all over the world, in all areas of the value chain, and reapply to our business when we eliminate the “not invented here” attitude. Encourage your teams to adopt change no matter where the ideas come from when it meets consumer needs and grows your business.

Challenge #3 – Make the Necessary Investments in Innovation

Innovation can be very exciting. New products. New technologies. And often, you find new customers because of what you bring to market. Done right, many of your innovations result from discoveries on how to answer unmet consumer demands.

And “done right” means making the necessary investments in quality innovation. My team recently introduced a new portfolio of over 30 closures and jars containing a minimum of 25 percent post-consumer recycled resin. Integrating PCR into a broad line of products raises many challenges and considerations, like ensuring the incorporated PCR hasn’t negatively affected the functionality and strength of the product design. So extensive validation tests — such as leak and drop testing, as well as critical functional testing like hinge life – are all necessary investments to ensure a great product idea can deliver on performance in order to meet consumer expectations.

Commitments to innovation cost money, but making the right investments eventually pays off. Investments in safety, performance and sustainability are all improvements that keep our industry moving forward as we address changing consumer behavior.

These three challenges are really more about the hopes I have for our industry. We have a responsibility. Consumers expect us to bring change and improvements. The world needs us to innovate. And the future of safe, effective and RESPONSIBLE packaging falls to us. I hope we can all work together to meet these challenges.

About the author

Brian Hunt is an experienced product manager and data scientist with a background in manufacturing, consumer packaged goods and financial services. He currently serves as executive vice president and general manager of Closures, Bottles and Specialties at Berry Global.  He has more than 20 years of experience in product and brand management, applied marketing and risk analytics, data science and financial analysis. Brian can be reached at brianhunt@berryglobal.com.