A look at the world of German Packaging today.

I've just returned from Germany where I lectured, visited four flex-pack converters and several packaging machinery suppliers, and toured three large supermarkets. I came away impressed with the German packaging industry - definitely a world leader in converting, machine development, and environmental sensitivity.

Germany is suffering from a steep rise in unemployment and a national recession, enhanced by the 1991 integration of East Germany into the economic workforce. I continually heard "how much better it was before 1991" and how tough it is now to attain profitability.

Another factor influencing the German converting/packaging industry is the long-term effect of the landmark Packaging Ordinance (DSD). Introduced about the same time as national unification, it put inordinate strains on German industry, provoking upheavals in both design and production. With DSD profitability still questionable and the collection of used packaging still under development, the tough DSD regulations are straining many companies' finances.

The supermarkets are full of stand-up flex-pack pouches of shampoos, detergents, and juices used to refill rigid packages. They're used more extensively in Germany than in the US.

Germany is a world leader in both cured meat consumption and packaging, and I saw MAP (modified atmosphere packaged) units of sliced liverwurst and bologna in thermoformed trays, many vacuum skin packages of wursts, and superbly decorated, coextruded, "multivac"-style packages of cold cuts. The dairy section is also quite extensive, with multicolor, peelable foil lids covering a wide array of products.

Even though German converters such as Wolf Walsrode and Schur (actually Danish but with a plant in Flensburg) produce excellent coextruded products, Kibbutz Hazorea in northern Israel supplies coex materials to the German processed meat industry on a regular basis.

An interesting stand-up pouch was "HIPP" brand powdered baby food. Packaged in a polyester/foil/polyethylene material, the stock is made by 4P Verpckungen Ronsberg GmbH and is considered to be an environmental replacement for an inner bag/folding carton.

While the above package represents a valid environmental answer, Adler brand "Edelcreme" is a different story. It is a soft, spreadable, full-fat cheese packaged in two-piece units, each hot-filled in foil. The two individual pieces are placed in a folding triangular-shaped carton for ultimate sale. Displaying the "green point" on the outer carton, the package notes that the consumer can send the entire empty package (by mail?) back to the Adler company.

For a nation heavily involved in life-cycle analyses, this design appears to violate the very concept of environmental sensitivity. Is the outer paperboard carton necessary? How many consumers really send back the empty foil wrap and printed paperboard carton? Competitors sell unsupported, foil-wrapped cheese wedges loose in injection-molded display units.

One of the most interesting visits of my trip was to the Affeldt firm in Neuendorf bei Elmshorn, a quite suburb of Hamburg. Privately held in the same family since 1858, the firm started out as a supplier of horse shoes and agricultural equipment. After the war, Affeldt began to produce weighing equipment, which by 1974 evolved into fully integrated packaging lines. With five production sites and about 350 employees, Affeldt serves mainly the produce industry.

Although its machines produce a wide variety of PE bagged products, the firm is one of the largest world-wide suppliers of "netted" bag package machines commonly used to contain potatoes, onions, and apples. A recent innovation is the introduction of high-speed ultrasonic siding on the bags, eliminating the need for metal clips. The development of a tubular netting machine closed by ultrasonics was provoked by two basic factors - the need for a package that would be 100% recyclable (since no metal closing element is used) and the problem of loose onion skins jamming up the metal closing mechanism. With over 30% of its production targeted to the US, Affeldt machines are a standard in the produce industry.

One of the best references on the German packaging industry is the 1995 PIRA publication, Packaging in Germany, written by Teresa Reeves. It is available from PIRA, Randalls Rd., Leatherhead, Surrey, KT27 7RU, U.K.; 44-01372-802080; fax: 44-01372-802239.

Stanley Sacharow has been in the flexible packaging industry for almost 35 years. His company, The Packaging Group, is an organizer of targeted conferences and a consultant to the international packaging/converting industry.

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