David LuttenbergerLiving in the Northeast United States, it doesn’t get much better than to score a mid-winter speaking gig in south Florida. That is, unless you are a card-carrying packaging geek and your audience is a group of senior level CPG executives.

Such was the case recently when I was invited by PMMI to share Mintel market intelligence and consumer packaging insights at its Top To Top Executive Leadership Conference, an event that fosters the idea and practice of “leaders communicating solutions.”

In attendance at this event were packaging operations directors, VPs of package engineering, and new business development leaders representing such brands as Hershey’s, ConAgra, Campbell’s, and J&J. All were intent on finding a way to sooth sourcing sore spots, mitigate manufacturing bottlenecks and secure supply chain efficiencies – seemingly all with a reporting senior who gave them the green light to attend, but often, as was more discretely shared, less than sympathetic when it comes to hearing from them about implementing a systems-thinking approach to package R&D, production, and marketing.

My duty for this presentation was simple: share what you see happening in packaging innovation; tell us what consumers are thinking about packaging; help us understand the implications of both for our OEM members and their CPG clients. Yea. Simple.

About a week in advance of the event I began to populate the requisite PowerPoint deck with such Mintel insights as “82 percent of consumers seek some form of functionality in every package in every end-use category,” and a few of my own maxims, like “the consumer’s perception has become a brand’s reality.” Those two always cause heads to drop for just a moment as attendees furiously touch-type notes into their iPads to share later with colleagues or to post immediately as Tweets. But the real substance of this presentation, for this particular audience, actually was simple. I needed to lay out a few consumer trends, illustrate them with a smattering of unique packaging innovations, and challenge the gathered group of execs to think not like packaging operations managers, directors, or even VPs, but as chief packaging officers.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the last slide before my “Key Takeaways” conclusion that I introduced the concept of the CPO, briefly described how such a c-suite executive would operate and lead, and in effect create a post from which they could operate exactly as they had come to Tampa to discuss: how to become more effective leaders at communicating [packaging] solutions.

So, with time ticking down on my presentation, and me being the only thing between the business portion of the day’s conference and 18 holes of golf on a picture perfect Sunshine State morning, I offered a brief explanation of exactly what a CPO is, or could be.

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As a CPO, I’d lead and listen to the “spirited” debate between procurement and marketing.

As a CPO, I’d consider the potential to extend the brand by customizing and personalizing package decoration, and how to integrate digital printing in-line with forming, filling, and sealing a stand-up pouch, and how it could potentially be a cost-effective strategy.

As a CPO, I would not only be talking to brand managers about the benefit to the brand of engaging consumers with smart sensors, but I’d be talking to the VP of production about the impact on line speed of those sensors on retail-ready packaging.

As a CPO, I’d communicate to the design department how even the most responsible source-reduction initiatives don’t always mean an automatic lower total cost of finished goods.

As a CPO, I’d have marketing’s back, and marketing would have mine, when the conversation turned to consumers attitudes toward a reseal vs. reclose, and what the difference in cost and value is to the brand between a reseal feature and consumer complaints about food waste due to non-performing packaging.
As the CPO, I’d be able to take all these ideas and solutions directly to the CEO, rather than have her hear it second- or third-hand from a department VP.

After bullet pointing the CPO’s job description, to my surprise and delight, rather than the crowd making a bee-line for the first tee, it was like someone turned the “can I get an Amen” switch to the on position, and the notion of the creation of a CPO blossomed.

Bryan Griffen, group engineering manager at Nestle USA, stood, nodded his head, and acknowledged the position was exactly what “our industry and profession” needs to create harmony across departments and efficiencies across organizations. John Kowal, director of business development at B&R Industrial Automation, concurred, and shared an example of how a c-suite champion such as a CPO would be the voice that’s missing between brand and package development and packaging production and operations.

If I had a do-over on this presentation, and had been privy to the event’s underlying theme prior to seeing the printed agenda minutes before taking the stage, I would have dedicated the majority of my time not to talking more about the idea of creating a CPO position, but to listening more to attendees’ thoughts. What I did hear in the short time available was clear. That the premise of a CPO resonates, and that the creation of such a position is not just about one’s personal career development but about how such a leadership position can truly help communicate solutions — not just within package development and operations, but across organizations as a whole.

 

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