Interpack is when the global packaging industry meets in Düsseldorf, when innovations along the entire value chain are presented and the industry’s top trends are discussed, when packaging materials and supplies, packaging machinery and related process technology are in focus. But is this still true after a six-year break? After the crises and the turn of the times, does interpack continue to live up to its claim of being “simply unique” as the leading global trade fair and a source of inspiration for the future topics of the industry?
Normally, interpack takes place every three years. After 2017, we would have “pilgrimaged” to Düsseldorf again in 2020. But Corona threw a spanner in the works of the usual rhythm, so it was six years until the next interpack. In between was a worldwide pandemic with paralysed ports, disrupted supply chains, supply bottlenecks, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, exploding raw material and energy costs, inflation – and the often quoted conclusion of a “turn of the times”. What has this done to interpack?
Let’s look at the numbers first:
- 2,807 exhibitors attended interpack 2023, compared to 2,865 six years earlier. The decline is marginal.
- 143,000 visitors passed through the gates of the fair in 2023. In 2017, there were 170,500 visitors. The decline is very clear here.
- Two out of three visitors came from abroad this year. In 2017, it was still three out of four. So interpack 2023 was significantly less international.
- 75 per cent of visitors in 2023 belonged to middle and senior management. In 2017, it was 74 percent. Hardly any change at this point.
- More than 1,000 exhibitors presented themselves in the area of packaging materials and supplies alone. This is a new record – at least in terms of sheer numbers, because a closer look reveals large gaps.
View of packaging materials and packaging
A lot of quantity meets a lack of variety. If you look at the packaging on show at interpack 2023, you’ll notice that there is a lack of variety:
- Glass packaging: Leading European or even leading global exhibitors were virtually absent
- Metal packaging: Leading European or even leading global exhibitors in the primary packaging sector were virtually absent.
- Rigid Plastic: Leading European exhibitors or even leading global exhibitors were hardly represented, except for a few exhibitors in the cup and closure manufacturing sector.
- Flexible Packaging: Leading European or even leading global exhibitors were not represented in the primary packaging sector.
- Corrugated board packaging and folding carton: Only in the folding carton sector a relevant number of relevant companies are represented, but preferably from non-European countries.
- and so on and so forth.
As far as innovations are concerned: Yes, there were – and predominantly in the area of fibre-based packaging materials, which outshone new solutions made of plastic.
Dominance of mechanical engineering
This leaves the extremely strong packaging machinery sector with the associated automation companies and component suppliers. Their dominance as the largest exhibitor group at the trade fair is certainly not coincidental, as this sector is currently THE driving force of the entire packaging industry. This is confirmed not least by the positive figures presented by the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) just in time for interpack.
Thus, even in the difficult year of 2022, food and packaging machinery was able to record a production increase of seven percent to 15.8 billion euros in Germany alone. This means that the fourth-largest specialist sector of the national machinery and plant engineering industry exceeded its pre-crisis level of 2019 by 500 million euros. Packaging machinery accounted for just under half of the turnover in 2022.
Sustainable packaging technologies
The mechanical engineering sector was also comparatively well positioned in terms of innovation. Of course, this is no coincidence either, as can be seen from the words of VDMA Managing Director Richard Clemens: “Many companies in the consumer goods industry have set their own sustainability goals. In recent years, companies in the packaging machinery sector have succeeded in enabling the implementation of sustainable packaging concepts through appropriate technical adaptations and newly developed machine solutions.”
One example from the field of processing sustainable materials is the company Uhlmann. At the fair, it showed how PVC-processing machines can be converted to PP with a rebuilt.
Two examples of climate protection can be found at Romaco and Syntegon. Like other companies, they are increasingly paying attention to the CO2 footprint that their machines cause both during production and later during operation at the customer’s site. This is not only about transparency and monitoring, but also about the concrete reduction of climate emissions.
Strategic orientation and start-ups
The strategic orientation of interpack towards the four hot topics of the circular economy, resource conservation, digitalisation and product safety could not be observed across the board. The dominance of the topic of sustainability with its aspects of circular economy, resource conservation and above all climate protection was more than conspicuous.
A pleasing aspect of interpack was the presence of numerous start-ups. They were a real enrichment and often gave good examples of how digitalisation can effectively support the topic of sustainability in the future.
Yes, interpack is still unique and a visit to the trade fair is undoubtedly a great benefit – which is not least due to the many personal contacts. Here, almost everyone can probably subscribe to the positive statement of the trade fair, according to which over 96 percent of the visitors achieved their trade fair goal according to their own statements.
As a shortcoming and impetus for 2026, the realisation remains that interpack’s own claim to represent the entire value chain was not achieved. Those responsible for the trade fair should think about how this can be done better next time.