London Packaging Week: Interview with Sue Berry, Senior Manager & Packaging Technologist at Molton Brown

Sue Berry, a member of the expert panel for The London Packaging Week Innovation Awards, reflects on her 24-year career at Molton Brown, and explains why the best is always yet to come where packaging is concerned!

Every now and then, you encounter someone whose passion is contagious, filling you with hope and inspiration. Those inspirational sort of people who guide you to where you want to go. And that trusty adage couldn’t ring truer than when with Sue Berry, Senior Manager & Packaging Technologist at Molton Brown.

Founded in 1971 by Caroline Burstein and Michael Collis, Molton Brown quickly emerged as an icon of uniquely British style and has captured the essence of sophistication and luxury ever since. Part of that is down to the British Heritage brand being one of our most-loved fragrance, bath and body providers; the other part is its iconic bottle.

Sue’s enthusiasm for all things packaging remains as vibrant today as when her journey with Molton Brown began almost a quarter of a century ago. From her humble beginnings to her current role, she remains a driving force in delivering innovative packaging solutions to consumers worldwide.

“It’s really exciting,” she says. “I still have a buzz 24 years on because you’re trying to make dreams work and it sounds really cheesy, but it’s cool!”

Purposeful packaging

So, how has Sue sustained her passion after all these years?

A sense of purpose. The opportunity to do meaningful work. The importance of that work mattering beyond her world. The desire to work on initiatives that will help make the world a better place. Perhaps that’s the real benchmark – whether a role evolves with life. All these and more were on offer for Sue, and she made sure to experience every last drop.

Whether that’s during her decade-long spell at Courtaulds Textiles, once the world’s leading man-made fibre production company, her six years at Gossard’s Leighton Buzzard site, or more recently reimagining Molton Brown’s iconic packaging, with circularity and longevity in mind, Sue has consistently demonstrated her versatility and expertise. From candles and glass to fragrances and aluminium shells, caps, and tubes, she has worked across various formats, showcasing her ability to innovate and adapt across diverse materials and product types.

Speaking from her home office in Willingham, Cambridge, a bustling hub filled with sample boxes, each whispering tales of creativity and innovation, enthusiasm sparkles in her eyes and her anticipation for the next wave of packaging wonders destined for store shelves is infectious.

In the UK, the routes into the packaging industry can be a bit like a hidden treasure map, often leading individuals on unexpected journeys and stumbling upon untold opportunities within the industry. And it was no different for Sue. Though she didn’t know it then, Sue’s career started with an Applied Chemistry Degree at Leeds University, focusing on colour chemistry and delving into the intricate world of dyes, pigments, and paints.

“I could have got into print and packaging straight away, but I didn’t even think of it as a job in those days,” she says. “So, I went into the textile industry and worked there for 16 years, initially at a factory in the UK and then in the early 90s, I worked in Hong Kong, sourcing fabrics from Europe and Asia and setting up a factory in Sri Lanka. I developed products and factories, and did virtually the same role I do now but with fabric and garments.

“When I returned from my work overseas, I was looking for another job. Molton Brown, was looking for a Quality Manager, so I applied and got the job. That was in 2000 when Molton Brown was a smaller business and we had only just opened our third store. I came in as Quality Manager, putting in systems and looking at processes.”

As Sue buzzed around visiting and interacting with suppliers, Molton Brown moved to create the role of Packaging Technologist for her. Having begun as a one-woman powerhouse, Sue now manages a team of eight, delivering innovative packaging to consumers around the world.

As Molton Brown grew exponentially, the drive for consistency began transitioning to another level. Whether achieving precise colour accuracy or crafting the ideal tactile experience for consumers, Sue supported the business’s efforts in ensuring a seamless and cohesive journey for consumers – something she believes ultimately defines the brand’s ongoing success.

She is passionate about developing the next generation of packaging experts and sharing her wealth of knowledge with her team. In an industry where traditional learning avenues are limited, she places emphasis on spending time with individuals who share her passion and enthusiasm. Over her impressive 24-year career, Sue has accumulated a wealth of insights and experiences, which she eagerly imparts to her team.

“It’s really exciting. I still have a buzz for it after 24 years because you’re trying to make dreams work. When you suddenly think, is that possible? Can you really do that? They’re the two things that I live by: there’s no such thing as a dumb question and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The packaging industry continues to evolve at a lightning pace, and just when the pinnacle appears to have been reached, a fresh wave of innovative pack designs emerges on the shelves. In Sue’s eyes, the pace of change and innovation is unlikely to let up. With legislative initiatives such as Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging, PPWR being rolled out across Europe, and the Green Deal looming, brands and consumers alike are actively seeking solutions to maintain the on-shelf appeal and experience they’ve come to expect, all while minimising the environmental impact of packaging.

“Making sure our products deliver on the green message that we can refill or do something with is key,” says Sue, who has just helped create refillable glass bottles and incorporated recycled plastic across Molton Brown’s ranges.

Molton Brown’s standard bottle is currently made from 50% recycled PET and can be recycled in full at stores across the UK as part of their ‘Return, Recycle, Reward’ scheme to ensure every component of its packaging is transformed and given a new life. Add to that the shift back towards reusable glass bottles and matching refill pouches that use 63% less plastic compared to standard bottles (1x 300ml + 1x 100ml Molton Brown plastic bottle), and the recent launch of the Aluminium Infinite Bottle, and it’s easy to see why Britain’s most-loved fragrance maker leads the way in terms of planet-friendly luxury.

“In terms of predicting the future, I imagine that personalisation, provenance, uniqueness, and making sure the quality is high will be key,” she continues. “We are always looking for suppliers to find new materials and techniques.

“What didn’t work five years ago could work now because technology is changing, machinery is changing, technical capabilities are changing, and affordable materials are now more available. There are things you might have tried 10 years ago that weren’t aesthetically pleasing or technically possible now are. I think the industry is always going to evolve. I think there’s no end and I think if you think there’s an end, you’re giving up.”

Looking ahead

It’s exciting to imagine the landscape of packaging 5-10 years from now, especially with the proliferation of sustainable options. As she looks ahead, Sue imagines that plenty of advancements are waiting to be unveiled, and initiatives like this year’s London Packaging Week Innovation Awards will help the sector create the future of packaging.

This year, Sue will be part of an expert jury panel assembled by London Packaging Week organisers, Easyfairs, looking for the absolute best in packaging. She sees it as a chance for companies to shine and be recognised in categories like luxury goods, cosmetics, premium drinks, and everyday consumer products.

She says: “I’ve learnt all my packaging knowledge on the job for the last 24 years, so I feel I’ve come from a customer viewpoint rather than an engineering standpoint. I realise that I have a different view, which is not bad. The great thing about having different judges is that everyone has a different spin based on what they’ve done in their lives.

“I’m excited about it. It will be cool to see what else there is out there. I might see things and think, ‘we could work with them professionally at some point and find out whether we can do some business together’. We’re always looking for people to collaborate with on new ideas and suppliers we don’t know. I’m looking forward to it!”

London Packaging Week will take place on 11 & 12 September, attracting 4,500+ visitors and more than 190 exhibitors to the ExCeL. The inaugural Innovation Award winners will be announced on day two, at the Luxury Stage from 13.15 to 14.15.

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