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An interview with Bettina Bastien

“Supermarket customers are reaching for paper packaging”

Name: Bettina Bastien
Job title: Brand Owner Manager/Business Development Flexible Packaging Paper
Passions: Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, mountain hiking
Age: 55
With Koehler: Since January 2020

Bettina Bastien

Bettina Bastien is 55 years old, has a seventeen-year-old son, lives with her family in Freiburg, Germany, and is half French. On top of that, she studied business administration trinationally, which is to say in three different places and three different countries: Saarbrücken in Germany, Metz in France, and Leicester in England, which is why it should come as no surprise that she likes to describe herself as a European and has a particular mastery of languages. Her studies were followed by stints in the automotive and textile industries before she finally landed in the packaging industry, which proved to be her ideal destination. A global key account manager position at Amcor in Teningen and a sales manager position at Etimex in Dietenheim gave her the opportunity to amass ten years of experience in an industry that she herself will tell you is extremely varied and simultaneously complex. Then, in 2020, she joined Koehler Paper and has been part of our team ever since as a brand owner manager who is also in charge of business development for flexible packaging paper. In this interview, she talks about the challenges in the packaging industry, quickly changing consumer behaviors, and the needs of various markets.

How did you come to join Koehler Paper in 2020?

Well, I have over ten years of experience in the packaging industry, and in the past few years have gotten to experience how strong the trend toward sustainable packaging solutions has become. Know-how regarding workflows, processes, and how things are linked together between industrial customers, brand owners, machine manufacturers, and converters is absolutely necessary in order to be able to get packaging solutions successfully established. In addition, the food sector is where risk management is absolutely crucial. That’s where my experience comes in. I’ve built up comprehensive technical know-how and an extensive network of brand owners over the years, not to mention that pursuing sustainable packaging solutions at Koehler Paper is something that I find very meaningful. Now, as you mentioned, I joined the company in 2020. That was as a sales manager, and my job quickly evolved into what I do today. For instance, I’ve had the opportunity to use my expertise to push the continued development and enhancement of NexPlus barrier paper in the last few years and align the corresponding products with our customers’ product applications in a systematic manner.

What exactly do you do as a brand owner manager?

My job requires me to stay in contact with national and multinational brand owners, primarily in Europe. From those connections, I take the feedback provided by our customers and feed it into our organization so that we’re always able to design and develop products that meet our customers’ specific needs. In addition, I closely supervise the qualification process for our heat-sealable barrier products when it comes to packaging equipment manufacturers. Also, and together with our Technical Customer Service team, I supervise production tests carried out on-site by brand owners when possible. Finally, I provide NexFlex product training to our sales partners and brand owners across all of Europe upon request, and one thing that is clear from that is that our customers across the globe usually all have similar questions when it comes to switching to paper as a packaging solution.

What are the greatest fears that customers have when it comes to switching to paper?

As you well know, the use of plastic as a packaging material has been second nature to humankind for a while now, so it’s only normal that switching to paper would come with a bunch of questions: “Does the paper work on my existing machines? Do I need to invest in new packaging machinery? And if I do, how much will that cost me? Does this specific paper have the barrier properties that plastic intrinsically has? Is the paper 100% recyclable? Can it be used with food? What kind of environmental taxes do I need to pay if I use paper? Can we say “100% plastic-free” as a brand owner? Is there an LCA, that is, a life-cycle assessment? And if there is one, what parameters were used for it? Can prices and supply availability be guaranteed even for large quantities? Is there technical support?”
These are obviously a lot of questions, and we’ve always been able to provide our customers with answers that give them peace of mind. Our paper products are on the market and are used on a large scale for both food and non-food products. In addition, we always take the needs and concerns of our customers seriously.

Who exactly is your customer? Can they be clearly defined?

Needless to say, the first customer that comes up consists of converters, with examples including printers, copackers, and finishers. They’re very well aware of consumers’ and brand owners’ growing demand for sustainability and want to act accordingly. Nevertheless, focusing exclusively on converters would be tremendously short-sighted. We need to get all stakeholders involved and have effective outside communication, and that by necessity entails brand owners, machine manufacturers, sustainable packaging agencies, and national recycling associations and organizations. Within this context, I think having presentations at international trade shows and symposiums on a regular basis is an ideal way to promote the paper packaging lobby, address any fears that are out there, and keep expanding our network.

When it comes to our customers, who’s actually responsible for deciding to use paper as a packaging material?

That depends on the company’s size, and often also on which department is responsible for that company’s strategic direction. Normally, however, the people in charge of that decision will be the people in charge of R&D, Purchasing, or Marketing together with the sustainability manager. And in the case of smaller companies, this can be the managing director themselves. As for the key players on the market, that is, multinational brand owners and converters, they already announced a while ago that they want their entire product range to be 100% recyclable in 2025 and to switch to paper wherever it makes sense. In fact, the large brand owners in the industry are now competing to see who will be the first to switch over to paper in their respective segments, with Nestlé having fired the starting gun with its Smarties brand.

Are requirements the same in all countries when it comes to regulations?

That can really vary a lot and is based on existing laws and regulations, some of which significantly predate all these changes. For instance, one of the main players when it comes to packaging volume in Europe is Italy, and regulations from 1973 concerning the type of materials that are allowed to come into contact with food make it more difficult to use paper as a packaging material for food there. In contrast to that, England already wants to ratchet up its use of fiber-based packaging and has extremely ambitious goals in this regard. Meanwhile, Scandinavian countries are also tackling the subject of recyclability on a comprehensive scale and are very ambitious when it comes to requirements for alternative materials, while France would rather completely ban plastic as a packaging material sooner rather than later. However, we’ve also noticed that ever since the energy crisis started, the will to get these things done has let up a bit and many companies have backpedaled on their efforts. But as a contrast, it’s worth mentioning that the large FMCG corporations in France are not limiting themselves to following national regulations, but also European standards. They have an ambitious goal in front of them, a real vision, and are refusing to stray from that path.

Are there differences in how consumers across Europe think?

Regardless of where you are in Europe, it always becomes clear pretty quickly that younger generations are extremely aware of and sensitive to the topic of sustainability. In fact, consumer research confirms that. To put it simply, supermarket customers are reaching for paper packaging over plastic, which of course corroborates that we’re on the right path.

Which products or solutions are in highest demand right now?

Well, in the food sector, primary packaging with excellent barrier properties against water vapor and oxygen is what people really want above all. And with our NexPlus Advanced, we can even pack chocolate nowadays, meaning that its oxygen, grease, and mineral oil barrier properties work perfectly. Next year, we’ll be adding an excellent water vapor barrier with NexPlus Performance.
Meanwhile, in the non-food sector, there’s a lot of demand for metallized paper. This is particularly true of the cosmetic industry, where companies expect a water vapor barrier with a rating of less than 1. And in contrast to the food sector, where a sustainable appearance indicated by matte colors is desirable, packaging for cosmetics needs to shine in order to communicate premium quality, so what they need is coated paper.

So are customers already pretty familiar with paper packaging?

I think it’s important to remember, first of all, that Koehler has more than 210 years of expertise in the paper industry. Then, in 2019, we decided to tap into the flexible packaging paper market with what to date has been the biggest single investment – over 300 million euros – in the company’s history. So it’s obvious that we’ve invested a lot into research and development, but what not everyone may know is that we’ve also invested a lot in providing our customers with information and advice, which has meant giving tons of presentations and providing a lot of training. On top of that, we’ve given out an extensive amount of test rolls and A4 samples to enable customers to run their own tests. So when we showed up for FachPack at the end of September, it came as no surprise that the visitors already had a pretty good idea of what they were looking for and what kind of barrier properties they needed. In the food sector, for example, most brand owners expect to take about 2 or 3 years for a full qualification process before they launch new packaging, and right now some of the things that are being tested in the paper to be used are compatibility with machinery, sealability, and puncture resistance, all of which is being complemented by storage, stress, and migration testing, for instance. In the non-food sector, things are going faster.
Many customers have already completed this phase, and so already know exactly what they need.

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