There are myriad reasons why people flock to Florida in February. Most of those involve escaping winter weather from various snow-covered corners of the world—including my hometown of Chicago, where temperatures have been below freezing for a sizeable chunk of 2014.
However, it's something else entirely to justify traveling all the way to sunny Orlando just to spend three days indoors for an event like The Packaging Conference (TPC). Additionally, because no food and packaging professionals working in today's competitive environment have unlimited blocks on their calendar and infinite travel budgets, any industry event must offer a significant degree of value in order to justify the expense, and the time commitment.
Last week, nearly 300 packaging-minded professionals from various industries (food and beverage included) gathered for TPC. Let's look at the content that the three-day event offered, to see if it was worth the trip.
This year's packaging event attracted representatives from all levels of the spectrum, including engineers, CEOS, R&D types, and designers. The list of titles might look at first glance to be too disparate a crowd to benefit from the content at one single event; however, the diversity of the presenters and the topics addressed assisted in making TPC content useful for the entire crowd.
Part of the benefit of the show comes from the common theme of taking a team approach to packaging. Peter Borowski, design guru of Kraft Foods, led one such discussion, championing the idea of bringing all stakeholders in the packaging pipeline (from product creators, to marketing folks, to packaging producers) together to ensure a product and its packaging meet the brand's goals--advice any food pro could benefit from.
All too frequently, professional conferences lay it on thick with buzzwords and corporate-speak, without digging deeper to bring the lofty concepts home and deliver information and advice that's actually useful to attendees. The organizers of TPC avoided production of a purely superficial program, by including speakers that provided insight into trends, as well as actions.
Michael Okaroafor of Heinz layed out the firm’s operation-wide sustainability efforts to TPC attendees. By doing so, the executive offered a glimpse into one company's greening initiatives, in a way that other food and beverage packaging professionals (from companies large and small) could model Heinz's efforts and make concepts such as closed-loop water systems, bio-based packaging and lightweighting work on their own turf.
Additionally, professional events succeed when they look forward, as well as back. David Lestage of PepsiCo/Frito-Lay (arguably one of the most innovative companies, in terms of CPG packaging look and structure) gave a glimpse into some of his team's packaging ideas and plans for the future, and Holli Whitt from the Shrink Label Consortium discussed industry efforts to improve recyclability and recovery of shrink labels on PET containers.
Some of the content delved into scientific content, such as resin formulation. While the room didn't empty out during such heady sessions (there were a few lab-coat types in attendance keen on such things), such brainy content likely goes above the heads of most attendees, especially those coming from food and beverage companies (rather than packaging producers).
Probably the biggest detracting factor to attendance at TPC is the registration rate; the conference early-bird rate was $1,700. However, the lofty price tag for the executive-focused event is likely intentional, to keep the event small and manageable for organizers; taking the content and the draw power of the speakers into account, TPC offers a program that's at least worth a look.