Interpack’s final countdown reveals major prospects for global packaging and processing markets
This year’s Interpack event returns once again to Düsseldorf, following a major six- year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Editor Neill Barston casts an eye over some of the most eagerly anticipated equipment, systems and wider technology from leading businesses around the world.
Since the international packaging and processing community last gathered for Interpack a full six years ago, a huge amount has happened in world affairs. From the social and economic impact dealt by the Covid-19 pandemic and the geopolitical crisis surrounding the war in Ukraine, through to supply chain challenges that have accelerated in recent months, major global headwinds remain. Such wider overarching conditions place inevitable strain on all industries and communities around the globe, which is introducing market uncertainties that continue to linger into 2023, and are likely to remain for some period to come. (See the video version of the interview with Thomas Dohse for Interpack here).
But as observers reflect, the food and drink industry, and confectionery and snacks in particular, are proving themselves as being segments that continue to occupy a strong place in consumers’ hearts, irrespective of broader market conditions. So, this in turn is posing the sector its own set of renewed tasks in terms of meeting the scale of this multi-billion dollar demand. It’s requiring a strong display of innovation and technological application that will be firmly demonstrated as the world once again reconvenes for the 2023 edition of Interpack, amid a clearly growing sense of anticipation across the sector.
Most strikingly in the past six years, there have indeed been some core technological leaps that are continuing to prove influential. Perhaps chief among them is the relentless drive for AI and automated systems, which is rapidly reshaping many manufacturing operations around the world. Then there’s also inescapable fact the physical landscape of the industry is continuing its shifting patterns of the past few years. Among standout moments, the last Interpack proved to be the final outing for major German packaging machinery business Bosch, with its legacy living on in an entirely separate business, Syntegon, which is primed to feature significantly this year.
There are a number of other major industry changes that are shaping the market as well, including manufacturer amalgamations and acquisitions within the market. This has seen the likes of renowned bakery machinery outfit Haas join the ranks of Swiss-based company, Bühler, which will also be very much in the frame with new innovations at the latest edition of the keenly-awaited Düsseldorf show.
There are other emerging technologies such as 3D printing that are cutting through to varying degrees of success, that have rapidly accelerated over the past five years and are threatening to make a decisive difference. Such disruptive innovations are all part and parcel of how industries evolve, and it seems this year’s Interpack will be no exception to that – with its tally of well over 2,700 exhibitors expected to bring plenty of fresh ideas to the table. As event director Thomas Dohse explains in an exclusive interview with Confectionery Production, there may well be a sense of frustration that previously well-positioned plans in 2020 were ripped apart by the pandemic, yet there’s hope on the horizon that this year’s gigantic trade fair will in many ways make amends. He says: “It’s a really good feeling to be back after so many years.
Everything was planned for Interpack 2020. The halls were full, every exhibitor was ready to build their stands, and then the pandemic came and we first of all had to postpone it until 2021. “But then we all know what came – the next wave of the pandemic shut down everything again, and finally we came to the conclusion that we would revert to our regular three-year cycle, taking us to May 2023. It was a decision made in order not to confuse the rest of the industry,” he reflects on the surreal and tumultuous period over the past few years that has thwarted its original plans. However, as the director states with some enthusiasm, there’s been a strong spirit of determination in getting the keenlyanticipated event back on track.
To his team’s credit, the global showcase is very much firing on all cylinders once again, thanks in no small part to its director heading out on a global PR campaign over the past 12 months to galvanise interest in its latest edition. As sector observers note, the many equipment and systems launches that had been anticipated to gain their debut at the 2020 event, were forced to find alternate routes to market. In many instances, the industry took the opportunity to pivot marketing and launch-activity online – which itself let to a fast mushrooming ‘zoom-call culture’ boom in virtual conferences and customer calls. This in turn, also witnessed many equipment manufacturers enhance their digital offerings in devising remote monitoring and maintenance systems, which are continuing to have a notable impact upon the sector.
“The challenge now is to bring back all the visitors from around the world to Interpack. If you think about it, after six years, there’s been a lot of fluctuations for many businesses, so some people haven’t seen the event before, so it’s huge task to explain what the show is all about. “We’re very excited though, as the majority of clients followed us in rebooking for this year, and are looking forward to presenting their innovations, ideas and to go back to face-to-face contacts. During the pandemic everyone had online presentations, the longer this went on, the more that people realised there’s nothing better than meeting face-to-face.
“When you’re talking about machinery, you have to explain and experience it in production – you can’t do that in a zoom meeting. This is what has convinced people to come to our show, as well as all the others out there,” he observes. In terms of some of its key elements to look out for, the event will have its own in-house television studio, major topics being discussed within its lecture forum, as well as the continuation of its awards programme.
For the uninitiated, he says there will be plenty to take in regarding new technology and systems innovations, as well as inspiration through expert analysis that is helping drive businesses forward in 2023. “Our new event claim is ‘simply unique’ in the field of packaging and processing, as it’s a unique experience, there are so many machines and lines in production, as well as exhibitors from around the world, we have more than 60 nations exhibiting, almost every nation visiting the show, and all the experts from our industry come together.
There will be a lot of key topics including looking at the circular economy, which every company is dealing with now,” he enthuses of some of the central themes which he is anticipating will play a prominent focus for the event. Critically, he also observes that product safety will be a flagship feature of this year’s event, with food security remaining a huge subject for the sector. This is all the more significant for segments including confectionery in the wake of significant issues emerging in the past year, including incidents of salmonella within supply chains, which caused much-publicised disruption during 2022. As the show director explains, environmental concerns were very much of importance at previous show editions, yet this year, are taking on even more significance. According to Thomas, this is very much because consumers are continuing to drive the demand for an ever-closer focus on packaging waste and recycling issues that are top of mind for many confectionery manufacturers in particular.
This is being seen with the likes of major market players such as Mars, Nestlé and Mondelez all announcing major recycling drives across their chocolate and sweets portfolios that are being phased-in over the next few years. Significantly, this is in many instances aligned to ‘net zero’ carbon emissions targets that companies are placing on themselves as part of environmental, social and governance goals (ESG), which are a major industry priority.
As the event’s wider organising team explains, the spotlight talks and trends at Interpack will include seven days of input around the most important topics and trends in the industry, best practices, and applications and their drivers for innovation and growth. This is set to include examining how the sector is exploring potential for greater levels of digitalisation, which is seen by many companies in the industry as fundamental to gaining leverage in a competitive field. Moreover, the event’s lecture forum will see each day dedicated to a different area of focus, complete with case studies and interactive sessions, in addition to presentations from industry experts. The WorldStar Packaging Awards will also be delivered through the World Packaging Organisation, the WPO, which will be dispensing a wide array of honours across categories including gift packaging, digital packaging and the special category of accessible packaging to honour achievements amid challenging times.
“We’re diving deep into the most important topics in the processing and packaging industry,” adds Thomas. “We are about putting tomorrow’s opportunities and challenges on the agenda. That is why we have redesigned our supporting programme. We look forward to numerous voices from experts as well as ground-breaking innovations and projects,” who expresses that he remains
considerably optimistic of Interpack’s prospects, and that the event will ‘hopefully be back stronger than ever.”
Broader industry challenges
As he concedes, there are still obstacles to overcome for the industry, including supply chain challenges, the fact that the travel sector has yet to fully recover from the pandemic, as well as geopolitical issues such as the war in Ukraine, that create further complexities in attempting to host a major global event. In spite of such considerations, he believes there’s a tangible sense of determination surrounding this year’s main event, which he enthuses remains rooted within a very welcoming city in terms of its inhabitants’ spirit and attitude. “There have been some major issues including the energy crisis – in Germany in particular, as we had been really dependent on Russian gas, so this affects industry, so innovation is influenced by the fact that energy costs are going higher. So, innovation could solve this in some ways, and this will be one of the hot topic of Interpack,” he reflects regarding perhaps the biggest headache for many nations.
Despite such background factors, the event director adds a clear message of optimism, that given the sheer length of time since its last edition, there remains a definite sense this year’s show will prove a decisive platform for brand new technology and systems. Clearly, with the machinery sector being the literal engine room of the industry, there’s little surprise that there’s a real buzz that is continuing to build, as the final few weeks before the show approach.
“If you have been to other smaller shows, you simply cannot compare it in terms of the size, the innovations, and machinery, and the people you meet from all over the world – we have around 70 per cent of visitors coming from outside of Germany, so you really do see the world in one place here in Düsseldorf, which only has around 700,000 people living here, so it’s a relatively small city, but it’s connecting the world for seven days. So, if you’re part of this industry, you have to come – it’s like the Olympic games of processing and packaging, you can’t afford to miss it, it’s a great experience,” he concludes of the event. With the eyes of the sector being very focused on the bustling German city this May, it’s certainly shaping up to be an especially eventful showcase indeed, with a thought-provoking agenda of environmental responsibility and technological advances offering up a powerful platform for its array of international visitors.