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Tuesday, 31 January 2012 10:59

Q&A: Packaging is G-R-REAT

Written by  Kym Reinstadler
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Q&A: Packaging is G-R-REAT Courtesy photo
Cheryl Gilliam, a 1982 graduate of the Michigan State University School of Packaging, has more than 30 years experience in packaging for the food and medical industries. The Portage resident holds seven U.S. patents. Gilliam is senior packaging engineer at the Kellogg Company, where she works on the Tony the Tiger brand. An endowed scholarship in Gilliam’s name is awarded to School of Packaging students. Gilliam, an All-American in track and field and winner of 13 Big Ten individual championships, is also president of the MSU Varsity Alumni “S” Club.


Why is packaging education important to food and product manufacturers?

Packaging is required by most products, and MSU is one of the few universities to offer this type of program. For that reason, it draws students who go on to work in a variety of industries all over the world. The School of Packaging continues to grow with a new sustainability center and with support from the industry.

This program is important because everything needs protection from the environment, shock and vibration, moisture, oxygen, and to dazzle the consumer—from NASA space program rockets, pharmaceuticals and fine china, to fragile semiconductors, high-end cosmetics and even the produce you buy in the supermarket.

Working in food packaging, the consumer will make a decision at the shelf on what to purchase within 5 seconds. Packaging sells your product first. Once you get it home, you will decide if you want to purchase it again, partly based on your experience with opening, closing and how it fits in your pantry and protects your food. More importantly, your future purchase will be based on how well the product inside meets your expectations and taste.

What’s the hottest trend in food packaging?

Today, the consumer is smarter than ever. Consumers focus on the lifecycle of a package far more than ever before. They want to know the origin of the materials used and are focused on recycling. Simplicity is also on trend – less ingredients in products and less is more with the package. It’s important not to over-design the package. Consumers dislike packaging that is difficult to open, and clarity of packaging is associated with values like honesty and high integrity. A rule of thumb is to make packaging easy to store, easy to open and easy to close.

Describe a couple of packaging challenges at Kellogg and point out why it takes a trained packaging scientist to find the best solution?

One main challenge is to establish strong brand identities. Iconic brands have packaging that has stood the test of time, but new brands and innovations require careful research. Packaging scientists create innovative packaging to complement a diverse portfolio of products. … Changes to existing packaging can be hard for retailers, consumers and manufacturers. Packaging scientists conduct careful research with consumers and retailers to ensure any packaging changes will gain acceptance.

Cross-branding presents another challenge. Our scientists have to develop a thorough understanding of what the brands mean to consumers and work to make sure the packaging is representative of both brands.

One example of cross-branding includes Kellogg’s Cinnabon Bars. The packaging needed to represent both the Cinnabon hot-bun franchise and the Kellogg brand. Throughout the research and design process, scientists worked to ensure the packaging met this unique criterion.

How do packaging professionals help academia stay current with the needs of business?

Several Kellogg employees sit on the MSU Packaging Alumni Association Board of Directors. I was on this board for many years and served as the Board Secretary. We often make recommendations on what industry is looking for from graduates. The professors and director listen to our input and, when appropriate, apply it to the program.

Some of our employees have participated as guest lecturers in undergraduate courses. We also serve as mentors for various student organizations, set up visits/tours to companies, and discuss with students what it’s like to work in the industry. The willingness of both the School of Packaging and alumni to work closely together helps keep our school on trend and on top.

What does Kellogg’s do to help give students real-world experience?

Due to Kellogg’s close proximity to Michigan State, we sometimes work with the professors to engage the students in testing or other project work. We have used both undergraduates and graduate students. We also hire interns to serve a six-month term within our Packaging Department. We have been impressed with their work and professionalism.

How many MSU School of Packaging graduates work at Kellogg?

Kellogg Company employs 42 graduates from Michigan State University’s School of Packaging. Twenty-nine work directly in the Packaging, Innovation, and Technology Department at Kellogg. Thirteen others in other departments.

Read 1680 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 August 2012 21:58

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