PPC Packaging Competition Spotlights Innovation, Sustainability

Plastic need not apply, according to organizers of the event known to packaging experts as “the Oscars of the paperboard industry.” The competition that drew entries from across the nation and internationally was judged recently at the One Financial Plaza building in Springfield.

“A lot of this is really art. What we have here is so renewable and earth-friendly, and that’s our biggest story,” said Brian Westerlind, Director of Industry Affairs for the Paperboard Packaging Council.

Drawing 130 entries from 35 companies large or small, the two-day 2023 North American Paperboard Packaging Competition spotlighted innovation, creativity and most of all, sustainability in product packaging.

“We’re really excited about all the creativity we have seen in the entries,” said Ben Markens, president of the Paperboard Packaging Council.

According to Markens and judge Nona Woolbright, the judges look for a combination of aspects: new and different approaches to packaging, whether they are visually appealing and perhaps most of all, whether they contribute to the elimination or reduction of plastics.

Woolbright says that, contrary to the old adage that one “can’t judge a book by its cover,” much can be revealed about a company’s packaging priorities.

“In the five years I’ve been a judge, I’ve seen a reduction in use of plastics,” said Woolbright, a professor at Clemson University in South Carolina who teaches courses in package and specialty printing.

Woolbright said that to the average consumer, quality packaging is part of their lives — more than most ever stop to realize.

“We interact every day with it, yet we almost never pay attention to it,” she said.

The two-day competition at 1350 Main St. ended Tuesday. The vast majority of the 35 participating companies were from the United States, with a handful from Canada and one from Brazil.

Entries were shipped to Springfield, each one accompanied by a written explanation of the concept behind it.

It was a proposal of sorts, designed to identify the genesis of the entry and its purpose. “That’s really the most important part. Every box has a story,” Paperboard Packaging Council marketing manager Irene Costello said.

In this industry-wide competition, all of the entries came from company sources, rather than through individuals.

“Some of the country’s major corporations are represented, but we also have family-owned or local companies like TigerPress here as well,” Markens said.

TigerPress is a commercial printing company based in East Longmeadow. It was not a public spectacle. Judges and administrators studied dozens of packaging concepts, in search of category winners selected for displaying sustainability, innovation or other desirable traits.

The products themselves ranged from food (which accounted for about half of the 17 product categories) to housewares, toys, hardware, recreation and cosmetics.

“One question we ask is, what (problem) was the customer trying to solve? In this case, the customer is the brand, and here, they are trying to solve real-life problems,” said Emily Leonczyk, Paperboard Packaging Council director of operations.

One of the packaging industry’s biggest problems is how to reduce the use of plastics and other non-renewable materials. Stories abound of whales and other animals found dead from the consumption of large amounts of plastics.

These reports tug at consumers’ heartstrings, but are only one example of a large industry challenge. Markens said the stories behind the creation of the entries go beyond what can be visually seen.

“How does a package work structurally? How is it kept together?” he asked rhetorically. The accompanying proposal gave the answer, he said.

A concept as outwardly simple, and yet as original, as holding two, one-gallon jugs of oil together with one paperboard was worthy of attention, he said.

The 2023 winners were selected this week in Springfield, but will remain a secret until October, when they will be announced at the industry’s conference in San Diego, California. The 2023 conference will be held on the West Coast, but Springfield is home to the Paperboard Packaging Council. The council’s executive offices were moved from Virginia to the city’s downtown in 2008.

The council employs nearly a dozen administrators who supervise a $10 billion industry. The competition is a highlight, but Markens said the organization’s activities stretch year-round.


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