David Luttenberger

Packaging is the Rodney Dangerfield of the branded product world. It gets little or no respect. Packaging is often banished, like a small child at Thanksgiving, from conversations at the adult table. Packaging is largely seen as a cost center. But packaging is strategic, not just technical. And packaging professionals having been preaching these same sermons about their station as second-class corporate citizens to the c-suite choir Sunday after Sunday, year after year, for decades.

The C-Suite is likely to start singing from the packaging world’s hymnal, and the unifying force can be found in the creation of a new cross-functional role for CPG organizations: the Chief Packaging Officer.

The idea of elevating packaging to a C-suite title and function isn’t exactly new. In the early 2000s, the packaging community was abuzz when Jay Gouliard joined Unilever as VP/Global Packaging. He, like others, had previously held a VP of packaging title, albeit always unceremoniously followed by “development,” “R&D,” or “innovation” and the reporting line on the org chart generally connected to the chief marketing officer rather than the COO or CEO. That often left him, and others, out of the adult table discussions about the value packaging can deliver both internally and to consumers.

During the entire first decade of the new millennium, Brian Wagner and Mike Richmond, co-founders of what was then Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions (PTIS), brought the phrase “getting packaging a seat at the table” into the lexicon of every top packaging professional frustrated at the limited voice packaging had in strategic conversations at the brand owner and manager level. But it largely remained just that – a phrase and idea bantered about within packaging’s inner circles. In Richmond’s book, Creating Value Through Packaging, published early in 2013, he and co-authors Jim Peters and Brian Higgins made the first cursory mention of what Kodak has now taken the leadership reigns on – an intentional and coordinated effort to not only create the role of Chief Packaging Officer, but to provide senior packaging leaders –even future Chief Packaging Officers — a place where, on a daily basis, they can find and share content relevant to the role. That place is chiefpackagingofficer.com.

PMMI’s Packaging Management Council, an invited group of several dozen of the most senior packaging professionals from the world’s most influential consumer packaged goods companies, has defined “senior packaging leader” as: a person with divisional or corporate level responsibility for the planning, direction, and implementation of value-added services in any of the following functional areas: packaging research and development, design, material selection and equipment technology for a consumer or industrial goods manufacturing company.

As a 25-year veteran of the packaging industry, I’m intrigued by brands, converters, and innovators who believe they can change the business of packaging for the better. As a member of Kodak’s chiefpackagingofficer.com Editorial Advisory Board I wanted to hear first-hand from those with true VP or Director titles about what they believed could be gained by an active campaign to elevate one of their own to a Chief Packaging Officer position, or how they might help create a clear career path that would lead one of their reports to a Chief Packaging Officer position in the near future.

Their answers to three questions I posed via email on the topic, ranged from “in our dreams” to “it was part of a discussion we had in 1997 about the future of packaging in 2020” to “it’s more about how well we, as today’s packaging leaders, communicate the strategic value of packaging than it is about the title under which we do it. And in an alphabet soup of organizational chart acronyms, another lamented that “our CFO, CMO, C[Purchasing]O, and CSCO contemporaries must first buy into the notion that without packaging there is no CPG.”

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Others replied that from the perspective of those with technical or engineering roles, packaging, by virtue of its elements of innovation and consumer centricity, is seen as a marketing function. Ironically, those in marketing or insights who are closest to the consumer see the function of packaging as being technical. Once again, packaging loses out on a seat at either table.

The creation of a Chief Packaging Officer could not only help overcome the [mis]perceptions about packaging by other stakeholders, but could actually help those with vested interests make more informed strategic decisions that impact brand ideation, product and package development, materials and equipment procurement and other strategic decisions allied to long-term growth and profitability of a brand, division or company. When packaging sits side-by-side with the CMO, CSCO, and the CFO, rather than reporting through them, better decisions that impact the brand, how packaging can help drive costs out while at the same time deliver greater levels of innovation and consumer satisfaction (read: brand equity) can be made not on a project-by-project basis, but from a multi-year strategic platform.

The key to making the Chief Packaging Officer become a reality, says another respondent to my unscientific survey, is changing the mindset internally about the function of packaging, and having counterparts that understand, buy into and fully support the rationale for creating the position, albeit likely in a way that won’t undermine the corporate capital they’ve earned over time and which they spend freely when it best serves their own needs.

Lessons in business history reveal precedents for a Chief Packaging Officer title. Business guru Peter Drucker wrote in the 1950s that “Objective number one is customer-centricity, and [that] focus must come from the very top and filter down through the whole organization so everyone has the incentive to add value. Although paying attention to the customer is common sense, unfortunately common sense is less and less common.” While Drucker was lobbying for a Chief Customer Officer, he most certainly meant customer in the B2B sense. That said, his top-down philosophy could be applied in the context of “consumer” as the customer, and the Chief Packaging Officer and packaging could be that central focus around which all other elements of the brand and operations could rally to achieve consumer centricity for one (the brand) and all (the company).

Without doubt the content, resources, and exchange of ideas current VPs and directors and those aspiring to the same level will find daily on ChiefPackagingOfficer.com, will help them achieve that consumer centricity through packaging and enable Chief Packaging Officers to turn dreams in reality, discussions into actions, and ideas into strategies.

To learn more download the white paper from Kodak, “The Case for the Chief Packaging Officer” that dives deep into the rationale for this important organizational change.

DOWNLOAD MINTEL’S CONSUMER TRENDS REPORT FOR FREE: Thanks to a partnership between Mintel and The Chief Packaging Officer I am proud to offer readers a chance to learn four key consumer trends affecting their markets with a free download of the Mintel 2015 US Consumer Trends Report.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Luttenberger is the Global Packaging Director at Mintel. He has 24 years of packaging experience. He can be reached at dluttenberger@mintel.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @packaginggeek.


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