Schaumburg, Ill. — As one of the largest plastic processors in the world, Berry Global Group Inc. makes a lot of products for a lot of markets.
With more than 40 acquisitions in its history, the company has diversified into a wide-ranging operation that posted nearly $14 billion in annual sales last fiscal year.
As product development director for closures at Berry's Consumer Packaging North America division, Bob Gillies has definite opinions about what innovation looks like. And he spoke about those views at the recent Plastics Caps & Closures 2022 conference organized by Plastics News in Schaumburg.
"What is innovation?" he asked the conference crowd. "I'm sure you all have descriptors that you can use. Cutting-edge, groundbreaking, fresh, novel — they are all words to describe innovation. Innovation can also help break down traditional processes or norms or biases. That's very important for us. When you are looking for innovation, you've got to look at doing things differently.
"For us, it's absolutely critical that we engage the customer," Gillies said. "That gives us the opportunity to differentiate directly in front of the customer, to identify unmet needs directly with them through interaction. Potentially empowering those brands we are working with going into different areas with solutions."
Berry's customers, for the most part, are other companies making products that are then used by consumers. The company strives to provide customers with more than just a commodity product. Because, Gillies said, moving beyond that thinking unlocks value for both the company and its customers.
"We want to shift the discussion from products to solutions. If we sell a cap, people are just going to pay you for a cap. If you are selling a solution, then there is much more opportunity to drive the discussion for more value-added, more value-driven for us," Gillies said.
"To put it clearly, our customers are not daft. There absolutely has to be something in it. But that's the whole point of our innovation process. We really want to drive that to develop solutions to be beneficial for us and our customers," he said.
"We really believe that if we come up with a real solution, it can really change the whole discussion and marketing that our customers have. It gives them the opportunity to brag about the solution about how it helps drive their business," Gillies said.
And driving business is really what this is all about for the Evansville, Ind.-based company.
"If you come up with something very clever and the consumers love getting their hands on them, that repeat business will help drive the customer's brand and also our sales," he said. "Brands and consumers, they want more than just a sustainable, functional package."
Berry's sheer size also gives the company some benefits when it comes to innovation, Gillies said. "We hope that when it comes to resin, because of the volumes we take from key suppliers, we're at the head of the queue when it comes to new innovations," he said.
Engaging clients, instead of just selling them products, is a key for Berry, he said.
"That gives us the opportunity to differentiate directly in front of the customer, to identify those unmet needs directly with them through interaction," Gillies said. "Potentially empowering those brands we are working with going into different areas with solutions we can offer."