5 Tips for Transitioning from Rigid to Flexible Packaging

23 September 2016 //

Flexible PackagingPackaging System Upgrade

According to the Flexible Packaging Association 2016 State of the Flexible Packaging Industry report, flexible packaging is forecasted to grow 2.1% to 31.6 Billion during 2016.  Its unique features compared to rigid packaging make it widely appealing to consumers of a wide range of products. In addition, its flexible format can translate into a smaller footprint, which reduces transportation costs for manufacturers.

If you’re considering transitioning your current ridged primary packaging line to flexible packaging, considering the following five tips can help increase the project’s overall success.

1. Flexible Packaging Design and Materials

The wide range of formats, shapes and materials available in flexible primary packaging gets stakeholders involved very excited. When a proposed transition is initiated, it’s important to include all departments, from Marketing to Operations, involved in the development. By limiting the packaging design to only Marketing, you run the risk of deciding on a packaging design before production considerations are fully explored. For instance, the selection of a pouch shape and material color might meet Marketing and Branding requirements, but may ultimately pose printing or format handling constraints.

Make sure all stakeholders have the chance to articulate their needs and concerns so the right equipment is in place for both primary and secondary packaging.

2. Mine Experience from Other Industries

Given that transitions into a flexible packaging format can often be ‘firsts’ for a brand owner, product line, or even a market segment, it becomes even more important to seek out experience from as many viewpoints as possible, even if not 100% directly related to the initiative at hand.

In fact, operational experience with a flexible packaging format in a completely different industry than yours can be more relevant than an industry or application that is closer to home. If you manufacture cake mixes, for example, the experience of a fertilizer manufacturer could be very valuable. Those two industry segments couldn’t be further apart, yet the flexible packaging format makes the experience relevant.

3. Blow Up Internal Silos

When a particular packaging format has been used for many years, there’s a tendency to separate and isolate functions (and their associated agendas); for example, separating Material Sourcing from Operations. The upside of this can be stability, but a potential downside is sluggishness or lack of drive to make any changes to relationships or procedures.

A dramatic change to the packaging format can be healthy; in fact, changing primary or secondary packaging material suppliers is often necessary as part of an initiative to move to flexibles and that presents a great opportunity to incorporate changes to the supplier relationship culture – rather than making one dramatic change and then another in a year’s time.

4. Involve for Accountability

There’s a huge benefit to you to involve external partners with one another. Material and Equipment suppliers will often be involved directly only with ‘the customer’ and their interaction with each other is incidental and can be filtered and diluted to the extent that there’s little accountability. But as a rule, partner suppliers welcome the opportunity to engage fully with one another because they get a better understanding of how the customer or application’s needs apply to all parties. This understanding leads to accountability between the external parties and to the end-customer. If you were to bring together an equipment and material supplier before the specification of either is locked down, you’d find that they’d leverage one another’s experience and have collective buy-in before final proposals are developed.

5. ROI Hunting

Transitions from rigid to flexible packaging will often affect primary, secondary and tertiary packaging materials, equipment and operations. This is a great opportunity to look for and distribute ROI across the entire initiative, as opposed to each component needing to meet a hurdle on its own. Example: potential for savings in secondary packaging material costs facilitating investment in primary packaging equipment that would not otherwise have cleared a hurdle rate.

As you can see, these opportunities to ensure project success all involve bringing together the insights and expertise of multiple parties. Decisions on packaging equipment made in a silo are risky and often result in dissatisfied stakeholders, and suppliers and vendors who aren’t fully “on board” and whose expertise isn’t fully taken advantage of. Take the time to do your due diligence and your project will be off to the best start possible!