Ahead of this year's online PRIMA conference, we spoke with Berry Wiersum, Chief Executive Officer of Sappi to hear his thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 on the pulp, paper and packaging industries and what's in store for the future.
How have the pulp, paper and packaging sectors weathered the COVID-19 storm?
Pulp had a mixed picture: increased volumes to tissue and packaging were at least offset by lower sales to Graphics and Textiles outlets, both of which got hit hard by the lockdowns.
We saw a boom in consumer goods packaging and labels, though that is now flattening out, whereas anything related to automotive or airlines industries had a sharp decline followed by a slow recovery. We now think recovery will be a flattened tick shape, but it is happening, including in Graphics. The real question is: what and how much is gone for good?
What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for the sector over the next 12-18 months?
The virus has brutally exposed and sped up underlying trends; our industry has to recognise what they are and change accordingly; there are new habits and digitisation has gone into warp speed. There is even more room for innovation, once customers are able to restart trial work and processes down the value chain will become more streamlined.
Manufacturing will need to cope with much more unpredictability and that will call for a new approach. The race for decarbonisation has been given an extra push by governments and the EU tying recovery funding to climate change mitigation - I notice a number of companies have already started to embrace those new rules. Over the next few years industry transformation will be high on the agenda and my guess is that the paper industry will be a very attractive place to be.
What are you particularly looking forward to hearing discussed at PRIMA this year?
I always like the economic content of the programme, particularly now, when there are so many opinions to choose from! It would be good to get a flavour of the confidence level the industry has to face up to its challenges and opportunities and I’m always interested in innovation!