Once more unto the breach…

Dick SearleIt was my great pleasure to be in Stratford upon Avon this month. Something of the Bard must have been in the air because the messages given and the audience receiving it provided a very good fit indeed.

The occasion was the environment seminar of the Foodservice Packaging Assocation, a member trade association of The Packaging Federation. The turnout was very healthy and the sessions were well structured and well organised. All credit to Martin Kersh, FSPA secretary, and FSPA chairman Neil Whittall of Huhtamaki UK for presiding over things.

As I walked to the podium to make The Packaging Federation presentation – the last presentation of the conference – it was clear to me that we were going to enjoy ourselves.  As you might expect, I generally work off a standard powerpoint module to introduce myself, the PF and packaging issues. However, the material is always structured for topicality and ad libbing and I try to make it fresh and new every time.

My Stratford audience certainly thought so – and was sympathetic and appreciative. Sometimes it just takes a thought or the right word to dislodge and articulate the truths that are self-evident. Those who know me will realise that preaching to the converted is something that I try to avoid. However, encouraging our own industry simply to know its strengths and to act upon them is for me a 101 requirement. It’s also a task that, for the sake of reason and common sense, is absolutely necessary.

And oftentimes we simply need a little fun and ‘kiddology’ to get the ball rolling and see the world straight again.  For example – ‘How much packaging do we sell to consumers?’ I am often fond of asking companies. The correct answer is none, of courseConsumers buy products. Packaging is simply the delivery system that brings those products to market.

Thanks to Simon Twilley and PackTV, who were present at the FPA event, these and other messages are now preserved and available over the internet. Simon’s PackTV gives our sector a regular and interesting diet of news and features in a handy format that is designed for our YouTube age.

Some of you will have seen me in this mode and setting. The message is familiar but I make no apology for that. A variety of media formats and offerings are key to keeping our message alive with all. Please do check out Simon’s site at www.packtv.co.uk where you’ll find me under his recent FPA coverage. Enjoy!

Many thanks again

Dick Searle

Food security – a renewed challenge for packaging

Dick SearleTwenty years ago you could be forgiven for thinking that the term ‘food security’ represented some branch of the tamper evident packaging world.

Today – as Wikipedia tells us food security ‘refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it.’ It is certain that as our global population grows the food security term will gain more currency – and not in a good way, I fear.

All the more reason, therefore, for our particular industry to remember its fundamental strengths and to be allowed to step up and play a full and creative part in tackling the global food security challenge.

In the UK, our supply chain gets rightly twitchy if, at any point, product wastage figures of over 3% are showing. In some developing economies – and much larger scale than ours – wastage rates of over 40% are the current norm. The problem – and the opportunity – is large scale and if not tackled will sow destructive seeds.

Process and continuous improvement engineers tell us that in any production system the greatest waste can be found in the waste of finished product. Why? Because all the other factors and costs of production involved – the energy; skills; growing time; packaging and so forth – have also been wasted into the bargain.

This fact gives us another reason why the UK’s WRAP-led campaign against food waste is so fundamental and important – and deserves a new lease of life from the Government.

Packaging, of course, is not a product but rather a delivery system, and it has a critical role to play in helping many economies dramatically lower their unacceptable rates of food wastage.

I am certain that – with the right orchestration, imagination and creativity – the combined talents in our sector can do much more to protect the rotting crops and wasted agriculture in fields and factories worldwide.

Food security issues are here to stay, both home and abroad. They will retain a place on my desk for the foreseeable future and the Packaging Federation will play a full part in helping our industry to make a welcome contribution of value. 

Thanks again

Dick Searle

Fundamentals – not fundamentalism

Already the headlines are showing an interesting year: House prices are up not down; the service sector is on the rise not waning.

Christmas as usual has been duly enjoyed – despite the untimely and unseemly mid-December own-goal by Grant Shapps MP on how he thinks we should celebrate it.

Plot reversals, turnabouts and unbriefed politicians speaking out of turn are, of course, the perennial stuff of drama. And drama, like it or not, is increasingly the stuff of the media.

However, today’s infotainment often does less than nothing to help serious issues – and does nothing either for common sense or for common purposes such as our national recycling targets.

This month, Government and industry, as planned, are working closely together with each other in order to review and improve our current recycling practices and targets.

From where I sit, both parties are ready and equal for the task. Both are proving to be sensitive to the needs of the supply chain. Both are mostly refraining from ill-informed and ‘flaming’ comments. Both are conscious of the need to not impose further financial burdens on manufacturing margins that the UK can ill afford.

If I was in the hoping or wishing business for 2012 – sadly I’m not – I would ask that our industry and society could be granted a reprieve from headline grabbers and from fundamentalisms of various kinds.

Progress would then be much more assured. We could also deploy fundamentals in exactly the right way.

What are those fundamentals? Let me – without apology – restate them as follows.

  • Packaging is a net environmental benefit: It saves much more waste than it produces
  • Packaging conserves the resources and products that society wants
  • Packaging offers shoppers choice – a variety of goods and a variety of types of goods (brands) – all day, every day.

I am personally looking forward very much this month to helping Defra, BIS and their associates increase the resource efficiency of UK plc with these three simple truths in mind. I hope that they become the cornerstone for our joint continuing and effective work in this area through this year and beyond.

Happy New Year!

Dick Searle