Shanghai — Dow Chemical Co.'s Packaging and Specialty Plastics Division sees Asia's fast-growing urban middle class as a key market in coming years.
"China's middle class is growing in numbers, in affluence and in its commitment to sustainability," said Bambang Candra, Asia Pacific commercial vice president of the division.
"For Dow and our partners across the value chain, our responsibility is not only to meet the demand in terms of volume and efficiency, but to do so with innovations that increase performance and productivity while reducing resource consumption and waste," he said.
Speaking at a media day news conference before the opening of Chinaplas in Shanghai, division executives said the Asian middle class is driving product development in convenient and safe packaging.
By 2020, China's middle class will total 564 million people, said Kodak Xiao, Asia Pacific marketing director for packaging and health, adding that they're clamoring for "more and rapid food packaging."
In particular, Xiao said Dow — part of the merged DowDuPont Inc. — is pushing offerings that reduce food loss while improving transportability, such as a tenter frame biaxially oriented polyethylene (TF-BOPE) film that is sturdier than conventional PE film, with two to three times the impact and puncture resistance.
It also has some recycling advantages because it simplifies the challenge of recycling multilayer packages, he said.
Travis Huang, marketing manager for adhesives, touted his group's shift from solvent-based adhesives, which tend to generate volatile organic compounds — a particular concern for China regulators and consumers.
"Dow is committed to solventless and water-based laminated solutions," Huang said.
A big plus for packagers: the new adhesives can be used with current equipment, Huang said.
Takayuki Ohba, the division's Tokyo-based group marketing director for infrastructure, consumer and transportation, highlighted polyolefin elastomer (POE) -based encapsulant films that can improve power output and performance of photovoltaic modules.
"Collaboration" has become a popular word for foreign Chinaplas exhibitors looking to link up with Chinese companies. It may augur a sea change as big Western companies increasingly see Chinese customers as equal partners.
As an example, group marketing manager Kevin Yang said the company's newly opened Pack Studios in Asia will help create "a global network of packaging experts, equipment and testing capabilities that enhance collaborative development of better packaging."
Dow Pack Studios in Shanghai and Mumbai are up and running, joining others in the United States and Europe, Yang said.
Mirroring rising concerns about the environment among Chinese consumers, the executives put an emphasis on environmental friendliness.
Han Zhang, sustainability and advocacy leader for the Dow division, began his April 22 media day presentation talking about the "three big challenges, all interrelated:" climate change, resource shortage and ocean litter.
All are growing in concern among Chinese leaders and ordinary people. Recently, users of the country's popular WeChat microblogging app ardently passed around a video of trash-fouled diving waters off Bali — a popular vacation spot for the middle class here.
"We believe plastics is a key issue to address such issues," Zhang said.
Plastics packaging extends food shelf-life nearly ten times while slashing packaging weight by nearly 80 percent, he said.
As well, Dow said that its expanded polyethylene foam for packaging picked up an award in the debut of the China e-Commerce Packaging Pioneer Awards, perhaps a sign that Alibaba and other players in China's sprawling internet shopping ecosystem are beginning to reckon with all those foam peanuts and bubble wrap used to protect bottles of soy sauce and porcelain tea sets.
"No one player in value chain nor one country can solve this problem," Zhang said. "Partnerships and collaboration are necessary."