The big gap: Innovation and innovation management in the packaging industry

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The packaging industry is currently in danger of overlooking relevant future trends and losing sight of customer needs. The reason lies in a disregard for the topics of innovation and innovation management and in a misjudgment of R&D activities. In a study on the subject of innovation, we examined the situation, investigated the weak points and identified two key areas for action in the form of sustainability and digitization.


In a study with extensive data collection, we took a close look at the topic of innovation for the packaging industry. The result: Both broadly and as an organizational corporate function, innovation and innovation management have lost importance in recent years. This is alarming, because in the medium term it will lead to companies overlooking relevant future trends and thus also losing touch with the wishes of their customers.

In the short term, the packaging industry should focus on the areas of digitalization and sustainability when it comes to innovation. On the one hand, these topics have recently gained enormously in importance, while on the other hand, there are glaring deficits in the packaging industry in precisely these areas. Basically, anyone who sees reactive R&D as innovation work is falling into a trap.

Investigation: Innovation in focus

In an extensive data collection and evaluation process, we used a three-stage process to examine what developments there are in the area of innovation.

Step 1: Research and science

In the first step, we studied recent developments in the field of innovation theory to see if there are new theories and approaches in science and research.
The result: Activities around the topic of innovation have decreased. Less research has been done. Accordingly, fewer new methods have been developed.

Step 2: The consultant activities

In a second step, we examined the activities of the major consulting firms.
The result: Here, too, the topic of innovation only very rarely appears explicitly. By contrast, the topics of digitization and sustainability are much more dominant.

Step 3: The ten largest packaging companies

In the third step, we evaluated the topic of innovation and innovation management at ten of the largest packaging companies.
The result: A large proportion of packaging companies proactively address the topic of innovation, but do not follow suit in terms of actions. There even seems to be a decline in functions and processes around the topic of innovation overall. It can be seen that the definition of innovation varies greatly from company to company. A large proportion already understands it to mean only the minor further development of products, i.e. classic R&D. The difference between a purely reactive, purely technical innovation and a purely technological innovation is not clear. The difference between purely reactive, customer-driven development work and genuine, proactive innovation does not seem to be clear to most companies.

Recommendations for action for the packaging industry

For companies in the packaging industry, we recommend three concrete steps.

  1. Innovation at the product level requires the portfolio to be aligned with sustainability today.
  2. Innovation at the process and service level today requires automation and digitization with a focus on areas that are particularly relevant for the customer.
  3. Innovation at the corporate level requires the establishment of a functional innovation management today. This is the only way to ensure that innovation is not a product of chance, but produces planned and desired results.


A time bomb is ticking where a systematic innovation process and a functioning innovation management are missing. Those who miss relevant trends and customer requirements often do not get a second chance. The goals of proactive and targeted innovation work should lie in the areas of digitization and sustainability. There, the deficits are particularly high on the one hand, and the demand is particularly pronounced on the other.


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