A Decade in Packaging
This year we at Mercury are celebrating our 10th anniversary. Recruiting across all sectors of packaging we have seen dramatic change in the last decade. The industry has seen major structural change and consequently new roles have been created, business models have shifted with emphasis on different roles and skill sets.
There is no doubt that some in the industry are feeling a little beleaguered after the, often unjustified, environmental onslaught. However it is clear that the challenges have thrown up opportunities and in large part the industry has adapted and innovated to maintain its success.
Indeed the vilification from the environmental lobby has resulted in not just the creation of innovative packs but new roles in compliance and sustainability and entire brands focused on being socially and environmentally responsible.
Certain sectors, such as corrugated and flexibles, have seen massive consolidation. Whilst others, with a market rather than product orientation such as pharmaceutical packaging, have seen a multitude of single product specialists subsumed into one of a handful of groups.
The impact of this consolidation is clear. These remaining large groups have proportionately smaller and more focused sales teams and this in conjunction the reduced number of employers means there are fewer opportunities. This in turn has lead to the situation where there are a number of people who have effectively worked for all of the key players within a given sector. Long term this is a problem both for the individuals and the employers; people with nowhere to go may stagnate and block the opportunities to bring fresh blood and talent into the industry.
End users have changed and the relative power of supermarkets and other large multinationals has grown over the years. Coupled with the rise of technology and competition this means that even areas which were considered specialist have been commoditised. Packaging suppliers struggle to differentiate – often customer resist differentiated products and want to commoditise even where they deny themselves innovative packs. Some consider the cost benefits of standardised commodity packs they can buy on prices outweigh the marketing benefit of the innovative pack.
So what kind of people and skills are in demand? In a word sophistication. I have and would say commercial acumen, but that on its own is not enough. Sales, commercial and customer facing roles require commercial acumen but more than that it is the ability to see the bigger picture, consider longer term and be able to contribute to or prepare multi year complex supply agreements; finding ways to support the customer’s business goals whilst maintaining profitability themselves.
Packaging suppliers have invested heavily in their design capabilities to provide a point of differentiation. However so many have done it that it no longer is a differentiator. Worse the CEO of a large packaging group recently told me that whilst they have an excellent design team who come up with great designs it was very difficult to say if it actually added anything to the profitability of the company. So again it has to be more that just design lead there has to be a degree of sophistication in the thinking that ensures innovation adds vale.
There is no doubt the packaging sector will face more challenges so at all levels we need people who are more sophisticated and think beyond traditional roles..