Q&A: Simon Foster on his email series, Simon Says, and the latest news in printing and packaging

What does Simon Foster say about the printing and packaging industry? As it turns out, he has enough ideas to fill a weekly email series called Simon Says.

As the Market Segment Manager of Printing Inks and OPV for Paper and Paperboard, Simon started sharing articles among his colleagues in 2018, soon after he joined the printing and packaging unit at BASF. He later began writing commentaries on each article, detailing the significance of each piece as it related to the company’s efforts in sustainable, high-performing and cost-effective packaging.

We asked Simon to elaborate on his inspiration behind the series, the state of the industry today and his vision for the future.

How did the Simon Says series get its start?

Simon Foster: When it started, I was just sending out articles amongst my colleagues. It was a way to share information on what was happening in the industry.

Later I thought, well, if I have an opinion on this, maybe I should share that and explain why we should look at these trends. I think it’s important for us, as an organization, to understand how our products are being used, why we’re supplying these products and how they help people further down the line.

It was an effort to increase the level of knowledge sharing throughout the business — and to have everyone speaking the same language.

What’s trending right now in the paper and packaging industry?

SF: E-commerce is really changing the landscape for retail. The “moment of truth,” so to speak, behind a consumer’s buying decision has moved to a different point in the process. The first time a consumer interacts with a product is when it arrives, after they’ve already made the decision to buy it. When they order a product online, consumers care a lot more about the experience of unboxing that product.

That’s really changing the way inks and coatings are used. You don’t need vibrant, glossy inks on a package to attract consumers to take it off the shelf. Now, it’s more about having the package arrive on a consumer’s doorstep on brand, without having the color running when it gets wet or rubbing off at some point in the chain of distribution. That’s a major trend.

How does sustainability factor into the current market?

SF: Many of the major consumer CPG [consumer packaged goods] companies — Kraft, Heinz, McDonald’s, Nestle and so on — have made major commitments around the sustainability of their packaging. That could mean introducing packaging that is recyclable, compostable or made from biorenewable sources.

For example, the industry is much more focused on deriving the actual content of a printing ink from biorenewable sources. Everything needs to be quantified. Biorenewable content is determined by the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, or NAPIM, so there are now clearer guidelines about what we define as sustainable.

What are the challenges involved in formulating for sustainable packaging?

SF: It might be difficult for everyone in the supply chain to find products that have a sustainable profile while also providing the level of performance they need.

Now, one thing I really like at BASF is an approach we call biomass balance. With this concept, you offset the raw materials used to create a product with a biorenewable source, but the product you receive is the same in every other way. In other words, the performance stays the same, and you know it has been made with a certain proportion of biorenewable material.

Where do you think the industry is headed next?

SF: If you think about advances we’ve had in the last five or ten years — e-commerce, digital integration, subscription boxes full of toothbrush heads and shaving razors — there have been a lot of new developments.

I’m really excited to see how we’ll be ordering and consuming and what role technology will play over the next five or ten years. Things like autonomous vehicles and drones are on the cusp of becoming more commercially viable, so it’s an exciting time to watch retail evolve and see how our society embraces technology.

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