The Future Of Packaging: Sustainability And Digitization With Pactiv Evergreen CPO Emelia Nosser
I’m talking with Emelia Nosser, who is the Chief Procurement Officer at Pactiv Evergreen. She has got a great set of experiences in and around the chemical industry, primarily as a customer. She had led global and regional organizations for a wide variety of companies, including Unilever, Pfizer, Intel, Church & Dwight, and Shiseido, before she joined Pactiv Evergreen. We’re going to be having a great conversation about her perspectives on business and what’s happening these days. Emelia, welcome to the show.
I am glad to have you here. First of all, tell us a little bit about Pactiv Evergreen.
Pactiv Evergreen is one of North America’s largest suppliers of fresh food and beverage packaging. We provide innovative food and beverage packaging solutions designed to exceed the needs of our customers and their consumers. Some of the customers that we have are food and beverage manufacturers, packers, processors, supermarkets, restaurants, food service outlets and companies like that.
We were formed in September of 2020 following the merger of two packaging companies Pactiv and Evergreen. Pactiv was in food packaging, but Evergreen was a global leader in paper packaging solutions. It was a great fit. Some interesting highlights about our company are we have 15,000 team members across the globe, over 50 manufacturing plants, close to 1,000 production lines and more than 14,000 products in 14 different primary materials. In the US, our consumers use our products 5 billion times each week.
When I was starting at polyethylene for Shell and people were trying to figure out what it was because they didn’t know, I would often relate to the things that you touch and feel every day. You can do the same thing.
Five billion times is hard to get your head around, but it’s a lot.
How has Pactiv Evergreen navigated the challenges in 2020 and 2021? There has been a lot going on, like the pandemic, supply disruptions and all kinds of things. How are you approaching that?
I don’t know that we’re too dissimilar from other manufacturing companies. There hasn’t been a shortage of challenges for us during 2020 and 2021, especially when you think about the supply chain. We faced inflationary pressures on raw material costs. There were hurricanes and deep freezes in places, but the good thing is that it all drove us to focus on ensuring the continuity of supply for our customers.
We have had labor challenges internally as well as across our supply chain with our suppliers. It has been critical for us to focus on ensuring we continue to meet the requirements of our customers. It’s difficult to think about which one was the most impactful and had the biggest influence on our business, especially when you think about the interdependencies of all the challenges.
At the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, we saw a clear shift in the demand for our products. Specifically, as you expect with pandemic-related restrictions, the demand for our on-the-go foodservice products dipped. At the same time, we had great growth in demand for our at-home consumer consumption products. It was a flip, but we prioritized our operational and manufacturing flexibility across our network. It allowed us to more efficiently navigate the challenging demands that we were seeing in the marketplace.
It’s interesting you talk about the flip in demand because that has impacted everyone across the value chain. When you talk about products that get touched 5 billion times a week, what is this? What would I personally see, use and know to be something that might have come from Pactiv Evergreen?
You might go out to a fast-food restaurant and see our products when you get your order. You might go to the grocery store, buy a rotisserie chicken, and see our products. You might order food from a restaurant. DoorDash might bring you your food in our product. The breadth is very large and we’re in a lot of different markets. You might even see our product when you buy a dozen eggs. It’s pretty broad. That’s why you can touch 5 billion within a week.
One of the interesting things is the timing of your company’s formation. You IPO’d in 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, which conventional wisdom might say is not the easiest time to IPO. How has that influenced your business?
I don’t know that there is an easy time to IPO.
There hasn’t been a shortage of challenges for us during 2020 and 2021. The good thing is that it all drove us to focus on ensuring the continuity of supply for our customers.
With our IPO in 2020, we were incredibly proud to welcome shareholders to the group of our business stakeholders. While our IPO hasn’t significantly impacted our day-to-day operations, the IPO did represent an important milestone in our journey to delivering value for our customers and shareholders.
It will drive your quest for continued growth and profitability and make all your shareholders happy. You are a large plastics consumer. One of the things that I have been talking with folks about is the customer experience and how that differentiates suppliers in terms of what they offer. From your perspective as a consumer of a lot of plastics and other things, what’s important to you in your supplier relationships?
For me, first and foremost, it would be continuity of supply. Without our materials, our factories can’t run and our consumers and customers can’t get our products. It’s paramount to have continuity of supply. Many of our suppliers are commodities. They make commodities. In working with them, it’s important to try to help them understand how to treat a commodity more strategically.
It might sound a little ironic, but for us, those materials are key ingredients to our products. It’s important for our suppliers to treat those commodities that they sell us in a more strategic way. It may be a commodity to the market, but to us, it’s not. That’s very important. The second is understanding the needs of our business, which does include sustainability and innovation.
Let’s talk a little bit about sustainability because this is a big topic in the industry, particularly in plastics. There’s a lot of work, discussion and focus on sustainability, plastic waste and circularity. What is Pactiv Evergreen doing in that space to support those important initiatives? It’s beyond an initiative. What are you doing to support that for yourself and your customers?
First, Pactiv Evergreen is committed to offering sustainable packaging solutions. We need our suppliers to understand this and help us deliver against it. We expect our suppliers to bring us their ideas first. Considering both our needs and our customers’ needs, they have to recognize that any idea they bring to us has to work. To bring an idea that’s going to work, they need to understand our products and our manufacturing process.
As part of your sustainability, have you set out any specific sustainability goals? That seems to be the thing that everybody’s doing. What goals do you have?
We know where we and our customers want to go and we’re committed to that journey. We announced our goal that by 2030, 100% of our products will be made with recycled, recyclable, or renewable materials. To support that, we acquired Fabri-Kal, who’s a leading manufacturer of foodservice and consumer brand packaging solutions. Almost half of the Fabri-Kal sales are generated from fully compostable packaging products or fully recycled packaging products.
It’s great that you are looking at your value chain and your supply chain. You need to work in tandem with your suppliers as they bring in sustainable solutions and innovations to help in that sustainability and circularity. It ends up going to the end consumer and also your relationship, I would suppose, with your customers and your customer’s customers.
Part of this conundrum that we’re in is that if consumers like myself don’t figure out how to effectively recycle, value, and pay for sustainable and innovative products, the whole system doesn’t work. Do you see that as one of the dilemmas in your business and with your customers? How do you work in that space?
We’re trying to focus on actively participating in industry initiatives to recycle and compost our products, which supports the circular economy. Also, it’s making sure that our consumers have opportunities to recycle and compost our products. It’s something that we’re active in, but I don’t know that I would say that we have all the answers or solutions to that yet.
I don’t think anyone does, especially that whole composting space. It’s hard for people to figure out how to recycle and what they can recycle. I have been in places where the compostable products go here. I’m like, “I don’t know what to do other than throw cardboard in there or paper that I recognize can potentially be compostable.” There’s a lot of education to do.
When you think about your own home and your town, it’s all pretty specific. What you can recycle and put in the trash is up to your town at this point on what they will take. Are there people who can recycle what you’re using? It is a conundrum and it’s going to take a lot of work to figure it out and sort through it.
One of the other big areas that I have been talking with folks a lot about is digitization. Certainly, from a personal perspective, we recognize that we’re living in a digital world with devices and access to everything. How does that translate to your business both from how Pactiv Evergreen is approaching digitization and what’s important to you with suppliers and customers?
Actively participate in industry initiatives to recycle and compost products, which supports the circular economy.
In terms of digitization, it’s very important to us, especially in the light of industry-wide labor challenges. Our digital priorities become paramount for us. We’ve made and we’re going to continue to make strategic investments in digital transformation products across our business.
I’m going to turn the tide here a little bit and focus a bit on you. You’ve got a broad range of experience, everything from technology, consumer products of a wide variety, personal care and now you’re here at Pactiv Evergreen, which is a critical intermediate player. I would guess people don’t recognize the products that Pactiv Evergreen produces yet we’re using them every day. When you look at this, what’s the theme for your experience? What do you take from each place across the industries that you have been in and where you’re at?
I have two general themes. That’s what has come out of moving around so much. It’s trying to always stay in manufacturing but finding a new industry. The first one I’m able to keep pretty consistent and the second does change with each new opportunity that I have. I’m able to find ways to find those opportunities in industries that I haven’t worked in before so that I can keep learning and growing.
I have been able to learn a lot about myself, more about what I’m not good at, which is harder. It’s harder to learn about yourself, be willing to take feedback, and understand those things that you’re not at. It’s fun to learn about yourself and where you can improve. In each role, one of the things that I have learned and has been very consistent is the ability to listen. I have been working on it. I’m going to be working on it every day because I haven’t mastered it. It’s apparent in every role that I have been in that it’s critical.
What advice do you give your kids? Your children are all approaching adulthood and launching their careers. How do you take the experiences you have had, apply it and pay it forward either to your kids or to others in the industry you work with?
When my kids were growing up, none of them ever wanted to do what I did. I don’t even know if they knew exactly what I did, but they were like, “I don’t want to do what you do.” You’re like, “Make your own path. Choose your own path. That’s totally cool.” Our oldest is a chemical engineer and working in manufacturing in a factory and loving it. That has been rewarding for me to see her go into an industry that I’m familiar with so I can offer her advice.
It has been pretty general for most of them, which is to go and try to find what you’re passionate about and what you like to do. You’re not going to like every job and every boss. You will learn a lot from the jobs and bosses you don’t like. You’ve got to take those learnings and apply them as you go forward. Think about what didn’t you like as an employee and as a boss, try not to be that person and try not to do those things. They’re all in different industries. They all have different likes and dislikes. It’s going to be interesting to see where they go as they get older.
That’s great advice. Take what you didn’t like, learn from it and adjust. Don’t be that person, which is what we can all hope for. What’s next for you and Pactiv Evergreen?
It’s an exciting time to be at Pactiv Evergreen. We have great products and the market is growing. We have a strong opportunity to demonstrate our leadership and packaging because we have the right people in the right resources. We have the capability to demonstrate a leading role in sustainability as well. We’re continuing to focus on innovation. We introduced 4,000 new products and 500 of those show our commitment to sustainable life cycle principles, which is important.
We have done everything we can and worked hard to weather the storm of all our challenges. We’ve got some amazing customers and suppliers. Most importantly, for me, we have an incredibly talented team that is positioning our company for future growth. It’s the beginning of an incredible journey for Pactiv Evergreen and I’m thrilled to be part of the team.
Thanks so much, Emelia. I have enjoyed having you on the show. I know that people will enjoy hearing more about you and Pactiv Evergreen. Thank you.
Thanks. It was great to be on, Victoria.
About Emelia Nosser
Emelia Nosser is the Chief Procurement Officer of Pactiv Evergreen. She has led both global and regional organizations, responsible for reshaping procurement and driving positive financial impacts to the P/L.
Her experience spans several industries, including consumer products, electronics, medical equipment, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, holding leadership roles in verticals like operations, transportation, logistics, IT and procurement. Prior to Pactiv Evergreen she held key roles in Fortune 500 companies, including Unilever, Pfizer, Intel Church and Dwight and most recently Shiseido.
Emelia is a dedicated leader and collaborative business partner, building strong and lasting relationships. When she’s not at work she is spending time with her husband on their farm raising large and small animals. They have five children, four daughters and a son, all working an/or studying across the U.S.