London Packaging Week interview: Paul Jenkins of The PackHub

A familiar face at packaging events across the country, The PackHub founder gives his thoughts on the state of play in packaging.

For attendees of London Packaging Week and Packaging Innovations, Paul Jenkins is a man who needs little introduction. The founder of The PackHub website is a regular on the expo circuit, either as a visitor, exhibitor, or speaker. We caught up with him amidst the bustle of the show floor at this year’s London Packaging Week, where he shared his thoughts and insights on the present and future of the industry.

A changing industry

However, you don’t need to have the same level of hands-on involvement with the industry as Paul to have noticed some substantial changes over the last five years or so. We asked what Paul makes of those changes, and what he sees on the show floor this year compared to five years ago.

“We’ve seen a seismic change in terms of the type of packaging that’s been presented at these shows,” he says. “When you look at packaging trends, and what’s going on in the market today, it’s all about sustainability. The messaging and the packs on offer are all related to reducing the environmental footprint of a pack format.

“That could be about increasing recyclability, increasing recycled content, or swapping one material for another. Biomaterials – such as seaweed-based packaging – are proving to be popular this year, whereas five years ago they wouldn’t have had any attention. It’s almost a standard business requirement now that you have to be aware of sustainability.”

The start of something

And what about the ideas being discussed on-stage at the speaker events? We caught Paul before he was due to head to the stage as one of the co-hosts of 2023’s Packaging Start-Up Awards, alongside Laura Fernandez, Senior Packaging Sustainability Manager at Ocado.

“We need new blood in the industry, from all backgrounds. The awards give small businesses and start-ups – who are often the ones leading the way with new ideas – a platform to share their vision and take their ideas to the next level. And you can see they attract a variety of demographics. Often, the winners don’t have 30 years of packaging experience, and are much newer to the industry – but they’ve come up with a great idea and they want to do something about it.”

Hosting the awards means Paul is also able to take the temperature of the show backstage, giving him insight into the ideas of the future, as well as the ones on show at the stands across the event floor.

“There isn’t much reuse and refill on display, but it’s been discussed a lot in the presentations,” he says. It shows businesses are working hard to ensure solutions are mature and viable before showing them to the public – a marked change from the buzzword-laced greenwashing trends that have swept the industry in the past.

A maturing industry

The word “maturity” can mean several things. It can refer to solutions that are refined and ready for the mass market, yes. But it can also refer to the attitude of the industry itself, and the way new innovations are marketed.

“Initially, it was all about plastic bashing, and consumers still are demanding less plastic.,” Paul reflects. “But I think we’re seeing a switch to a more mature strategy of carbon footprint reduction. That’s the battle the industry must attempt to win, not simply demonising certain materials. A few years ago, you might have seen a material on display that was entirely focused on attacking the material it was replacing. Now, businesses talk more about the virtues and benefits of their materials rather than bashing other materials for commercial gain.”

Surrounded by the vivid colours, intriguing shapes, and unique experiences on show at London Packaging Week, it’s a clear reminder that consumer desires are complex, and can often consider multiple factors. We asked Paul what other factors go into modern packaging design.

“Sustainability is very much at the fore, but it is still important that we deliver functionality and a better, more inclusive user experience. We’ve seen innovations like QR codes that can be scanned, delivering pack information in larger text or audio format. Other innovations can improve shelf life, such as new closures, so sometimes these functional attributes also have a sustainable benefit.

“It never ceases to amaze me how creative the packaging industry is. Family and friends sometimes tease me about working in an industry full of boring boxes, but events like this show it is much more than that. The industry is working really hard to come up with creative solutions.”

Pack to the future

So why does Paul find himself here – and in Birmingham for Packaging innovations – every year? His answer couldn’t be clearer.

“Coming to this show is an absolute must if you want to see the latest innovations,” he says. “I must’ve had 20 meetings at the show yesterday, some planned, and others the sort of fantastic serendipitous catch-ups you tend to get at events like this. I always ask people what they’re here to see, and quite often the answer is just to get some ideas and inspiration. They are innovators and developers themselves, so it’s very much a research outing for a lot of visitors. And if you want to see lots of visitors, lots of companies and customers, and lots of different packs and innovations all in one place, this is the perfect opportunity.

“I attend both days of both events [London Packaging Week and Packaging Innovations] because I find it incredibly useful from a number of perspectives. Market intelligence, yes, but also the networking. Moving a relationship from an email or a Zoom call into a face-to-face chat over a coffee is vital for a relatively small business like The PackHub.”

And what about the future? We finish our conversation by reflecting on what it might bring, and the factors that will shape it.

“Legislation does and will continue to shape what’s on show here,” Paul says. “I think we’ll also see more innovations across all areas of packaging if the Start-Up Awards are anything to go by. We had well over a hundred entries from across the world – I’ve been really impressed. The variety of the types of companies that have entered is inspiring. Start-ups are often the ones who are really pushing the envelope, so it will be exciting seeing some of the entrants this year go from strength to strength in the years to come.”

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