A changing world reality is redefining how packaging manufacturers must compete, said futurist John Mahaffie, who delivered the Feb. 27 keynote address at Packaging Strategies 2006 in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A new global middle class is emerging and this group of consumers will want to show what they've gained and how they've advanced economically, said Mahaffie, a principal of Leading Futurists LLC, based in Washington.
``We have a world that's just teeming with growth,'' he said, noting that China and India make up nearly half of the global population of 6.5 billion people.
Arising out of this growing number of consumers and greater consciousness, the world is moving toward more green products. Also, global health concerns, like the bird flu threat, are pushing simple and doable innovations, such as a Spanish beer company putting an inexpensive wrapper on top of its cans.
``Packaging can and must respond to fears in the marketplace,'' Mahaffie said.
For manufacturers, costs keep rising, including for raw materials - that trend is not going to end.
``The situation is going to get more and more difficult,'' he said. ``That opens up the question of what can you do that's different? Is it less packaging? Is it totally new technology?
``That's the open question, and that's maybe, in part, the question of what you're going to have to face no matter what,'' Mahaffie told his audience of roughly 160 company officials.
One thing he stressed is that commodity businesses are not the future, because they do not offer much in terms of opportunities.
``I don't think the game any longer for North America, or Western Europe, can be to win in a commodity business; I don't think the game can be to win on price. I think that's obvious. And so what else is there?
``If I was involved in any of the businesses, I would look for any possible way to get out of the commodity business. Commodities as inputs, commodities as outputs. Let someone else fight those battles.''
Mahaffie said that although many firms have attempted to do just that, they still have kept to commodity basics: ``cents per pound or getting costs down, or putting the most product out on the marketplace.''
``There's a lot more to it than that,'' he said.
Another global megatrend is online technology. People are conducting business seminars in virtual worlds and engaging in activities such as design collaboration, using techniques in a virtual world, he said.
``It's a big area of change in society. It's not just Americans that spend time in these [online] rooms,'' he said. The U.S. is not ``in charge of the world'' anymore, Mahaffie added.
Eventually, he noted, packaging will experience a tipping point of huge, sweeping changes.
``We have to look at how to be better in some kind of terms of our own, against this backdrop of a whole new game,'' he said.