Speaker Interview: Dr Michael Okoroafor

Dr Michael Okoroafor

The past and future of consumer packaging

 No matter how well your company is doing today, if you don’t learn from the changes that have happened in the past and make changes as society and technology demands them, you’re going to be left behind.

 We spoke to Dr Michael Okoroafor, the vice-president of global sustainability and packaging for McCormick, about the development of packaging over his career and his predictions for the future. Many of you may recognise Michael’s name as he was introduced into the Packaging & Processing Hall of Fame last year.

 Moving from wow factor to affordability

 Like all aspects of life, packaging trends come and go. But it’s not just the designs themselves that are changing, but also the strategies and technologies. Michael has seen significant shifts in his considerable career, which has included stints at Coca-Cola and Heinz before arriving in his current role.

For him, he sees the biggest shift – one that many companies still need to implement – being the move from wowing consumers to giving them something that they can afford.

He said, “When I started my career, packaging design was focussed only on things that would wow the consumer, things that would really excite them. There was no consideration on affordability. The mindset was ‘make it look great and the consumers will come’.”

“Today, that doesn’t work; you have to consider the price point. If you design something great, make sure it’s at a price point that the consumer can afford. Otherwise, it’ll be an exercise in futility.”

Sustainability is huge

As VP of global sustainability and packaging, Michael has a huge role to play in McCormick’s environmental policies. It’s a role that he’s taking seriously, and the company has targets to reduce its carbon footprint by 25%, its water use by 20% and to use 100% recycled packaging by 2025.

He said, “It is now about the circular economy. Because we are in an age or an era where the concept of ‘make, use, dispose’ is over. We are now talking about ‘make, use, reuse’ because we have to protect our planet. We have one planet that we share, if we don’t protect it, nobody else will.”

“The important lesson that I’ve learned on this journey is this. We’re just catching up with the millennial consumers. They grew up thinking about the planet. We old people are just catching up with them. For me, that’s the biggest lesson and we better pay attention; if you’re not paying attention to the millennials, it’s called a dying business.”

Think differently about ecommerce

Stats surrounding ecommerce are staggering as people want to shop anywhere, anytime and in any way. However, despite this huge growth, companies have been slow to shift their focus. While they’re happy to set up online stores and create apps that let customers make purchases, their attention to packaging has lagged behind.

For Michael, this is the next challenge for Australian businesses. He said, “Today, we have no design packaging for ecommerce. We take an existing package designed for brick and mortar. We put it in materials like we’re packaging nuclear weapons then we ship it and call it ecommerce packaging. That’s a waste of resources, that’s a waste of time. That to me is wrong. We haven’t designed a package for ecommerce.

We have to design specifically for ecommerce. What do I mean? That’s a design for minimum waste and a design for easy opening. In fact, Amazon has a few things that they’re challenging us with here in the US. They call it SIOC – Ships In Own Container – that’s very, very important. The next thing they’re talking about is frustration free packaging so you don’t have to worry about how to open it; minimal packaging that will survive through the entire transit and shipping chain.”

Like when we interviewed Craig Reucassel, Michael was also very impressed with the idea of the Loop system of reusable packaging as we aim for a zero waste world.

Add tech to your packaging

Thinking to the future, Michael also highlighted the need for companies to implement smart technology in their packaging. Simple things like scannable sections that can work with smartphones or home assistant technology is the first step, and it’s something that other industries have already started to capitalise on.

He said, “Companies need to work on the idea of using your packaging as a smart device. If the consumer likes our herb, they don’t need to go to the store to get it. Your packaging, using your smartphone to scan it when you’re running out, it will automatically re-order.”

“It is not something really novel because it’s used in other industries. My car tells me when it’s ready to be serviced and the shop, BMW will send me an email telling me to bring in my car. I don’t even talk to anybody, the car tells me when it’s ready to be serviced. We need to find a way to take advantage of technology.”

Our previous interviews with John Broadbent and John Baird also highlighted a need for companies to think more strategically about how to use technology in their process and supply chains.