“We have made some innovations that have brought disruptions in the packaging industry”

Rick Michelman, president and CEO at Michelman says “Many of our new products result in elimination of additional filmic layers or processes, which can contribute to cost efficiency. We are very excited about developing additional ground-breaking products.”

22 May 2023 | By WhatPackaging? Team

Rick Michelman, CEO, Michelman

PrintWeek (PW): Looking back at 2022, how would you grade Michelman’s performance?
Rick Michelman (RM):
Michelman has built, and continues to build, our business based on trusted relationships with customers and suppliers. Transparency helps us build and sustain these trusted relationships.
During the global supply constraints faced by many manufacturers throughout 2022, we made it a priority to proactively communicate with our customers regarding anticipated supply constraints. This proactive communication helped our customers develop contingency plans as needed.

In terms of our grade, I’d like to think we’ve earned high marks for doing our best to provide our customers with needed product, options, or early indicators in the face of global shortages.


PW: The years 2020 to 2022 have been volatile. What drove Michelman’s journey during these three years?
RM:
Michelman has a diverse product portfolio and we serve multiple industries across the globe, including printing and packaging, fibres and composites, agriculture, and coatings and additives. This diversification really helped us maintain steady operations. We strive to nurture reciprocal communication with customers that allows us to understand their plans and anticipate their pain points. We seek to proactively help customers navigate through any challenges (like the ones that occurred due to the pandemic).

PW: What does the concept of customer development mean to you? What is the coolest customer development case study you can share with us?
RM:
We find it mutually beneficial when we work with customers who share our purpose of innovating a sustainable future.

In addition to focusing on sustainability because it is the best thing to do for the planet, there are also government initiatives that support this direction, like India’s plastic waste management (PWM) regulations that are mandating companies conform with sustainability targets when creating new products.

Our innovative solution for high-security printing application is one interesting case study. We worked on this specific application exclusively with an Indian printer which has given them global recognition.

PW: And on the technology front?
RM:
An exciting technology improvement involves Michelman’s coatings that provide excellent oxygen and moisture barrier performance for flexible packaging. These coatings can be applied to both paper and film substrates. These coatings can replace less environmentally friendly materials and allow packaging structures that can be either recycled or composted.

We have also developed coatings that lessen the environmental impact of paints. Our coatings help remove greenhouse gas emissions from paints by enabling the switch from solvent-based to water-based chemistries.

PW: The K in Dusseldorf  and Labelexpo in India concluded on a high note. Three important exhibitions are lined up in 2023 and 2024, Labelexpo Europe in Brussels plus Interpack/Drupa in Dusseldorf. What should we expect from you at these shows?
RM:
I find it extremely valuable to engage with our international colleagues and customers at trade shows and I look forward to attending each of the shows listed above in person. It will be fun to see industry colleagues in person after a miss of several years!

Corporately, Michelman will be an exhibitor at both Labelexpo Europe 2023 and at Drupa 2024. Although we will not be exhibiting at Interpack 2023, a number of our associates will be attending the show.

PW: India is a price-sensitive market, yet the trends are forever changing. As a mass producer of products, how does one stay relevant, and what innovations in products can one offer for consumers to create trends or disrupt the marketplace?
RM:
Yes, India is a price-sensitive market, but in this day and age, no market is immune to price. To maintain relevance, we concentrate on being an innovation-driven company to help move industries forward. We leverage our expert materials knowledge and our focus on developing comprehensive customer solutions to develop products that provide customers with the enhanced performance attributes that are required in the markets they serve. Also, as sustainability mandates are increasing and evolving worldwide, performance criteria, as it relates to the circular economy, is escalating. As we develop new products that meet more stringent sustainability requirements, we are tasked with enhancing our product line. We have made some innovations that have brought disruptions in the packaging industry and we are very excited about developing additional ground-breaking products.

Many of our new products result in elimination of additional filmic layers or processes, which can contribute to cost efficiency.

PW: What are these innovations?
RM:
One of the coatings that we developed is for edible oil packaging. This functional coating eliminates the need for nylon or EVOH in edible oil pouch packaging structure, but still provides oxygen barrier. It can be used for other end applications too. Brands owners and converters are showing interest in paper coatings as well.We have introduced a range of coatings that are used as a replacement to polyethylene (PE) that provides the necessary barrier properties. Some of the end applications include paper cups, paper plates, and take-out containers.

PW: The F&B packaging market in India is expected to grow from USD 33.2-billion in 2020 at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9.3% until 2026. We did a basic calculation that the consumption of packaged foods in India rose by 200% during the previous ten years, from 4.3-kg to 8.6-kg per person per year. Additionally, the beverage industry accounts for around 23% of all PET applications in packaging. The point is, consumption patterns are high in India. How does one manage a circular economy under such circumstances?
RM:
The F&B market is growing and it is expected to grow in the coming years as well. We believe the circular economy is going to play a significant role in that as the government is quite sensitised about leading our manufacturing community towards developing more sustainable products and reducing overall waste. Plastic waste management (PWM) regulations are playing an increasingly prominent role in ensuring that both manufacturers and brands are transitioning away from less desirable materials in favour of more environmentally friendly solutions. Many brands have taken a pledge that within three to five years they would like to move all their SKUs to 100% recyclable products.

While the F&B market is growing quite significantly, I think the drive to move to sustainable products is also very clear. We also recognise that consistent growth is occurring because overall market penetration is low. Per capita consumption of packaging in India is still nominal relative to the growing population. We believe that increased market penetration will be a very important factor in the coming years.

PW: How do you address greenwashing as part of your sustainability / circular economy communications?
RM:
Our sustainability claims are based on extensive research that allows us to quantify sustainability achievements. In addition, we engage with third-party sustainability organisations, like Ecovadis and Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), to verify our sustainability achievements.

By the way, it is interesting that you ask this question because we recently launched a page on our website that describes how Michelman is addressing sustainability concerns. We invite your readers to take a look at the page which can be found at michelman.com/sustainability.

PW: Are paper, paperboard and label converters still managing business and manufacturing operations with industrial-age practices despite being a part of the knowledge age? Is there a knowledge gap in our industry? How do we bridge it? How do we convince Gen Z about the clout of ink on paper?
RM:
It is likely that big parts of the industry are less comfortable with change, so an internal hurdle might exist. If we dream of what might be, and engage generations and innovators to make it so, we do capture the spirit of a better future, where people and the planet also benefit. In other words, we have to seek out those who have a vision, and want to make it happen personally.

Historically, there has been a lack of investments in this area which is gradually improving now with sustainability taking the front seat.

Regarding engaging Gen Z, a wow approach could work well to motivate their cohort to embrace ink on paper. Digital technologies enable personalisation by using variable data. When Gen Z sees personalisation in unique labelling or individualised photo books commemorating graduations or weddings, they can gain an enhanced appreciation of how new technologies can customise their experiences on an individualised level.

PW: The structural design of packaging, which embraces a pack’s shape, texture, materials and product delivery capability, has mostly stayed the same. How should the industry approach structural packaging innovation? Through new product formats; new offerings like tofu and craft beer; eco-friendly, increased shelf life - MAP (modified atmospheric packaging)?
RM:
First and foremost, I have to admit that I would pick a craft beer over tofu any day of the week (I realise this is a personal preference. In Cincinnati, Ohio, where our headquarters are located, we have an abundance of microbreweries that keep the choices interesting. Additionally, as I travel internationally, I always like to sample the local cuisine, including regional beers, and, occasionally tofu.)

Advances in materials and equipment facilitate innovation in package design. From the materials standpoint, our water-based coatings can be applied to substrates in a way that can eliminate the need for lamination and reverse printing. Our coatings can also be applied to either side of a substrate. We have strong relationships with digital printing equipment manufacturers so we can work with them, hand-in-hand, at optimising digital printing efficiencies. This combination of improved materials and equipment empowers packaging designers to develop innovative packaging designs as they leverage the power of monolayer structures for their flexible packaging needs.

PW: The Government of India has set a vision of a USD 5-trillion economy. In your view, what are the opportunities for the print and packaging industry - and your organisation - in India?
RM:
USD 5-trillion economy opens the door to several opportunities for the print and packaging industry – customised designs that directly appeal to consumers is one of them. The industry is also exploring compostable or biodegradable solutions which currently are scarce and may not be economically viable for commodity products. However, in the future, these options may be a source for growth.

We have also seen certain moves from the government wherein they are pro-foreign investments and are offering many such programmes that were not present earlier. So yes, the atmosphere is investor-friendly and Michelman’s presence in India is expanding. Likewise, other industries that we serve, including paints, inks, and composites, are also experiencing strong growth in India. We have plans to expand our operations in India.

PW: As and when the present USD 3.1-trillion economy grows to a USD 5-trillion economy, the Indian printing industry, particularly the packaging industry, will see substantial growth. One number says, the packaging consumption in India has increased 200% in the past decade, rising from 4.3-kg per person per annum (pppa) to 8.6-kg pppa as in FY20. How prepared are you to support the print and packaging factories in India?
RM:
It is an exciting time to work in the industry and witness the potential opportunity for growth. The expanding demand for innovative packaging can be met with paradigm-shifting production methods and technology improvements that both improve sustainability and help fuel the circular economy.

PW: An update on the Michelman Innovation Centre for Coatings (MICC), located in Mumbai?
RM:
At the MICC, we leverage our 70+ years of water-based coating expertise to help our customers develop solutions that meet increasingly rigorous performance standards and sustainability criteria. We are also well-staffed locally to provide technical service and operational support to our customers. In fact, we often invite customers and potential customers to visit MICC so that we can collaborate with them. They can run trials with our coatings on their substrates to create a prototype of a sustainable packaging structure that they can later replicate at their own facility.

PW: One takeaway from your autobiography (if you write one) ...
RM:
The first few steps in achieving a goal are defining it and then saying it out loud. At Michelman, we are committed to innovating a sustainable future. As we undertake initiatives to use greener chemistries and more environmentally friendly production methods, we create jobs that allow us to feel good about aligning our organisation to enable having a planet-positive footprint as well as planet-positive products and solutions. And for those of us who enjoy tackling complex manufacturing challenges, we can have fun while doing it.

(With inputs from Shailesh Nema, vice-president and managing director, Michelman India)

 

Rick Michelman: At a glance

Fav most app.

SkyView is hands down my favourite app. I discovered it during the pandemic and it was reassuring to walk out into my backyard each evening, point my phone at the sky, and identify constellations that helped me remember, while complying with the initial –stay at home – recommendations associated with the pandemic, that there was still a wide, beautiful, awe-inspiring universe that we are a part of.

Besides your phone and wallet, what are a couple of must-have items you always carry?
While at home, it’s usually just my phone and wallet. When I travel, I always try to bring along my Garmin watch. As Michelman is a manufacturer with a global footprint, I frequently travel internationally. While visiting other countries, I really enjoy exploring the local terrain on foot, like the beaches in Mumbai. With my Garmin watch, I can easily navigate and track my distance as I explore new locations.

Window or aisle seat?
Aisle.

Snack or meal?
I prefer a meal –  I don’t like to be hungry when I fly.

Cocktail or diet drink?
I stopped drinking soda about three years ago.  On a day-to-day basis, I’m a big fan of drinking plenty of water. When socialising or relaxing, I often select either a cocktail or beer. (When choosing a craft beer, or wine, I can enjoy it on two levels - first enjoying the local flavour and, in the back of my mind, I know I may also be supporting Michelman’s customers by buying a beverage that utilises customised, digitally printed label technology.)

SUV or luxury?
Luxury car.

What’s the current author you are bingeing on?
In lieu of following a particular author, I focus my reading on current events.

One celeb who you met who has impressed you?
Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting the Indian Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu at a roundtable discussion which included prominent business leaders in Cincinnati, Ohio. Having the opportunity to speak with him was delightful. We touched base on a wide variety of topics including India’s environmental policy, plastic waste management (PWM), India’s energy policy, and discussed India’s commitment to advancing science and technology throughout India by investing in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. Ambassador Sandhu seemed very interested in fostering additional growth in India.

First thing you notice in a biz meeting?
There are two things I notice and they go somewhat hand-in-hand. The first thing I notice is whether anybody is taking notes. (Note-taking frequently involves recording action items for follow-up after the meeting.) The second thing I notice is whether we are truly participating in an exchange of ideas and if our discussion is serving as a catalyst for both of us to move forward in generating new ideas. These new ideas don’t necessarily need to be product, business, or strategy related, they can also apply to creating new insights regarding how we perceive the world around us.

One question you always ask when you are hiring?
I always like to ask job candidates - What do you like to do when you’re not working? I keep in mind that we are hiring a person, first, and an employee second. I like to know what makes people tick.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew at age 21?
I would tell myself to never stop learning. And, as a runner and a biker, I’d also advise myself to protect my knees!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best advice I received is to never assume I know everything about a topic.

 

Product spotlight: Michelman high oxygen barrier coatings for paper and film

Protecting food from interaction with the environment is critical to maintaining its colour, flavour, freshness, shelf life, and overall quality. Michelman’s high-barrier water-based coatings provide excellent oxygen and moisture barrier properties for both paper and film substrates. These products can be incorporated into packaging structures without negatively impacting the ability of these structures to be certified food contact compliant. They are also compatible with current mechanical recycling streams.


The high oxygen barrier coatings for paper provide oxygen barrier properties and act as a metallisation primer. Barrier solutions for film can replace PET, PE, or EVOH layers to achieve recyclable mono-material structures. Compatible with a wide range of substrates, including PE, BOPP, and PET, these products provide excellent interlayer bond strength combined with oxygen and mineral oil barrier properties and are effective at low coat weights. End uses run the gamut from frozen meat through fresh produce or snack foods.

Michelman is committed to Innovating a Sustainable Future and supporting the circular economy with a full portfolio of end-of-life solutions for packaging. For more, visit Michelman site michelman.com/contact/

 

Latest Poll

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Results

The packaging industry is confused by recycling and sustainability rules in India. What is the biggest challenge?

Shortcomings in EPR policy

 

21.05%

Inadequate infrastructure

 

10.53%

Shortage of recycling firms

 

21.05%

Lack of consumer awareness

 

47.37%

Total Votes : 19

Events

Drupa 2024

May 28 - Jun 07 2024
The Drupa exhibition will be hosted....