Business

Bubble Wrap inventor wants to make packaging even more efficient

dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

The holiday shopping season is, of course, the busiest time of the year for retailers. It’s also the busiest time for the companies that make the packaging in which orders are shipped.

Charlotte-based Sealed Air, inventor of Bubble Wrap, is in the midst of relocating to its new headquarters near the airport from New Jersey. At its temporary R&D facility at UNC Charlotte, the manufacturer is also in the midst of inventing new ways to package more efficiently.

Online shopping, the company says, presents big growth opportunities. Currently, e-commerce constitutes around 9 percent of all retail, according to Ken Chrisman, president of Sealed Air’s product care division. Over the next five years, the company expects that number will leap up closer to 20 percent, Chrisman said.

“As we think about e-commerce, we are at the cusp of a transformative era, and in some ways, as my boss (CEO) Jerome Peribere says, ‘We’re in the Stone Age when it comes to e-commerce fulfillment,’” said Chrisman, speaking at a tour of the UNC Charlotte facility Tuesday morning.

Customer shopping habits – notably, the shift to buying things online – are quickly shaping the way companies like Sealed Air innovate to provide customers with better packaging options.

The company’s non-inflated Bubble Wrap IB film, for example, takes up less space than traditional Bubble Wrap, making it easier to transport. A single truckload of the product, the company says, can make the same amount of Bubble Wrap that it used to take 36 trucks to deliver.

Sealed Air has also been developing products like the Instapak system, which creates continuous foam tubes and cushions, intended to mold around fragile goods like flat screen TVs, which consumers are buying more and more frequently online these days.

The rise of buying groceries online – something growing in popularity in Charlotte recently – also provides growth opportunities for Sealed Air.

“Who would have imagined that people would be willing to buy their durable and perishable goods online and have them delivered through an e-commerce fulfillment company?” Chrisman said.

Sealed Air, a Fortune 500 company, broke ground on its new Charlotte headquarters in summer 2014. By the time the company finishes moving into its new corporate offices in 2017, it expects to have a workforce of nearly 1,300, with local hires comprising more than half.

Earlier this month, Sealed Air said it is spinning off about a third of the company. That includes Diversey Care, the cleaning products company it bought in 2011, as well as the food hygiene and cleaning business within its food care division. Both will remain in Charlotte, Sealed Air said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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