ARLINGTON, Va. — Fifty percent of US food manufacturers expect to make packaging machinery purchases in the coming 12 months, according to new research from the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMM). Titled Trends and Advances in Food Packaging 2010, the study is based on interviews with 50 food manufacturers and 15 packaging experts who represent 20 of the top 75 food-packaging companies. The combined revenues of those 20 come to 53% of that industry’s revenue.

Half of the food manufacturers surveyed expect to purchase new equipment — at the same (40%) or greater (34%) spending levels than originally budgeted — in the next 12 months. The remainder of the group (12%) is uncertain about the expenditures or expects to spend less than planned. Thirty-four percent of the food manufacturers surveyed do not expect to make a packaging machinery investment in the coming 12 months.

Food packagers want multi-functional equipment that is more intelligent, is more automated and has a user-friendly interface.

“I want state-of-the-art equipment that’s energy efficient and will reduce labor and increase capacity,” said a private-label manufacturer’s plant manager, who was interviewed for the study. “Machine flexibility for easy pouch size changeover is important, as is machinery that does not cost a lot to repair and maintain.”

Packaging equipment must be user-friendly to operate, uncomplicated to maintain, and fast and easy to clean. Packaging machinery must be more energy efficient to comply with food packagers’ evolving sustainability initiatives by reducing their carbon footprint. They’re also more cost effective to operate.

Many food packagers are trying to stretch their operating budgets with solutions to extend the life of existing equipment or refurbish older equipment currently not in use. However, with new equipment, they are not willing to sacrifice throughput for the sake of flexibility.

As food packagers add new products, introduce sustainability initiatives, shrink packaging sizes and plan for future labeling changes, they are demanding more sophisticated packaging machinery from packaging machinery manufacturers. Flexibility, multi-purpose functionality at the push of a button, variable product line speeds, energy efficiency and equipment that fits the food packager’s budget will be the key criteria in their purchasing decision.

“Flexible changeover, versatility to retrofit for changing up the line and multi-purpose equipment that meets several needs are what we envision in the next generation of packaging equipment,” said a senior engineer for a food manufacturer interviewed for the study.

Innovation in food packages will require innovation in food packaging equipment and technology, and machinery manufacturers that design more versatile, feature-rich equipment, while also providing retrofit kits to modernize older machinery and integration services for new machinery, will successfully position themselves as solutions providers that can thrive for years to come.