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Key Takeaways: IMFA 25th Annual Conference

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Thank you to everyone who joined us at our 25th Annual Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona from October 4-6, 2023! From attendees and presenters to sponsors and vendors, everyone got on their return flight home with a wealth of new knowledge and connections.

Our conference began on Wednesday evening with a welcome reception hosted by Fiber Thermoforming Technologies. Conference attendees enjoyed a beautiful sunset on a patio surrounded by mountain on all sides. IMFA has intentions of expanding our Wednesday offerings – stay tuned for next year's schedule!

Each morning, our 150+ attendees from 16 countries began the day with breakfast in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. Arizona treated us well, with gorgeous weather and stunning views in every direction.

Following breakfast Thursday morning, attendees were greeted by IMFA Board Chairman Gary Visser, who talked about the strong history of our association. Mr. Visser spoke about the bright outlook for the future of molded fiber products as many companies move towards more sustainable packaging. The future of IMFA is looking similarly encouraging – we are also excited to welcome so many first time conference attendees this year, including folks of all ages from every corner of the globe.

Our first workshop of the day was presented by Professor Ronalds Gonzalez and his research assistant Naycari Forfora from North Carolina State University on various materials and consumer attitudes. Dr. Gonzalez brought a wealth of knowledge on alternative fibers and related efficacy and economic efficiencies.

Alexander Koukoulas from AFRY presented our second workshop of the morning, focused on the projected growth of molded fiber globally. Molded fiber is often the most environmentally responsible option for packaging, but cost can make it less attractive to companies. Mr. Koukoulas expects consumer demand and government regulation to move even more businesses towards sustainable molded fiber packaging.

Thursday afternoon at the IMFA 25th Annual Conference was all about innovation, with a strong lineup of experts from various niches in molded fiber design and production helping attendees push their knowledge and big ideas further.

Our afternoon workshops kicked off with Otto Soidinsalo from Borregaard presenting on microfibrillated cellulose (MFC). While there are many benefits that companies are recognizing as they move towards fiber-based packaging, there are also challenges to overcome. MFC, a bio-based and multifunctional product made of cellulose, is a solution to make fiber-based products stronger with enhanced barrier properties.

The afternoon continued with Pol Casado Curto and Salva Díaz from Hamer Packaging Technology sharing their their thoughts on the relevance of molded fiber lamination in a plastic-restrictive environment. Public pressure has caused companies to move away from fossil fuel-based packaging and legislation regarding PFAS has forced converters to find alternative pathways to sustainable package designs. This workshop focused on modern alternatives that allow us to continue to create high quality products in the current social climate.

On a similar theme, Conor Carlin of ILLIG North America spoke on new technology that will modernize the way we produce molded fiber products with thin film lamination. Molded fiber products continue to become more significant as regulations make limit plastics, but certain functions require plastics to be incorporated. Conor's expertise brought us up to speed on ways to incorporate plastics in lamination efficiently and effectively while complying with legal standards.

Closing out our afternoon series of workshops, Koen Bastiaens from NatureWorks taught us about their new innovative high-performing PLA-based biomaterials. These socially and environmentally responsible products represent a potential path forward for fiber-based products in food serviceware and packaging.

Throughout the entire conference, we've hosted interactive breakout sessions with every presenter where attendees have had the chance to ask questions and dive deeper on topics most relevant to them and their businesses. We've heard some great questions and topics come up for discussion, and are grateful to everyone who participated on a panel.

Back by popular demand, our afternoon of workshops concluded with Molded Fiber 101, bringing folks newer to the industry up to speed on historical knowledge and some tips and tricks of the trade. With over 80 years of industry experience across the three of them, Gary Visser, Paul Carter, and Vince Daniel generously passed along a wealth of knowledge to an engaged group of participants.

Thursday evening we came together for a dinner sponsored by KIEFEL with good food, great company, and plenty of wine. At IMFA we're fortunate to have so many colleagues who have become close friends over the years. Outside of the clear professional growth all conference attendees experienced at this conference, it's just as valuable to make lasting friendships. We always look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at the IMFA Annual Conference.

The IMFA 25th Annual Conference ended just as strong as it began with an engaging lineup of speakers that brought new insights to conference attendees. Everyone who sat in on this week's workshops left with information and tangible actions to move their businesses forward.

Friday started off with the conference's keynote address, shared by Abhinav Goel and Maimouna Diakhaby from McKinsey & Company. Their insightful presentation focused on mega-trends in packaging in relation to molded fiber products. The outlook for molded fiber is looking bright, with many opportunities for growth in the near future.

Following their presentation, Mr. Goel and Ms. Diakhaby were joined by Ann O'Hara from Huhtamaki and Ian Jacobson from Eco-Products for a panel discussion on areas of projected growth for fiber-based packaging. We were very grateful to have such esteemed industry experts participate in this conversation – all conference attendees benefitted greatly from the vast amount of experience on the stage!

Taking today's conversation in a different direction, Huqiu Zhang, PhD from Sevee & Maher Engineers, Inc. spoke to conference attendees on good manufacturing practices (GMP) across markets. So often, regulators set up legislation to govern our design and manufacturing processes, but then don't put detailed instructions in place on how to meet the set criteria. This workshop helped attendees make sense of how to keep on top of compliance around the globe.

Our final speaker at the IMFA 25th Annual Conference (or as she called it, our "dessert") was Susanne Haase from the 4evergreen alliance. Ms. Haase's presentation focused on sustainability in four main areas: evaluating packaging recyclability, designing for circularity, advising effective collection and sorting, and exploring innovative recycling and sorting technologies and techniques. Standardized practices with an increased emphasis on fiber product recyclability will benefit the molded fiber industry for years to come.

Following today's workshops, the IMFA honored Gage Rusch and the rest of his team from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with the Student Competition Award. We're incredibly proud of their molded fiber package redesign for the BenQ Desk Lamp, replacing the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) previously used with molded fiber to make the packaging more sustainable and simultaneously more efficient. Kudos to Gage & Co. for their impressive first foray into the industry! We're excited to see where the future takes them.

The final part of our program at the IMFA 25th Annual Conference was honoring a very deserving industry professional with the Joe Grygny Lifetime Achievement Award. This prestigious award was given to MFT-CKF, Inc.'s Ian Anderson. Mr. Anderson has spent over two decades in the industry, with over half of it in service to IMFA. We are grateful for what he has done for the molded fiber industry and are very grateful for his friendship to us all. We're looking forward to Ian's continued support!

As we packed up and left for the airport, we couldn't help but feel proud of how far our industry has come and excited for what lies ahead. With incredible engaging speakers, innovative vendors, and more attendees than ever, the IMFA 25th Annual Conference proved to be our best one yet.

The bar is high for next year, and we look forward to once again exceeding expectations! We're already looking forward to next year's conference in San Diego from September 11-13, 2024. Please say tuned for more information, and we can't wait to be together again!

2023 Annual Conference
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