Windy City Serves up a Memorable Packaging Trade-Show Masterclass
It may not go down as the biggest packaging extravaganza ever to be held in North America, but last month’s PACK EXPO International 2022 packaging and processing technologies exhibition in Chicago certainly merits consideration as the most memorable and uplifting one yet.
Drawing a four-day audience of over 44,000 people—including some 2,200 exhibitors showcasing their products over 1.2 million square feet at the city’s spectacular McCormick Place lakeside fairgrounds—was by any measure a hugely significant accomplishment for the show’s stalwart founders and organizers PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies following a four-year absence necessitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only did the attendance numbers exceed those of the show’s last edition in 2018, the prolonged time gap between the two events served to underline just how fast things are changing in the packaging world these days, with many product offerings on display pointing to tremendous leaps and breakthroughs in technological prowess, productivity and sustainability achieved by packaging machinery, materials and services suppliers during that time.
As noted by PMMI, the North American market for packaging machinery has grown substantially over the last three years, rising form US$10.8 billion in 2019 to just over US$15 billion this year—a 40-percent increase.
Such sharp gains are simply too hard to dismiss as either organic or as a one-off Perfect Storm of happy coincidences or circumstances.
While packaging companies as a rule are not fame-seekers or glory-hunters in the same sense that many of their CPG (consumer packaged goods) customers may be, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging the efforts the industry as a whole has made in recent years to become a more active and beneficial contributor to today’s consumer economy still trying to fully find its feet in the wake of serial pandemic lockdowns worldwide and the resulting supply chain chaos.
“The success of PACK EXPO is a testament to our industry’s continued growth, as well as PMMI’s commitment to bringing the industry together to share cutting-edge innovations,” says PMMI’s president and chief executive officer Jim Pittas. “No other event this year showcased so many end-to-end solutions, offering attendees everything they need to compete in a changing marketplace.”
Coming after yet another difficult year dominated by the outbreak of war in Europe, the worsening impact of natural disasters of every kind imaginable, and re-emergence of inflation as a serious threat to the global economy, PACK EXPO provided a welcome respite of hopeful optimism and reassurance that has been in increasingly short supply in recent years.
The exceptional number of deals made right on the show-floor, combined with the exceptional quality of sales leads generated at the exhibitors’ booths, helped fill the air with the sort of earnest good vibes and friendly ambiance that even the most advanced A.I. technologies would have a hard time replicating.
“For our industry, the economy looks like it will be robust in 2023,” says Jeff Kaplan, vice-president of integrated systems at Hamrick Packaging Systems in Suffield, OH. “The end user base was eager to come back and see equipment in person.
“Finally, customers are acting on buying automation and not just talking about it.”
This growing interest in automation was fittingly complemented with extensive displays of increasingly viable packaging sustainability solutions that North American consumers have come to expect as standard offering from their favorite CPG brands and their packaging suppliers.
While the price of gas and food inflation are naturally on a lot of people’s minds, no one anywhere is suggesting abandoning sustainability as a partial solution to resurrecting economic growth—as may have been the case at the height of the so-called Great Recession in 2008.
Contrary to the prevailing myth, history does not always repeat itself. Times change, people change, attitudes change, and industry events change, but in the end, it’s always up to the industry itself to manage all its changes—however seismic or understated—for the greater and more hopeful common good.