RIT alumna inducted into Packaging and Processing Hall of Fame
Design, supply chain management and business development highlight an extensive packaging career
Rebecca Oesterle saw the packaging industry growth first hand as one of Energizer’s earliest supply chain managers. Over her career, she led many changes in packaging—an industry that would become synonymous with sustainability, design, and product differentiation.
This fall, Oesterle ’09 MS (packaging science) was one of four industry leaders inducted into the Packaging and Processing Hall of Fame, for contributions to the industry and education over her 40 plus-year career at Energizer, and at Just Born Quality Confections, the company that packages the familiar Peeps, among its many candied treats. She received the honor, sponsored by PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, at the recent Pack Expo International event in Chicago.
“I loved packaging, loved the intersection between the creative and the practical, the need to understand the end user, as well as the needs of the retailers. It was what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” said Oesterle, who began as an industrial engineer and project manager at Energizer, the well-known battery and power company.
Her work needed the energy of the Energizer Bunny when she moved from one of the company’s manufacturing facilities to its global headquarters where she would eventually lead as supply chain manager and later as packaging development manager.
“It was a new role for Energizer and a new role for me. It took advantage of project management skills that I had, and packaging was becoming more than just the thing at the end of the battery manufacturing line,” she said.
It would be one of the company’s newest roles, and she was assigned to some of the largest market areas from grocery retailers to home improvement companies. This new package development group did not exist 20 years ago, and she was one of the first packaging development managers. She and her team would see the “real” packaging, both on the job and through attending the larger professional trade shows and events.
“We were self-educating on some things,” said Oesterle.
At about the same time, the industry itself was exploring more sustainable methods of producing packaging products from new materials to recycling processes. During one event, she met with a presenter, inquired about the CPP after his name, and learned about the industry certification—certified packaging professional. She enrolled in the certification training, and it became her first connection with RIT. One of the presenters was adjunct faculty member Dennis Young who recommended the RIT packaging science executive program that she would enroll in shortly afterward.
Classmates were from national and international companies, and the group became some of the earliest influencers in the growing packaging industry. Very early in her career Oesterle noted a broader focus on sustainability, yet also acknowledged the industry was not yet prepared for transitioning fully to new materials and processes.
“Everyone wanted to use bioplastics, but the life of the bioplastics wouldn’t last for the life of the battery package–at that time. There was a lot of drive for recycled materials, and many industries have since blossomed with entirely recycled materials. They are amazingly turning trash into quality boxes,” she said.
This long view of her industry has led Oesterle to become even more involved in the direction of the industry she has led and in developing new packaging professionals.
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is both a surprise and humbling—one of this year’s class has 100 patents,” she said, “but it is also unbelievable and satisfying.”
Today, although retired, she leads the board of directors of the Institute of Packaging Professionals, leading its educational and operational network of those within the industry. She has also been involved in several industrial advisory boards for companies and universities, including RIT. Outside of packaging, she is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, where she currently serves as a national vice chair for leadership training.
Oesterle has heard all the jokes about being like the Energizer Bunny—and she is still going and going—in a retirement that is hardly quiet.