„Step on the Gas!“

Sustainability is the biggest growth market, says packaging expert Thomas Reiner, CEO of the Berndt and Partner Group. However, he says, the packaging industry needs to recognize and seize this opportunity even more. There is also a need to catch up when it comes to digitalization.

When it comes to sustainability, the packaging industry is still moving too slowly, says Thomas Reiner, CEO of the management consultancy Berndt und Partner Group. At the German Packaging Congress of the German Packaging Institute (dvi), he spoke about the topics of sustainability and digitalization. The reasons are well known to the expert and industry insider: Branded companies have great cost pressure. The conditions are not easy. Especially in plastics, he said, there is a gap between what the industry has set out to do and what has been achieved. „We are worlds away from keeping 70 percent of plastic in the loop and using 30 percent recyclate by 2025.“ Among converters, only about 12 percent have a sustainability strategy, Reiner said.

Sustainability as a door opener for recruitment

Yet Reiner sees sustainability as an opportunity and „the biggest growth topic.“ The subject is also a door opener, he said. „Today, anyone can talk to anyone, where the doors used to be closed. Those who combine sustainability with innovation are demonstrably more profitable,“ says Reiner. Skilled workers and young talent are also easier to recruit if you can present oneself as a sustainable company, he added.

The topic of plastics remains a challenge, he said. Packaging is at the center of this, he said, as consumers across all segments primarily base the sustainability of a product on its packaging. The solution, he said, is often paperization, a move toward paper – and on a scale never before seen. This movement is resonating with consumers, it is pleasing investors, and it is paying off financially, not least because of the new levies on plastic. „Climate is becoming the core theme that we will find on packages. In a few years, no brand owner will accept a supplier with a negative climate footprint.“

On the topic of digitalization, Reiner pointed out that entire mechanisms and market logics were changing. Here, too, a disruptive process is underway, he said. „When you have a disruption, they always have an offset. Currently, people are further along than companies. It’s about closing that gap,“ Reiner said. However, he said, the packaging industry is very far behind when it comes to digitization.

Reiner’s final conclusion for the congress participants: „You are in the spotlight, no matter where you stand. You have the full attention. Packaging has become a matter for the boss. You are being heard. You have to take advantage of that. And we need to lead the way, not just react. We have to remember the core: Packaging is and has been and will remain product insurance, an identity generator, an innovation driver and a sustainability bidder. Those are four strong pillars.“

Organizationally, the task is to set priorities, he said. It is no use for a packaging manufacturer to be involved in 135 initiatives. Instead, he said, it must be clarified where to set up lighthouse projects in order to gain speed there. „Step on the gas,“ he advised the 230 or so participants at the congress.

Honorary dvi presidency for Thomas Reiner

Following his presentation, Thomas Reiner was named honorary president of the dvi by dvi board chairman Wolf-Dieter Baumann. „As a founding member, you served on the board from 1990 to 2018 and chaired the board from 2006 to 2018. During this time, you doubled the number of members to more than 230 and left a lasting mark on the dvi, enriching it with initiatives such as the Innovation Forums, the German Packaging Congress, the Dresden Packaging Conference, PackVision and Packaging Day,“ Baumann said in his tribute. Entrepreneur Alfred Theodor Ritter received another award at the congress. He was awarded the Dieter Berndt Prize for his life’s work.

By Anna Ntemiris