EU Plastics Strategy: Multivac chief calls for responsibility amid digitalization revolution

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23 Mar 2018 --- Hans-Joachim Boekstegers, Director and CEO of Multivac has adopted a clear position on the EU's Plastics Strategy, which he has outlined at Anuga FoodTec in Cologne earlier this week. One-third of the plastics-based packaging waste ends up in the environment, largely in the oceans, without any regulation, and in future, there is likely to be a rise in packaging production. “We are therefore convinced, that a high degree of commitment and awareness of responsibility is required, not only by the plastics industry but also by all players in the process chain – this means product manufacturers, producers and packers as well as machine and film manufacturers, retailers and of course consumers,” he said.

The first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics, adopted in January 2018, is a part of the transition towards a more circular economy. Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted. This is creating both challenges and opportunities for packaging players. 

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst in Cologne, Boekstegers notes: “This is the first time in my career that a reduction in plastic is really starting to impact the business, as the EU has set some demands on the environment, asking for more recyclable materials and more biodegradable products etc. On the other hand, nobody wants to pay for that. It is ultimately the consumer that decides. If they are willing to pay more, there will be a change in business. There is a lot more demand for this type of packaging, for example, a combined board with plastic.”

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Hans-Joachim Boekstegers,
Director and CEO of Multivac

Multivac has already been actively pursuing a number of initiatives in this area for many years and presented innovative concepts in Cologne, which contribute to implementing the Plastics Strategy. These include the fact, that the technology and equipment options of the packaging machines are already designed in such a way, that they can run a wide range of packaging materials, including fiber-based materials such as paper or board. A further starting point is a systematic reduction in packaging material consumption during the production of the packs. This can be achieved by equipping the packaging machines with a range of different options, as well as by designing the packs appropriately so that for example over-dimensioned packs are avoided. 

Multivac is also working in conjunction with the packaging material industry on the development of alternative packaging materials, as well as on new packaging concepts such as the use of mono materials or so-called biopolymer materials so that the required recycling quotas can be met. Boekstegers does, however, point out, that from today's perspective the barrier properties of these materials are not comparable with those of conventional materials, and this means that there could be negative effects in certain applications on the shelf life of the packaged products.

At Anuga Foodtec 2018, Multivac looked back on a successful 2017 and presented its strategy for 2018. At the end of 2017, the number of employees was around 5,300 worldwide, and the turnover virtually reached the €1 billion mark. The order intake is currently above that of 2017 and Boekstegers expects a growth rate in 2018 “of more than ten percent despite a number of risks and challenges.” As regards the US market, Hans-Joachim Boekstegers does not, however, venture to make any reliable prognosis, given the “America First” policy of the current administration with its recently imposed import duties. It also remains to be seen, how the reactions from China and the EU impact on the global economy and world trade. “There is also some tension here in Europe, since Brexit and political uncertainty in Poland, Italy and Turkey, as well as volatile crude oil and raw material prices, continue to influence the investment climate in Europe.”

Overall, the Multivac chief stressed to FoodIngredientsFirst that: “If we are looking in general, the business environment is very good, but on the other hand regionally you see a lot of impact from Brexit. The UK business environment is not very good as the investment climate is not as it could be. We have a lot of postponements because of an environment where the industry is uncertain. In Germany, we have had some bankruptcies of certain suppliers. There’s a lot going on, the big ones are getting bigger and it is a competitive market.”

Boekstegers sees the Multivac Group as being well equipped for the challenges of the future, however. There is also positive news to report from the sales organization and production sites. Last year Multivac founded its own Sales & Service bases in Taiwan, Mongolia and Macedonia. A further production hall is currently taking shape at the Wolfertschwenden site, as well as the new Slicer Application Center. A new factory went into operation in the US, as well as the new production facility in Bulgaria. Production capacity in Lechaschau as well as at Multivac Marking & Inspection in Enger was also expanded. The CEO also announced further investment for the future: “We will continue to systematically drive forward the expansion of our sales and production sites, as well as working to extend our product portfolio.”

The future strategy of “Better Packaging and Processing" forms the framework of this for Multivac, and it creates significant added value for customers. By expanding its product portfolio in the areas of upstream and downstream processing equipment, and thanks to its comprehensive expertise in line construction and automation, the packaging specialist is now in a position to be able to offer integrated and holistic solutions from one source for portioning, slicing, packaging and right up to end-of-line.

The group was able to give significant impetus to the market last year, particularly through its acquisitions in the portioning and slicing sectors. This also applies to the Multivac X-line, which was given the Gold International FoodTec Award 2018. “At Anuga FoodTec we are demonstrating our expertise in digitalization and Industry 4.0 through this new generation of thermoforming packaging machines,” emphasizes Hans-Joachim Boekstegers.

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At Anuga FoodTec, Multivac demonstrated
expertise in digitalization and Industry 4.0.

In addition to complete lines, in which the company's own portioning systems and slicers are integrated, Multivac also presented a complete product range for producing high-quality vacuum skin packs with MultiFresh. Examples of this process shown were a high-output T 800 tray sealer, as well as on an R 105 MF thermoforming packaging machine. MultiFresh films, which Multivac has developed in conjunction with leading film manufacturers, are run on both machines. 

In addition to this, the trade fair highlights also included a labeling solution for the D labeling of packs, which is marketed under the name "Full-wrap labeling." As with a banderole or sleeve, the label is completely wrapped around the pack, and this offers many possibilities for different types of pack design, as well as increasing the attractiveness of the packs at the point of sale.

For Boekstegers, digitalization is changing the face of packaging as demands evolve. “Long shelf-life time is no longer really the main driving business, as the market trend changes quite quickly,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “Maybe we need to consider new machine concepts which follow these needs. Today a typical Multivac machine has a typical shelf-life time of 30 years, but maybe 15 years is enough. Maybe we need to adapt it a bit. Digitalization drives the business today. Our X machine self-learning machine is an answer to that will create new business models, because maybe in the future we pay by pack, or something like that. With these types of machines, we know much more about the process and can adjust accordingly.”

Digitalization could be both in terms of the product inside or the operation of the equipment itself, he adds. “Digitalization could relate to the production process. Of course, the business process is much more transparent than it was in the past. The second part is the equipment side, there we have far more sensor-driven stories than in the past, which allows you to run the equipment far more efficiently than in the past and still use the films. The machine is able to adjust far more than in the past. Or you can drive the efficiency, whereby, for example, 10 days before the knife is spoilt, you are alerted to it, or your package tells you ‘your package is leaking, you need to change the process’,” he notes. 

Despite the calls to reduce packaging materials and even moves towards a plastic-free supermarket, Boekstegers stresses that packaging remains relevant, particularly as the calls for food waste reduction intensify. “Packaging is a need. Without this type of packaging that we produce, the supermarket concept would no longer work. Plastic-free is something that you can do for one day – there is no protection and no shelf-life time. At the end of the day, you throw the packaging away – is that a good or a bad thing?” he concludes. 

You can view a video interview with Boekstegers here

By Robin Wyers

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst's sister website, PackagingInsights.

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