Conflict and Collaboration Spur Sustainable Packaging Innovation

The consumer goods marketplace is continuously evolving. Manufacturers and contract packagers must adapt to changing demands from retailers, consumers, and upstream partners. Retailers want shorter lead times and smaller on-hand inventories; consumers demand high-quality, sustainable, responsible goods. Retailers represent their and their customers’ interests when working with manufacturers and contract packagers – so their demands get co-mingled. For example, smaller shipments in sustainable, compostable packaging. All of this at a better price than before. These demands put manufacturers and contract packagers in a tight spot – how do they meet the requirements of their customers, remain profitable, and do it all at a faster pace than ever before?

Conflict arises when positions collide

Conflict often arises when parties have competing positions and interests. For example, when you and your business partner have different ideas about money and how it should be allocated or when you and a colleague disagree on the best way to move forward on this quarter’s production goal. Conflict gets a bad rap sometimes – especially in supply chain vendor-customer relationships. Addressing conflicts means talking about how we disagree about how our goals and aspirations collide. Thinking about talking about conflict can build anxiety – we worry about the worst-case scenario: that by addressing the conflict, the other party will abandon us and go to our competitor.

The fear and anxiety build because we think about conflict as win-lose or lose-lose: giving in means that we lose, forcing means that the other loses, and compromise means that we both lose. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a way for both parties to win – it’s called collaboration.

Collaboration: Building wins for both sides

Collaboration is everywhere. The term pops up with team-working software, business initiatives, and, for our purposes, with problem-solving. Collaborative problem-solving is a conflict resolution technique. In a nutshell, conflicting parties differentiate the issues that are behind their position, find common ground on issues, and build a win-win solution by embracing issue-based problem-solving over position-holding conflict.

For example, most of Procter & Gamble’s product line is sold in plastic containers. But even they are not immune from the customer and retailer demands to reduce single-use plastics for packaging. Recycled plastics usually are mechanically recycled, which can degrade the quality and limits reuse. Using recycled plastic can be an issue for companies, like P&G, whose products require a specific type of plastic and whose branding relies on clear plastic.

According to Meg Wilson at GreenBiz:

Polypropylene, for example, is one of the most widely used plastics, but its recycling rate is abysmal — less than 1 percent. That’s because the post-consumer product is a multicolored blend of feedstocks that can be reprocessed only into durable black plastic.

Recently P&G took on an initiative to invent a hybrid mechanical-chemical technology that reprocesses recycled plastic into clear pellets. P&G has led an open-sourced, collaborative effort to build a solution – The Closed Loop Fund and Innventure have funded this project and are helping to scale it up to a commercial venture called PureCycle. The first commercial facility in Ohio is expected to produce over 105 million pounds of recycled polypropylene annually by 2020.

Conflicting demands present an opportunity for collaboration

Collaboration is a powerful tool for conflict. For food manufacturers and contract packagers negotiating multiple, conflicting retailer demands, can present opportunities.

Retailers’ sustainability initiatives are positions built on several issues, such as consumer demands for environmentally conscious packaging and quality products as well as shareholder expectations for quick deliveries and cost control. Food manufacturers and contract packagers have positions, too, that are informed by issues like capital investment, forecasting, inventory, and run size to name a few. Simply identifying these issues presents opportunities for collaboration, solution, and innovation.

Sustainability efforts can fuel growth

CoPackers need to take a step back from wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” and start thinking of how they can create value. Consider thinking of ways to reducing risk, save operating costs, differentiating, and improving your brand reputation instead. Focus less on the pain of making changes and more about the output when you produce better products and processes.

A partner like Greif CPG provides the knowledge and experience to build processes and packaging solutions that bring innovative solutions to the table. We believe that the best packaging solutions are built when everyone’s concerns and needs are heard, considered, and addressed. And our 6P onboarding process ensures that the product, the process, and the people involved are fully at the center of every solution we create.

To keep this conversation going, let’s get in touch.