E-commerce Trends Emerging in Pharmaceutical Packaging

In this Q&A, Gavin Ashe, Managing Partner at Kite Packaging, talks packaging trends and innovation for 2016, saying industry too often focuses on the cheapest solution, not the best one.

Question: What is the next trend in packaging machinery?

Ashe: There are two significant trends emerging in the sector, both of which are both driven by the ecommerce sector. They are Pack volume minimization and pack velocity.

By pack volume minimization we are talking about getting the smallest possible pack to dispatch. The really smart players in the industry have woken up to the fact that it is costing them five times more to ship its goods than it spends on packing them.

Amazon’s latest figures show that they are spending up to 13% of their turnover on distribution and the truth is distribution in the e-commerce sector is all about cubic meters, not kilos. On the flip side we have the likes of DX saying that the physical size of a parcel is a very important factor in the cost of sortation and handling of parcels through its network.

So it’s going to be all about solutions that can reduce the shipping volume, which are likely to have a very strong year. Systems that make a pack the right size, do away with the need for void fill, will be key in reducing transport costs.

Pack velocity has been on the radar for a while now and it is simply about getting more packs through the packing operation per minute. Space is at a premium, with a real shortage of commercial property, staff costs are on the rise and margins are being squeezed. Businesses will have to be more efficient or face some very tough choices. So the trick is going be finding ways of being faster, while maintaining flexibility.

Automation is capital-intensive and can often lead to bottlenecks. However through clever pack design and simple, relatively low-cost systems, like stretch wrap machines and automated bagging systems, it is possible to get some very big wins.

Q: What packaging materials are set to be big in 2016?

Ashe: It is unlikely that there will be any significant change in the packaging materials that are to be used, but we are certainly forecasting that there will be some significant evolution. There is a continued drive from the corrugated industry towards lighter papers, with more recycled content, as well as the continuing adoption of thinner caliper boards.

Plastics are also undergoing a similar evolution with scientific developments allowing the manufacture of thinner, more efficient films, which can far out-perform those on the market at the moment.

Q: What do you think will represent the single-biggest threat for custom packaging suppliers this year, and why?

Ashe: We don’t think there is a threat per se to the bespoke packaging sector—it is a huge part of the market and will remain so. We see the emergence of the customized standard as being a much more significant play. The growth in digital print allowing customers to bespoke standard product is in its infancy, but showcased at all of the big international shows there are clever, relatively low-cost machines that allow the production of bespoke packaging.

Q: What is the one thing that the industry should do more of, or do better?

Ashe: The industry should strive to create value through investing in innovation. As a sector (admittedly often driven by our customers) we are all too prone to try and find the cheapest solution rather than the best solution.

Editor’s note: Kite Packaging’s Managing Partner Gavin Ashe was interviewed as part of the build up to Packaging Innovations 2016, a packaging event scheduled for Feb. 24 and 25 in Birmingham’s (U.K.) NEC, alongside Empack and Label&Print. The shows will demonstrate advanced innovations, developments and machinery.