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Interview with Natasha Valeeva, Rabobank

In a rapidly changing market, what key trends in innovation strategy do you see playing out this year?

Innovation is integral to M&A strategy

  • The paper packaging market has continued to witness notable M&A deals, including two recently announced overseas mega deals. M&A and consolidation will remain a theme in the sector for the next decade, as companies adapt to market changes, and innovative assets are a major considerations in this process. Alongside other strategies, companies will target higher margin innovative products. Some global players are also increasingly interested in European companies to keep pace with sustainable innovations.

Search for tech-driven innovations for organic growth

  • To fuel their innovation, larger players have been increasingly investing in innovative fibre-based materials and sustainable packaging including technologies related to coatings; fossil-free materials, smart packaging. They primarily use alternative investment approaches such as minority shareholdings, joint ventures, strategic partnerships, and corporate venturing. The question remains whether companies respond with enough speed and flexibility in the face of rapidly changing market.

Leveraging technology for efficiency and competitiveness

  • On the energy side, mitigating reduced competitiveness - due to higher energy costs and decarbonisation as a priority for regulators - in the short to medium term will require fibre-based businesses to accelerate the adoption of proven technologies. At the same time, they are preparing for major technological shifts expected in paper production and renewable energy production and infrastructure after 2030. Many companies along the supply chain are already partnering with each other and research institutions to accelerate innovation for these technological shifts.

A regulatory tsunami brings uncertainties

  • The European Green Deal is progressively materialising, leading to the regulatory tsunami. While regulations present some opportunities for fibre-based businesses, they also create uncertainty for sustainability-related innovations, particularly when it comes to decisions about scaling up. Companies seek more certainty regrading the direction of sustainable solutions, which also involves the choices of brand owners and retailers. While there are numerous small-scale innovations, pilots and trails, the challenge lies in companies' decisions about which innovations have best potential for scaling up.

Tell us a bit more about the themes you will focusing on in your panel:

I plan to discuss how companies navigate innovation across the entire supply chain, with innovations spanning from efficiency to AI to sustainability. I'll highlight our role as a financial institution in accelerating sustainable packaging innovation and scaling up, not just through our financial services, but also by sharing our sector expertise and networks. Additionally, I'll address the growing importance of ESG criteria for investments, given the high priority placed on sustainability by financial institutions.

What is it that attracts you back to PRIMA?

It will be great to return as a speaker to PRIMA. This will be my third time and I am looking forward to a discussion with my fellow speakers on innovation. I'm most looking forward to great networking opportunities with industry leaders and finding ways to jointly contribute to solving industry challenges. PRIMA is a great event full of lively and insightful discussions.