Go with the flow

As a project group leader, Petra Westphal is responsible for the Drinktec fair, among other things. In this interview, she reveals her formula for success and explains the challenges involved in exporting a fair.

Petra Westphal, who was born in 1966, began her career in the hotel industry. She has been working for Messe München for more than 25 years, first as a project assistant and then as a consultant. In 2003, she took over responsibility for the project management of Drinktec. Now, as project group leader, she is also responsible for Drinktec events outside Germany: China Brew China Beverage, drink technology India, and food & drink technology Africa.

You receive a message on your smartphone telling you that the fruit juice has been standing in the sun for too long and needs to be put in the shade. The juice itself or, more accurately, its container has sent you the message. Intelligent drink packaging now has built-in sensors that can communicate with smartphones. This is just one ground-breaking idea from the drinks industry, but there are many more and they will all be presented at Drinktec, the world’s leading fair for the beverage and liquid food industry.

Drinktec takes place every four years and is the responsibility of Petra Westphal, project group leader at Messe München. Westphal, who comes from the Rhineland and still enjoys drinking German dark beer, has been involved with Drinktec for more than 20 years. In the industry, this has earned her the title of “Miss Drinktec.” She says that “consumers nowadays are more sophisticated than ever before.” Drinks must be able to do much more than simply quench thirst or taste good.

Trending Drinks

This is why there is currently a boom in energy drinks. But don’t imagine these are the old familiar products containing taurine, caffeine, and carbon dioxide that were once said to “give you wings.” Now, we are talking about drinkable forms of fruit and vegetables, such as juices or smoothies, otherwise known as liquid food. Liquid fruits are regarded as nutritionally valuable and they are extremely popular because they promote health and well-being.

Other equally important considerations for consumers are how their drinks are prepared and which ingredients are used. Coffee must be cold-brewed and milk lactose-free. Plain old lemonade is jazzed up with turmeric and agave nectar. And in the USA, the latest trend is raw water, which is completely untreated.

Petra Westphal

Petra Westphal is pleased. In 2017, a total of 76,000 visitors and 1,749 exhibitors from 80 countries attended the world's leading trade fair Drinktec. Next show in Munich: September 13–17, 2021.

The drinks are of interest, whether they are supplied in glass bottles, aluminum cans, or cardboard packaging, but they are ultimately only a fringe phenomenon at Drinktec. The fair was launched in the 1950s as an event for brewers, but it now covers the entire supply chain of the drinks industry, from the manufacturing, filling, and packaging processes through to solutions for logistics and marketing. With this wide-ranging offering, the fair attracted a record number of visitors, more than 76,000, in 2017.

Industry 4.0: the key to individualized manufacturing

Despite its mass-production processes, the beverage industry is also beginning to focus on individualized manufacturing, in other words, a batch size of one. At Drinktec 2017, visitors were able to create their own personal drinks using their own recipe and choice of packaging plus self-designed labels. The industry is pinning its hopes on Industry 4.0, which has already led to highly flexible machines and digital printing solutions being introduced into its processes. Now, the challenge is to combine a batch size of one with mass production. According to Petra Westphal, it won’t be long before this happens. “I’m certain that groundbreaking developments will be on show at Drinktec 2021.” The fair is the ideal opportunity for the industry to present its latest innovations.

In Germany, 98 percent of PET bottles are recycled. Petra Westphal

The fact that production is becoming smarter and more flexible allows more efficient use to be made of resources. Sustainability is already an important consideration in many areas of the beverage industry. For example, clean-in-place processors now inform operators when a machine needs cleaning. This keeps the consumption of water, cleaning agents, and energy to a minimum. Recycling is also a growing theme at Drinktec. “In Germany, 98 percent of PET bottles are recycled,” says Westphal. “But intensive research into alternatives for PET is underway.” Progress is being made in the field of bio-PET packaging in particular. The goal is to produce containers made entirely from plant-based raw materials.

Drinktec has its focus firmly on the future, but not only in Germany. Petra Westphal and her team are responsible for a worldwide network of fairs and cooperative events in Africa, India, and China, for example.

They go where the industry needs them, with tailor-made fairs for the regions in question. This gives them a presence in the major markets in the years in between Drinktec. The main challenge involved in holding events outside Germany is bringing together the different cultures and their individual needs and working methods.

Petra Westphal relies on personal contact, tolerance, and a relaxed attitude to unify the teams. “Our recipe for success includes not being afraid to admit that we don’t know something. We’re always open to new methods and approaches,” says Westphal. This open-mindedness is one of the things that has made Drinktec the most important international event for the beverage industry. Petra Westphal has come up with the perfect analogy for the drinks summit that is held every four years. “Drinktec is the Olympics of the beverage and liquid food industry. We want to be able to continue offering our customers something that they won’t find anywhere else in the world.”

INDUSTRY PLATFORM: DRINKTECis the world’s leading fair for the beverage and liquid food industry. In 2017, it had 76,000 visitors and 1,749 exhibitors from 80 countries. The next Drinktec in Munich takes place from September 13 to 17, 2021.

By Katarina Baric. The article was first published in our Messe München Magazine 01/2018.

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