Looking at What’s Next for Packaging and Sustainability

Episode 293

June 25, 2024

This week The Kula Ring returns to the world of packaging. We are talking to Stephen Clysdale a self-proclaimed “packaging nerd” and a man who has his pulse on the recent developments in packaging technology. We break down some of the work that is going into packaging sustainability and the innovations that are around the corner. This is a great conversation that any manufacturer that uses packaging can learn something from.

Looking at What’s Next for Packaging and Sustainability Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring a podcast for Manufacturing Marketers, brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White, and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carmen, how are you doing, sir? 

Carman Pirie: I’m doing well. How are you doing? 

Jeff White: I’m doing great. Thanks. Recording on a beautiful sunny Friday. You know? 

Carman Pirie: You know, it happens once or twice a year in Nova Scotia, so that’s always nice when it does that we can be inside in a studio, recording a podcast. Yeah. Wait. Wait a second. Maybe we’re losing. I don’t know, but yeah. Who is not losing today, however, our listeners, because we have a fantastic guest for them today. I’m really excited for today’s conversation. 

Jeff White: Yeah, me as well. And I mean, it’s a topic that, that we have explored, not in this particular way, which I love when we can find new ways to talk about, you know, specific verticals in manufacturing, in this case, packaging. something that, is very near and dear to our hearts. You know, lots of, clients and, guests on this show in that industry. And every one of them has a very unique perspective. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think one of the things I like about the flexible packaging space of packaging overall is that you know, there’s a lot of change, and that change is being driven by a number of factors that can seem to be kind of, you know, simplistic when you think about it from a consumer perspective. But then, of course, like a lot of things, you start peeling back the layers. And the B2B side of it, and is a very, nuanced evolution that’s happening. And, it is different, in the US versus in Canada, as an example, certainly different than what is happening and has happened in Europe and the influences between all of those markets. So, I’m hopeful too, to dive into that today. Let’s, let’s introduce today’s guest, Jeff. That way we don’t try to talk about it in the abstract, because I’m pretty sure he’s smarter than the two of us.

Jeff White:  I think you’re probably right. So joining us today is Stephen Clysdale. Stephen is the director of marketing and product development at Taylor Prime Labels and Packaging Group. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Stephen. 

Stephen Clysdale: Good morning. Thank you. great to meet you guys and spend some time with you today. So I’m looking forward to this conversation. 

Carman Pirie: Likewise. Likewise, Steven, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself. And, Taylor, how did you, how did you end up there, etc.? 

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah. So I’ve, I’ve had a full career in labels and packaging right out of college, I went into a small print shop and then spent decades of, learning and participating and really becoming a subject matter expert in printing. So I’ve quickly learned that I love to be right in the middle of everything. So I’ve been a product manager, which has evolved into where I am today, director of marketing. And I’ve always been my whole career right there with the customers, the vendors, with manufacturing, with the sales reps, with the stakeholders, and working on being creative and trying to close a business and bring great solutions to our customers. So, about ten years ago, I came to Taylor in the role of product manager for injection mould labelling, which is kind of a niche, category for labels. And then I just very quickly discovered that Taylor is very innovative. It’s a worldwide company. It’s about $2.6 billion. It’s privately held. it has facilities all across the world. And I’m in the one division for labels and packaging that is really doing some amazing things. And, we have great support from our ownership, which allows us to invest and bring innovation to the marketplace.

Carman Pirie: Well, that’s, let’s talk about that. I’d love to understand more about, the transitions that are underway and the ones that you see coming down the line. So let’s start with what’s the big shift that’s happening right now, in your view, in labels and packaging. What are you what’s the big move that you’re seeing?

Stephen Clysdale:  Well, I love labels and packaging because it’s very horizontal. There are so many different solutions and there’s really no silver bullet for any one brand. I’m seeing the pressure of sustainability is really forcing a lot of innovation and amazing change. One thing I really see is the shift from rigid plastics and rigid containers to flexible packaging. The flexible packaging is very innovative and what it can do, how it can protect a product. And there are lots of reasons to shift to flexible packaging. And that’s one of the biggest transitions I see. I’m kind of a student of labels and packaging. So every day I see something new and discover, wow, look at that. That’s super innovative. You know, look what the big companies are doing. and it is right on the consumer shelves. So everyone’s seeing and experiencing it. 

Carman Pirie: It’s not just in consumer spaces either, is it? I mean, we’re also seeing this kind of shift in packaging and in more industrial spaces and verticals that people don’t think of as being driven by consumer-side sustainability initiatives. 

Stephen Clysdale: Right for sure. And on the industrial side, we’re seeing way more, refill situations where I don’t have to buy that jug, I can buy a concentrate, and then I add it to the base, and it’s by getting those concentrates in smaller, smaller packages, it reduces shipping. It has much, there’s better space savings in my plant in my facility, and it really allows for, it just it’s, it’s easy to use, but also it’s a good, sustainable message. The math on that is, very, very easy to figure out as it relates to carbon footprint and transportation and ease of use and all sorts of things.

Carman Pirie: I can’t help but be struck by the juxtaposition, if you will, of Stephen, around flexible packaging as being kind of positioned, as you mentioned it, as a bit of the more environmentally friendly alternative to rigid, packaging. But I think the people who have only worked on flexible packaging are maybe that’s the exclusive view viewport into the world would say that they’re being demonized by the folks who are just anti-plastic overall. And they’re, you know, there’s all kinds of talk about how the recycling facility still doesn’t exist. There’s still work to be done in compost. How is it, I guess, do you encounter that kind of, yin and yang, if you will? on the sustainability side or is there not much, push and push and pull of those messages? I’m just trying to think that on the one hand, being positioned as an environmental saviour and on the other hand, being demonized. 

Stephen Clysdale: Oh, we experienced that, what you call yin and yang, every day. So part of part of our job and what we do is education. We’re constantly telling the story of what the alternatives are and why these are good solutions. So it really with the flexible packaging, there’s there’s all sorts of benefits with it. And one of the big ones is that transportation costs. So the number of pouches I can ship in a container is so much higher than the number of rigid containers I would ship on a pallet. So just the number of trucks on the road is greatly reduced. And there’s a number of stories out there that talk about that, that you can read about. It’s very interesting. The other thing is, you can do the math just really simple, like take laundry pods. So the number of laundry pods in a rigid container versus in a pouch. While it is a similar quantity, the ratio of packaging to pod is greatly reduced in that flexible package. So it’s just, it’s very, very interesting when you really start to look at it that way. 

Jeff White: You’re also not just talking about kind of reducing the overall packaging, but also in the process of creating the labels. You’re doing some innovative things around removing the substrate between the packaging and the printing. So you’re not necessarily always creating a label to apply to something. Sometimes you’re able to print more directly on the packaging itself. how what kind of impact is that having and are people, you know, the businesses that you’re working with seeking that kind of solution out to get a little bit, you know, reducing of materials even further.

Stephen Clysdale: Right. Again, as a student of labels, I’m watching the risk to our business very closely. And one of the big things that’s coming out is direct to object. So if you look at that tide bottle of liquid, on the very top of it is a little HE logo. Well, that’s directly printed. That’s a giant experiment they’re running. How do we eliminate the label? Because if they eliminate the label, they eliminate plastic. Coca-Cola ran an experiment in Europe where on Sprite they eliminated the label. So there’s, there’s there’s amazing technology that’s emerging like on craft beer cans. Now they can directly print on a craft beer can, they directly print already in high volume? But what about that craft beer can that’s emerging, those seasonals, those small upstart companies, they can now buy beautiful, low volume, directly printed cans that are just vibrant colours, durable. They’ve eliminated the label. Sometimes there’s a label on there, sometimes there’s shrink sleeves. But the direct-to-object is really emerging. In the past 24 months, it has come all across the United States, and it’s a very, very amazing technology that’s happening right now in direct-to-object. DTO you can look at that. 

Carman Pirie: And is it, I always kind of funny with packaging as well because there’s often a very positive sustainability message. But what really drives the change is sometimes more of an aesthetic consideration or brand presentation consideration. Are you seeing that on the direct-to-object side, are people choosing that because it frankly just looks cooler or looks nicer, or is it more of a sustainability-driven decision?

Stephen Clysdale: Those guys are very much the brands that are excited about the graphics because they want to tell their story in a very vibrant, awesome way. But right, next to that is that sustainable message, because that aluminum can get recycled in about 60 days and then it’s a can again. The other method they may have to undecorate get that sleeve off. Get that label off. But with that direct object, it goes right in that recycling bin. And it’s good to go and it’s easy for the consumers. They don’t have to think about it. And those people that are in that craft area that they’re buying that they’re very conscious about the Earth, and they want to do the right thing. They’re young and they’re very interested in that. So it fits with their persona, right, with the brand. So it’s very nice. merging of the two. 

Jeff White: Interesting to note what you mentioned about it previously, being large, you know, big industrial kind of, producers of these things are were using these technologies, and now they’re beginning to become affordable enough that, you know, small craft breweries can take these things on to how are you seeing kind of packaging, transitioning in terms of, you know, how you support, smaller companies or upstarts as compared to your larger customer base?

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah, that’s a great question. So we’ve invested heavily in digital printing. So that is, very wide, high volume, high speed. But it eliminates plates. It eliminates ink. It’s got it’s toner-based and it’s very durable. And it prints in perfect registration and has amazing graphics. So because it’s digital the barrier to entry is very small. So we have many, many customers out there in that small to medium business. They’ve got their full-time jobs. They’ve got an idea they want to start something on the side. And with the digital printing methodologies, we can support them on their journey. They’re going to go start small or build a beautiful flexible pouch that’s digitally printed. They’ll get their product on the shelf. It’ll look great right up against all the big brands. And it becomes a very competitive, disruptive marketplace with that digital printing for those small emerging, brands, and people with ideas that want to get in the market on the shelf. 

Carman Pirie: Are you typically, serving those lower volume, more startup customers through different brands, through different sub-brands with that tailor? Or do they feel like they’re buying from the big boys, as it were?

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah. So, Taylor has a number of smaller brands to support the small to medium businesses that Taylor is we support amazingly huge companies. But also we wanted a brand that was very, very friendly, very approachable, and kind of had a fun persona. So we have a number of brands that we go to market with. One of them is the Pouch House. It’s a web-to-print brand that is strictly for flexible packaging for that small company that wants. I just need a couple thousand pouches to get my idea under the shelf. My cookies or my edibles or whatever. So it is, it’s a method that we’ve employed to make it very easy and approachable for, these small upstart companies.

Jeff White: How have you found that, as an organization to spin off these brands and perhaps market them in a different way or, staff them from a sales perspective in a different way from the larger corporate customers? Like, is that a, is there a playbook, a tailor for how you spin up a new brand and entity to serve, a smaller market or something like that?

Stephen Clysdale: Well, it’s a culture question. So at Taylor, it’s very much an entrepreneurial culture. Our owner, Glenn Taylor, just really wants his employees to be empowered. And if you’ve got an idea who’s going to support that, we, of course, present ideas and business plans, and he’s just like, yes, but when he says yes, you own it. So that’s allowed us to really empower us and help us to go and grow and, join the business. But also there’s a flip side of that. If it’s not going well, he expects us to pivot make the right move and do the right thing. So, I’ve really enjoyed being at Taylor because of that culture. It’s really empowered me to be an entrepreneur in a safe environment. 

Carman Pirie: I think we could have spun up a completely different podcast about that cultural approach, to be honest. 

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah. We’ve got, ten guiding principles that are all over the place, and we talk about them all the time. It’s about how we work together, how we work with the customers, and how we’re going to all eyes forward and be Taylor United. He’s got 80 companies, but we’re all going to work together because they bring forth different powerful things. It’s very interesting. 

Carman Pirie: I don’t want to get too far away from this direct to object, transition that’s happening because, I mean, you painted a pretty compelling picture that this it’s been about 24 months from going from hardly seeing it at all to being everywhere or starting to become ubiquitous. And you mentioned craft beer as an example of that. what are the other categories that you’re seeing that are emerging and taking advantage of that direct-to-object approach? 

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah. when you think of craft, you say craft beer, but I think craft beverage. So we’re seeing Kombucha and THC and soda and the whole beverage now that, 12-ounce cans, 16-ounce can, they’re a perfect, base because it has a flat side. So you can directly print right on there. It’s very easy now. They’re delicate, so you have to be careful with them. But we’re also seeing it in rigid parts. we see a lot of vape cartridges, that are direct objects. We’re seeing pens and other rigid products. Printing on plastic has been a big industry forever. But this is all emerging into like, the power of inkjet and how it can change to a concave surface and the smarts of the computers so they can alter the art. So when it prints on a concave surface, it looks correct. So it’s very interesting direct to object. 

Carman Pirie: I wanted to ask about the direct object. Obviously, there’s a sustainability component. When we talk about removing the label, and the speed of recycling in the aluminum can, it makes total sense. so, I’m assuming that there’s, technology and what they’re printing on, what they’re using, the ink that they’re using or the toner-based solution or what have you. That, on that direct object, has a level of, degradeability or compostability or so I don’t want to be composting. Obviously, it’s it’s not paper, but, I guess it has an environmental, sensitivity built into it. 

Stephen Clysdale: Sure. They don’t use plates. They don’t use, you know, traditional liquid inks. So there’s very little chemistry in the cleanup at the device. The inkjet technology is very, very fast, and it stays clean. Those heads don’t clog anymore. But in the percentage of aluminum can the container, it’s very, very tiny. So when it goes into the smelter of the recycling stream it is not really a contaminant. They’re not like a label will float up and they’ll have to skim that. But because the percentage is so tiny and the things are so vibrant, it really does not inhibit the recycling process. The recyclers really like it actually.

Jeff White: I was going to say it’s interesting because it provides additional sustainability benefits at all parts of the lifecycle. 

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah, very much so, there’s on the front end, the templates are very easy to do art against. There’s, there’s none of the set up with plates and ink and, and the solvents involved. It’s very, very clean, quick technology to, to get to that decorator can, 

Carman Pirie: It’s very interesting and, steeped in experience, vantage point that you have and we’ve been in the industry for a long time. And as you mentioned, you’ve really tried to be at the intersection of customers and product and marketing innovation, etc. So this is where we ask you to kind of polish up the crystal ball a little bit and tell us what’s coming. What’s the big change that’s coming 4 or 5 years from now in packaging that people would be surprised about, that they don’t see it? 

Stephen Clysdale: There are a couple of things that I’ve seen recently that are very disruptive and super interesting to me. so in a flexible packaging world, material science is coming along very swiftly. So we’re making pouches with, the materials that are designed really to protect the products. And, so it’s all about that, shelf life. How do I extend that shelf life and protect the product? But now they’re pivoting to compostable. They’re pivoting to, recyclable. And it’s very difficult to make those there are out there today, but the shelf life is less so. The science of the materials is greatly increasing to get to the performance that is really required on a wide swath of products. another thing we’re seeing a lot of momentum in, is PCR, post-consumer recycled material. So when you recycle your products, they come back around to the film manufacturers and to the rigid container manufacturers, to the folding carton manufacturers, they’re accepting that recycled material and they’re putting it back into the raw materials. So then we can make a label out of PCR, we can make a folding carton, we can make a rigid bottle out of PCR. So that is greatly increasing. So it’s so important for people to recycle in their homes. And your industrial site, recycle as much as you can because the recyclers are accepting it and getting it back into the stream. That’s the reuse portion of the recycling, story. The other big disruption I’ve seen is, in laundry detergent. They’re shipping liquid. They went to pods. Now they’re eliminating the pods. Procter Gamble just came out with an amazing tile. It’s a little woven pad. Take that woven pad, and throw it in your dishwasher. There’s no liquid involved. All this, all the detergents are embedded in that tile. It’s just a folding carton on your shelf. Take one tile out, and drop it in there. They’re not chip and liquid, which is great for the carbon footprint. very easy for consumers to use. Just drop it in the laundry and go, so they’re rolling that out. You’ll see that in the in the news feeds. And they’re running, experiments in small markets today so I think that the future is eliminating packaging and doing something really, really different.

Jeff White: I mean, really requires the, you know, the brands to be thinking of innovations and how they deliver products that people have used or experienced for years or decades. I mean, not just how you get it to the consumer, but how do you conceive of it and kind of make it, a reality? The technology for creating it and manufacturing is just evolving so rapidly.

Carman Pirie: But as Stephen mentioned, the carrot significantly on the end of that stick, you know, you reduce, transportation costs significantly for a brand the size of, let’s say, Tide. Well, now that completely changes the game. 

Stephen Clysdale: They’re impactful numbers. And I see people looking backwards. What, what was in the past? Because in the past they didn’t have all this science making, all these packages. So toothpaste in the past was a little tablet, a little dry tablet delivered in a tin. So they’re going back to that. You can now buy a dehydrated tablet of toothpaste and just pop it in your mouth it wets out and brush. So that’s got very little packaging that is fully recyclable. so I see a lot of that. What did we do in the past, in the 20s and 30s? Because those are very simple things, organic things. And if we went back like that, it would be very sustainable for now and in the future. 

Jeff White: Funny, you mentioned toothpaste. So literally yesterday I noticed on my tube of Sensodyne toothpaste that the tube itself was recyclable, but the cap was not and it just struck me because I never would have thought the tube would be recyclable because of course there’s always still some product left in there or something, and it’s not like you’re going to rinse it out. But I would have thought that the plastic hard cap would be the recyclable part. So it is interesting how those pieces are evolving. And honestly, as a consumer, if you’re not paying attention to what the packaging tells you in terms of sorting or using, or that it is recyclable now or, and you know, previously wasn’t, you know, there’s a lot of education that needs to happen all the way down from the legislation regulators to industry to the consumer.

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah. I would wager that Sensodyne is working on that cap. Yeah, we see that all the time, like Kraft Heinz or ketchup, the ketchup bottle is ubiquitous, right? It’s got a white cap. You flip it into squirt that cap is not recyclable because it has a little silicone orifice in there that controls the flow of the ketchup. So Kraft Heinz invested a ton of energy and money in creating a recyclable cap, and they’ve just launched that. Now that the white cap is fully recyclable. And again, that gets back to the power of the big brands doing the right thing. They’ve got the bandwidth and energy to work on the science to make it happen. So they’re not very public about that. I know about it because I’m like a student labels and I’m in packaging. I get all the trade journals and I read that stuff and I get super excited about it. So I’m kind of a packaging nerd, maybe. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I think I saw the article about that as well because they were talking about how they did it in partnership with their packaging supplier, which is somebody who works with packaging companies. That was like, let’s, you know, proper thing, right? you know, because you often see the conversation, kind of boiling down to we don’t provide it because they haven’t asked for it yet or, you know, it’s almost like this chicken or egg conversation. And it was nice to see that Heinz didn’t go down that path, but rather it doesn’t exist. Now we’re going to actually bend to the task of ensuring it does. 

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah, I think that’s leadership. Like we’re going to be leaders in this. We’re not going to wait for a customer to partner and do the R&D project together, because that’s sometimes better for the from the finance and economics. They’re just like, we’re going to do the right thing. We’re going to work on this deploy it and get it going. 

Carman Pirie: What, lessons might, we need to learn here in North America from folks elsewhere on the planet? You mentioned Taylor’s, you know, a large company serving, customers all over the globe, I assume. what are you seeing in other jurisdictions that surprise here in North America?

Stephen Clysdale: Well, you had mentioned Europe earlier. I was in Austria snowboarding last, last March. And, I was amazed by the recycling center just, you know, in my home, I’ve got one recycling bin in Austria, they had 8 or 10 and everything is sorted. So the culture there, the people are really used to sorting and they’re going to sort correctly. I’ve been in our plants and in other countries and in the lunchroom, there’s no paper plates, there’s no plastic forks, there’s no nothing. Everyone brings their own plate and fork and lunch. So there’s a lot of, there’s just big customers, culture shifts in that area. And it has to do with how they’ve been brought up and, and where they’re at with things. 

Jeff White: It takes a while for North America, Canada included, often to catch up to, the ideals of, of many parts of Europe. But I was in Austria last summer. I noticed the same thing the recycling room was massive because there was enough for everything.

Stephen Clysdale:  Yeah. And I like that. To me, that felt good and natural. And I was like, this is what we need to do, right? But how do you shift in the USA? There are a lot of opinions out there. So.

Carman Pirie: Well, that’s an interesting point because it’s these are opinions that the brands encounter as well. Right. And we don’t have to look much further than, say, a brand like Bud Light to know why they’re not all that interested in being a political lightning rod in today’s environment. And it’s weird how so many of these topics can get kind of wrapped up into, yeah, almost like that, ongoing debate of, woke versus not or what have you. We’re just trying to make better products here. We’re not trying to make a political statement.

Stephen Clysdale: I’m ever the optimist. And I see, you know, steps being taken all the time or they’re trying to educate consumers. There’s, you know, there are stadiums in the United States where there’s, you know, thousands of people going to a stadium and everything is compostable in the stadium. The stadium has its own industrial compostable site. So they’re public about that, and they’re educating people about that. You know, when you get your cup, it’s a compostable cup. You know, it’s going to be composted on-site in the stadium. Frito-Lay did an interesting experiment at the Coachella Music Festival, where they had an industrial composting site right there in Coachella. All the snack bags were recyclable or compostable. So they feel a little different. And then the people are reading about it, and then that pouch, when it was done, went right into the compostable bin right there at the Coachella festival. So Frito-Lay was doing this educational component an in thousands of people in it, in a controlled environment to really educate and get the word spread on that. So small steps. It’s all going to grow.

Carman Pirie: This is a fantastic story, Stephen. And I think that I love the optimism, actually. I mean, as somebody who’s not naturally inclined towards that emotion all the time, I think, you know, it’s like, you know, it’s easy, especially, I’ll say, for folks who are outside of the U.S., they’ll look at the US and, be a little perplexed sometimes. And it’s, I think it’s instructive to say, you know what? There’s actually a culture shift initiative happening there, too, but it happens in a different way than it does in Austria, as you just talked about. and I think that’s incredibly impactful. 

Stephen Clysdale: Yeah, it starts with kids. So today’s adults were raised when they were kids they had Capri Suns in their hand and they were drinking out of Capri Suns. So right there they were educated. That pouches are okay right now. As young adults, it’s very easy for them to shift from, okay, I’m going to get my mayonnaise in a flexible pouch instead of the, you know, the rigid container. And they really understand the convenience of that, the esthetic of it. And, and they’re learning about, improved fitment of a flexible pouch. It’s a journey, but it’s happening. 

Jeff White: Great to have you on the show, Stephen. Thanks so much. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Thank you for sharing it with us. It’s been great. 

Stephen Clysdale: Of course I had fun. So thanks for inviting me. And I hope it was, helpful and interesting. 

Jeff White: Absolutely was. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing That’s K-U-L-A Partners dot com slash the kula ring.

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Stephen Clysdale Headshot


Stephen Clysdale

Director of Marketing

Stephen Clysdale works for Taylor Corp as a Director of Marketing in their Prime Labels & Packaging business unit. He has a full career in Labels & Packaging as a print supplier to the industry working as a Product Manager; Project Manager and Product Development roles. His decades of experience has allowed him to experience all many of projects from simple stickers to massive decoration projects for National CPG’s. As a self-described “student of labels” combined with his natural curiosity and enthusiasm for his work, Stephen brings forth an excitement for the innovation in the Labels & Packaging space especially in sustainable breakthroughs. When not at work he enjoys all silent sports with his family in Minnesota including, bike touring, canoeing, snowboarding and a little pickle ball.

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