We at Field Packaging Solutions are asked frequently by customers and suppliers (we call them suppliers and not vendors as we believe vendors sell hot dogs at the ballgame and suppliers sell solutions) how the year has gone and more importantly, what does the upcoming year in flexible packaging and labeling look like. During these discussions, we most often find that they battle many of the same things from a year in review standpoint, but we start to diverge in our thinking how we move ahead and what the next year and beyond look like.
At Field Packaging Solutions we tend to take a longer look ahead in order to develop our strategy versus worrying about the last 5 minutes and planning for the next 5 minutes (we say this in jest of course). Field Packaging Solutions and our stable of companies covers an array of packaging solutions in the flexible packaging and labeling space, including heavy duty bags, rollstock and security bags, laminated film and lidding, product labels and chemical resistant labels for the healthcare industry, and are uniquely able to canvas customers and suppliers in order to develop a comprehensive plan forward in this complex business environment
What do we hear and what do we expect? Here are a few trends that we expect in 2022 and what you might be able to do to position yourself well to address these future trends.
Across all our business segments, demand has been quite vibrant with customers requiring materials at a record pace. When this happens, supply chains are pushed to the brink and often suppliers issue force majeure in order to deal with contractual obligations and to solidify price increases.
2021 presented several such challenges to the supply chain and everyone involved from the storms that hit the southern US states, where much of the raw materials supply originates, to a number of material shortages due to global shipping interruptions and labor shortages. We have found that customers, anticipating shortages, have generally ordered more than they need in order to hedge supply (much like paper products early in the pandemic) which causes inflated lead times and fallacious material requirements which puts further pressure on the supply chain all the way back to the raw material suppliers.
This is not to say that material tightness is not real, by all accounts it is, but this tends to cause rapid swings in material availability when the hedges fall out of the order backlog. We think material will be tight through the 1st quarter and will ease as the year progresses.
This trend will certainly create challenges for all parties until supply chain pressures ease. Until such time, aligning yourself with quality suppliers that you have a track record with and have supported your growth prior to the supply constraints will be key to maintaining confidence in your ongoing operations. Poor long-term suppliers may look to expand their market share during these times all the while limiting your allocation and destabilizing your supply chain. Strong relationships with suppliers are critical to peace of mind during times of volatility in the supply chain.
At Field, we have been manufacturing for well over a half century and have never seen an employment market quite like this. We are all now intimately familiar with the phrase ‘the great resignation” to describe the immense shift occurring in the labor force. In November alone, 4.5 million workers quit their jobs, a record setting pace.
This trend has put strains on businesses in many industries that have reverberated through every corner of the economy and the globe. Qualified people from the front office to the back door of the plant are difficult to find and even more difficult to bring on board. Add in the difficulty of Covid illness, contact tracing, and general health uncertainty of the people that are already part of the team and whether they can come to work or it they must quarantine, and you have a double-edged sword that it not for the faint of heart.
We saw a bit of easing on the people side last summer and early into the fall, but this latest round of illness has tossed us back into the fray. However, recent signs point to an easing as people seem less reluctant to stay on the sidelines and enter back into the labor pool.
Addressing the people issue can be tricky and must be done with a thoughtful approach to avoid falling on the wrong side of a double-edged sword. If you have (and we think we do at all FPS companies) a good work environment for your people, stay the course with the quality of people that you choose to employ and retain. During challenging times we may consider lowering our standards in order to simply fill gaps in our staff, but this capitulation to our standards for quality leads to cascading effects on company efficiency and employee morale, resulting in a zero-sum game, or perhaps worse.
One way in which to adjust your hiring strategy that will attract applicants without losing top talent is to consider flexible hours and work from home options for office and non-direct manufacturing employees. The pandemic has pushed this trend light years ahead of its prior trajectory. Many people consider this option ahead of monetary considerations when deciding whether to join your company.
We are quite bullish on the outlook for 2022 even though we don’t think it will be at the same pace we saw in 2021. We believe that all the FPS companies have very good foundational strength and provide sufficient value for the customers we supply thus making us poised for continued growth. We also feel as though we have positioned ourselves to be a trusted supplier for all our customers who depend on our flexible packaging and labeling products to help them navigate a challenging business landscape and look forward to continuing to make that a priority.