Flexibility, innovation help manufacturers serve ever-changing custom needs

Quality-control inspector Donna Gates checks a thermoformed plastic tray in the clean room at Universal Protective Packing Inc. in Cumberland County. The tray will be used as packaging for a medical device. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

Success in the competitive world of packaging requires an ability to adapt to rapidly changing markets.

The demands for new, more-efficient, environmentally safe packaging are never-ending. And large retailers are no longer willing to stock a lot of inventory, preferring to remain lean and mean so they can capture the latest consumer trends.

For contract packagers such as Universal Protective Packaging Inc. in Silver Spring Township, the pressures are even greater, said Clay Sheffield, business development manager for the company.

Unlike a package company that, for example, makes a Styrofoam cup knowing the market for Styrofoam cups means somebody will buy it, contract packaging is done to customer specifications.

“We make something that doesn’t exist yet,” Sheffield said. “And we need to go find the customer and sell them something they don’t even know they need yet.”

That means UPPI’s two salesmen are constantly hustling for business. They keep an eye on federal Food and Drug Administration actions, looking for an opportunity to design new medical packaging. They stay attuned to trends, such as convenience store sales, where specialty packaging might be needed.

“Right now we’re working with our design team to create a variety of concepts for smartwatches,” Sheffield said.

The ever-changing nature of contract packaging makes for a volatile industry, said John Mazelin, executive director of the Contract Packaging Association, based in Naperville, Ill.

Berkeley Contract Packaging recently announced it will close its doors in Penn Township, Cumberland County. All 215 employees will lose their jobs April 25. Headquartered in New Jersey, Berkeley is a member of the CPA. Berkeley did not return a phone call seeking comment.

“The industry itself is growing at about a 15 to 10 percent annual compound growth rate,” Mazelin said. “That said, many individual plants are dependent on one or two customers. … So if one particular customer tanks, the plant goes down with it.”

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