Rick Michelman: Emotions, experiences make connections

By 08 Feb 2022

Michelman CEO Rick Michelman in conversation with PrintWeek

Rick Michelman

PrintWeek (PW): Tough 18 months. Your learnings from 2021...
Rick Michelman (RM):
In the last 18 months, we were reminded that staying true to our core values is the key to success. For Michelman, our value of respect was paramount. It was critical to respect our Michelman associates and keep them safe from Covid-19. We were proud that our leadership in India secured vaccines for all associates and their families. It was also critical to respect the needs of our customers and overcome raw material and transport challenges. We worked with customers and partners to overcome supply chain issues and to determine what our products needed to do and how they measured success.

PW: How has your company and factory sites responded to the challenges of the Covid-19 era? 
RM:
The pandemic continues to bring significant supply chain disruptions and raw material availability challenges. Because of this, Michelman has used our deep formulation and application expertise to innovate products to counter these challenges. Our solutions for compostable packaging for the food industry were well received and won many awards throughout Asia. The Indian Flexible Packaging and Folding Carton Association (IFCA) recently awarded Michelman India an IFCA Star award for our work in this area.

PW: Anything on the ideas front? Any new research or innovation?
RM:
The eCommerce companies are subjected to various global and local regulations, so they have been forced to develop and utilise recyclable packaging for deliveries. Additional regulations are also forcing secondary packaging made of plastic to become recyclable, so not to generate more landfill waste.

Our team in India worked with several eCommerce companies to develop paper bags and help them make the jump from plastic to paper packaging – a significant step forward for India. We innovated both external water resistance and an effective inside heat seal to form the paper bags, ensuring the ability to send all paper bags into the paper recycling stream. Our solutions were developed specifically for both performance and sustainability needs. We see this segment growing significantly in the year ahead.

PW: The pandemic has impacted India’s prospects to become a USD5 trillion economy by FY25. However, has the last quarter numbers reposed faith in the Indian market?
RM:
We never wavered in our belief in India. We are committed to our triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. We did not alter our staffing plans or decrease investment in innovation or our associates. We remain highly optimistic about India’s printing and packaging markets, including flexible packaging with mono-material and mono-web structures for more efficient recycling, plastic to paper conversions, specialty printing, and digital printing. Our advanced materials also offer solutions for the fibres and composites and industrial coatings industries. 

PW: Brands (FMCG and non-FMCG) are seeking more and more from print and packaging. As a global manufacturing brand, how can our industry cater to the new normal of - gaining speed; more flexibility; profit-centric approach; and a lower carbon footprint?
RM:
Besides government paperwork, Michelman has always viewed India as a fast-moving and genuine creative space. We often start new technologies in India, thanks to our high-quality team’s ingenuity and their great collaboration with our Indian customers, partners, and brand owners. Organisation-wide we focus on creating a planet-positive footprint by reducing our water usage, energy use from non-renewable sources, and solid waste.

In addition, we focus on developing planet-positive products and solutions by zeroing out certain chemistries and eliminating volatile organic compounds, light-weighting, and the circular economy. 

PW: How should print adopt marketing strategies that promote the print brand beyond the function of product or service. One school of thought is, the key is to do more than just meet consumers’ immediate needs. What is your view?
RM:
At Michelman, we think about the customer experience. We want to keep the food fresh and make an easy-to-open pouch. We help companies create great graphics on any substrate through different print techniques. We help enhance the customer experience with technology, enabling customised print, highlighting a local connection or functionality that gets consumer attention. Emotion and experiences make connections for brands, and at some level, that makes it fun to be a part of this industry.

PW: 77% of Indian consumers are actively engaging with sustainability. These consumers will invest time and money in companies that try to do good. Three sustainable actions you have undertaken in the past year that you can share with us?
RM:
We are deeply committed to sustainability and delineate our behaviour into a few different categories. We believe in helping the communities in which we work and live - thrive. We facilitate a “global day of service” every September where our associates leave their cell phones and computers behind and volunteer together in their local communities.

While those we assist appreciate it, our associates genuinely benefit from the experience. In 2021, our India team drove to a facility for girls a few hours outside of Mumbai to assist them with building repair and grounds maintenance. Our team also interacted with them to motivate them to pursue their dreams. This was an incredibly rewarding day for all involved.

PW: Is there a Green Gap between what our industry talks about; and the rest of society? For example, the industry uses terms like “biodegradable” and “circular economy”. How can we bridge the knowledge gap?
RM:
Michelman is full of well-positioned leaders that can teach the importance of sustainability throughout the industry and to consumers. We can demonstrate how everyone in the value chain can participate in the circular economy and share a roadmap of the steps along the way.

Eventually, packages will denote how the user can dispose of the item responsibly and conveniently. We’ll have to be active, as the average consumer will not be able to connect the dots without our industry’s support and coaching. They likely want to support the vision, but they might not yet know how to or understand the terms. We can get them there!

PW: Any lessons you can share from a customer that have been resilient or innovative (and flourished) during the past 18 months?
RM:
As discussed previously, we learned a lot from our work with eCommerce companies. We’ve also learned from developing more sustainable paper cups and edible oil pouches. 

PW: Disposable paper cups are a significant sustainability issue…
RM:
Yes, because they are not recyclable, contrary to common belief. Their plastic lining ensures that they rarely make it to a recycling plant (regardless of what bin you put them in), and they are not biodegradable. As a result, they are currently the second-largest litter waste product, second only to plastic bottles.Current paper cups are made out of paper and are coated with low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or wax to prevent liquid from leaking out or soaking through the paper.

Our team of experts in China has successfully developed and tested a new coating solution, which eliminates the plastic lining used in conventional paper cups and eases the recycling and re-pulping process. Along with recyclable and re-pulp-able properties, it also provides excellent water, oil and grease resistance and very high seal strength. It has been tested successfully for hot and cold applications. 

PW: What about edible oil pouches?
RM:
Indian consumers for the edible oil industry used pouches with a 5-7-layer coextruded film that combines PE, tie-layer, nylon, or ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH). Nylon’s incorporation in the structure provides puncture resistance & a moderate oxygen barrier. However, the presence of nylon or EVOH prevents this structure from easily being recycled.

Michelman has successfully developed a water-based coating solution that eliminates the need for nylon or EVOH but still provides freshness. In addition, oxygen barrier plays a vital role in preventing the oil from going rancid and extending its shelf life. Our objective is to optimise the coating to match or exceed existing oxygen barrier values to improve product shelf life and reduce the chances of rancidity. In addition, the elimination of nylon / EVOH makes this mono-material structure easily recyclable and compliant with the impending plastic waste management rules.

PW: Your plans for 2022?
RM:
If I had my way in 2022, the world would safely return to international travel. And, of course, I would get back to India. Part of the beauty of the printing and packaging industries is the deep relationships we form, be that press side working through issues or having a meal discussing culture and family. Like many companies, we have deep respect for our customers, suppliers, and partners. That takes some effort, and it is always most rewarding in person, which makes travel necessary. And, as a company, we will continue to measure our success via our triple bottom line and work towards our goals of people and planet, not just profit.

PW: One outrageous prediction for the year to come ...
RM:
2022 will be slightly less absurd than 2020 or 2021. But maybe I shouldn’t jinx it, as we have all learned over the past few years that things can always get worse. That being said, we all will be well prepared to use that acquired knowledge and experience for good.

 

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS

  • How do you unwind?
    I like to be outdoors – walking with my dog, riding a bicycle, or running (while my knees hold up), and I love snow skiing in the mountains in winter.
     
  • One piece of music you love?
    Because I have unusual tastes in music, I listen to smaller, more independent bands. Past favorite musicians have been REM, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Foo Fighters. If any readers know these, enjoy.
     
  • Favourite film?
    I cannot say it is a favourite, but I did enjoy the new Dune movie. Not much print there, but a nicely-created world with great visuals.
     
  • Three books by your bedside?
    I mostly spend time reading about today’s world. It’s fascinating, scary, and exciting.
     
  • One thing about the print you love to utter in a public forum?
    Innovation lives here because industry players push each other toward excellence. The industry changes all the time, and it is fun to be part of it.
     
  • Recent packaging innovation that impressed you?
    It is no surprise that the innovation in our industry is accelerating. We are all redesigning items for sustainability, ease of use, and enhanced customer experience. However, I get particularly excited by any innovation that engages mono-material solutions or plastic to paper conversions without losing needed performance.
     
  • One tech-guru (past or present) you want to meet - and why?
    Throughout the pandemic, I have taken up astronomy and astrophotography. I would love to meet the early telescope creators, as they see objects never before observed.


Click here to read more about Michelman.


 

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