5 minutes with Mike Swain

The future of branded and inspirational packaging

3 & 4 March 2021 | Halls 11-12 Birmingham

5 minutes with Mike Swain

Mike Swain, Managing Director, PackIDS


1.       The packaging industry has gone under a huge amount of change and pressure over the last few years, what is
your take on how the industry has dealt with this? 

I would agree the level of change and the pressure exerted on the industry is unprecedented, markedly so in the past 5 years.  The industry as a whole has reacted rather slowly in my view, you could argue taking the time to get it right, though I suspect the more accurate version is not being fully prepared for this attention and finding it difficult to cope as a whole.  We, as professionals, do the best we can but for far too many years packaging has been under supported as a profession and a career by academia, government and businesses in general.  The consequence of this is a disparate profession, not fully understood or recognized by industry at large that has to fight to remain contemporary.  The professional bodies do what they can though the recent pressures and change has really put the whole profession on the back foot.


2.       What do you think the main opportunities and upcoming changes those in pharmaceutical packaging need to know about now?

The circular materials economy, in all its guises and the tumultuous challenge to not only to bend the old liner economy back around on itself but to join it back to itself in a way that will make it work commercially and practically.  I would argue those making the legislation have a somewhat narrow view of the whole picture for packaging, as the focus of both the EU and UK legislation appear to address the more ‘visible’ issues, e.g. one way packaging, plastic straws,  in preference to the ‘foundation’ issues, e.g. re-valuing post consumer materials, return infrastructure and standardization of curbside collections.



3.     Sustainability is clearly high on the agenda when discussing packaging, what are the other challenges professionals are facing and what else do they need to keep front of mind when developing packaging?


Aside from the environmental imperative, the challenges I face are often around fixing the undesirable consequences of ill advised changes and just simply educating clients, customers and suppliers on what and how to make changes for the better.  I would council all my fellow professionals to prepare well and plan diligently for any packaging change demanded of them.  The pressure for immediate change from customers and clients should be taken as guidance and the response should be that of restraint and diligence.  They will not thank you for mounting costs and delays because of iterative changes, but for impactful and diligent changes implemented once and well.  I would also advise all that ask that ‘packaging’ is necessary part of our lives and has been largely seen as a ‘cost’ rather than an ‘investment’.  This has drawn the focus of investment in packaging into reducing outlay rather than improving value.  One way packaging devalues the material and format if not designed for recycling.  This needs to change as does the mindset and capabilities of all those invested in it.


4.     Design is the crucial first step in the packaging life cycle, what are the most common mistakes you see made at this stage?

We design packaging for a primary use, to meet the present expectations and requirements and then attempt to add or adjust this design to fit into the end of use scenario.  We need to change this mindset and think broader on what it actually means to have a circular materials economy and to design to enhance this, not just service the need.  Mono-materials, separable components, alignment to current and emerging infrastructure, functional design and prioritizing compromises need to be thought through in a broader context when designing packaging.  Much of this cannot be learnt from a book or website, it really takes experience, practice, patience and, importantly, help.  Circular economically designed packaging has specific characteristics that can be understood and auctioned upon.  It is not simply fixing the linear design mistakes of the past.


5.       The packaging industry struggles to attract talent and be viewed as a career option to many young professionals, why do you think this is?

There are two succinct reasons – The lack of general understanding of what the packaging industry is about and secondly the lack of a specific academic route into the profession.  I often have to explain what I actually do in a business as a packaging professional, whereas this does not happen if you are an engineer, a designer, or work in finance or marketing.  The packaging profession is also a fantastic career to enter.  It is challenging, rewarding and there is never a dull moment.  The vast majority of people I know have entered the profession accidently, not by choice.  A packaging degree, with bright and aware graduates who can apply themselves to this broad and challenging field can do very well.  We need a visionary and, you may say, brave institution to take the mantle and make the provision for a packaging faculty providing this level of education.


6.       How did you get into the packaging industry?

By accident.  Very luckily I have an appropriate degree (Materials Science) and was in my early twenties when I
change from the high tech heavy automotive industry to packaging.  I have never looked back and, looking at my
peers and contemporaries, have had a much more rewarding, interesting and
diverse career to date.


7.       What excites you most about working in the packaging industry? 

Most everything.  I love the challenges in the industry today and the very real need to make dramatic changes to our whole
ethos, approach and outputs.  I am involved in many things I find exciting like consultancy, academia, writing, research and being at the spearhead of change and realization of the importance of packaging and championing the industry in whatever capacity I can.


Complimentary packaging consultancy clinics

IOM3/The Packaging Society will be hosting several consultancy clinics throughout Packaging Innovations. Remember to visit stand D50 where you will find Richard Coles and Mike Swain as well as a host of other industry experts to discuss all your packaging needs, from general packaging design and analysis to transportation and shipping, with focus also on materials as well as sustainably and recycling. If you like to book a free 10–15 minute consultation, contact the IOM3 team – david.arthur@iom3.org .

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