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World Congress Wraps Up With Session on Demand for Biotech Products

May 3, 2012
Throughout BIO’s 9th annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing various audiences were discussed including businesses, manufacturers, investors and government. The final plenary session took a look at customers. Melody Bomgardner of Chemical Engineering News moderated the panel, “What’s Driving Demand for Biotech Products: A Customer’s Perspective” that included executives from The Coca Cola Company, Goodyear Tire, United Airlines and Estee Lauder.

Goodyear Tire is working with Genecor to produce high quality synthetic rubber largely from renewable raw materials that would replace the seven gallons of crude oil required to produce a single passenger tire. They hope to have the tires on the commercial market in the next year, and David Benko, Goodyear’s Director, Materials Research & Development, said that while performance is still the top criteria for consumers, that the environmentally-friendly factor comes right after that as a huge selling point.

Robert Sturtz, Director of Strategic Sourcing for United Airlines, shared some staggering statistics on the airline industry’s fuel use related to cost. The industry uses 17.5 billion gallons of fuel in a given year and just a one-cent increase per gallon in the price of fuel can drive their costs up by $175 million. Speaking in terms of barrels of oil, a $1 increase per barrel increases costs by $420 million per year. While not all of these costs are passed on to the consumer, customers could certainly benefit just as the airlines could from a decreased dependence on the volatile petroleum market.

Scott Vitters, Coca Cola’s General Manager of their PlantBottle Packaging Platform talked about their PlantBottle technology, which is a packaging approach that replaces up to 30 percent of the PET in bottles with plant-based materials. The goal is to eventually create a bottle from 100 percent plant materials, and Coca Cola plans to replace its entire line of plastic bottles with PlantBottles by 2020.

Drivers behind this decision for Coca Cola are cost, trust and product differentiation. They hope to achieve a cost advantage by lessening their dependence on volatile fluctuations in petroleum prices, enhance customer trust with increased environmental performances and set themselves apart from other brands with this technology.

Vitters said they’ve had a terrific reception from customers so far including customers like Walmart and McDonalds where they’ve seen the conversation shift away from cost back to quality. End-use consumers have responded very positively as well. Heinz ketchup, who has partnered with them in using this packaging, placed a QR code on their bottles for more information on PlantBottle technology that received more than a million hits in its first month. He said that it’s important to create awareness of what they’re doing to really connect with consumers and differentiate their brand.