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March 30, 2015 | The end of a successful first tour part

We are now leaving North Carolina, objective Atlanta, Georgia. There we will visit the German mould maker MHT, whose subsidiary in Peachtree City, services the North American market with PET preform moulds. Ahead of us, however, we face a journey of some 400 miles, which we want to do in 2 days. The vehicle seems to be in good shape. Everything seems to be green for go, the weather is good and we have booked one night in South Carolina on a campsite. The campsite is situated on a small lake nestling in a hilly landscape. On our arrival we were allocated a pitch next to the lake. All very well, but the pitch is in a hollow amidst the trees. The approach is very narrow and there is a steep descent, so the 8.5-metre long Editourmobil has to negotiate the descent at walking pace. Our reward is to spend an idyllic night in peace and tranquillity.

After a restful night and a hearty breakfast we pack up everything again and prepare to leave our parking space. Getting back out on the steep, narrow path is just as hazardous as our arrival. Crawling along through the forest in first gear, we are amazed to find ourselves at the last bend in the road facing another steep ascent. The main road is a mere 10 metres away but there is no chance of us getting to it. The engine simply isn’t man enough, and besides, there is the ominous smell of the clutch beginning to burn. What do we do now?

Our only possibility is to try and give the Editourmobil a little bit more encouragement. We roll the vehicle gently backwards, no easy matter on a track that twists and turns its way through the trees. After we had gone back what we considered to be far enough, we gave the vehicle full throttle and had another go. No luck. We had two options: hire a tow truck, or find another way out. We immediately dismissed the tow truck idea as a worst case option, so we set off to try and find another escape route. There was no room to turn here but eventually we succeeded in finding an empty pitch where we can actually manoeuvre the vehicle. Creeping forward gingerly, we locate an access route to the park which doesn’t look so steep. We try again, this time successfully.

With a collective sigh of relief we resume our journey, reaching Atlanta without further incident where we visit MHT. After informative discussions about the company and the market, we leave Peachtree in Georgia and head directly towards Florida and our target destination, the NPE in Orlando (from March 23 to 27 2015). Ahead of us lie about 450 miles, broken by an overnight stop. Before we get to Orlando, the Editourmobil requires extensive cleaning inside and out because the vehicle will be on display on our stand. A handily placed truck wash looms into view and after intense activity the vehicle emerges brand spanking new, with the dust and dirt of our 1000 mile North American odyssey effortlessly removed. Once the waste water tank had been emptied, we proceeded to our hotel in Orlando, not far from the exhibition grounds.

The following day is taken up firstly by the arrival of the exhibition team from Germany and secondly by getting the Editourmobil safely located on the stand. It only remained for us to set up the exhibition panels with information about the companies visited so far, arrange the camping chairs and tables, and we are ready. Let the exhibition begin. It is also time to take our leave of my touring partner Tony, who returns to Germany today.

The NPE show takes place every 3 years and for the second time here in Orlando. There are consequently high expectations about whether this is the right location, and how far the US economic recovery is being reflected in the plastics market. The impression we obtained is very positive. We were able to have significantly more discussions than last time in the broad environment of PET suppliers in North America, but also international contacts were very much to the fore. For the first public appearance of PETplanet in the United States it was a good balance sheet. I can only speak about the happenings at the fair over the 3 days I was present, for during this time we had discussions in Bradenton and Miami Florida. With the Editourmobil on the stand, a hire car was the obvious option and what more suitable vehicle could there be for Florida than a Ford Mustang convertible that I fortunately was able to book at special rates.

Joy was short-lived however, because on the second day, sadly, it poured for much of the time. Bradenton is where the bottling plant of PepsiCo's premium fruit juice Tropicana brand is located. A most interesting (for me) tour of the plant followed, revealing that not only the bottling is carried out here, but the whole process from fruit up to the ready-filled and packaged PET bottle, all under one roof. With so many impressions buzzing in my head, I continued my journey to Miami, where I had discussions with 2 start-up companies whose business model is focused on niche markets where they hope to grow. First off was tio, which fills gazpacho (a Spanish cold soup) in PET bottles using an in-house design, and secondly Captiva Containers, a young team that is focused on niche markets, offering a vertically integrated system from bottle design and development right up to the labelled PET bottle; a typical customer being tio.

The drive back to Orlando marked the last section of my part of the North American roadshow. Once in Orlando, I once again slid into the driving seat of the Editourmobil, driving as far as Houston in Texas, where I parked the vehicle in a supervised car park (Rocket Park), not far from the airport. Here it will remain for about two months.

From here another team will be picking up the Editourmobil on June 15 2015, and the tour will continue, heading for the west coast. My role is now complete and I can look back on 10 eventful weeks. Altogether, we covered 10,000 kilometres with the Editourmobil and the hire car. We enjoyed temperatures which went from - 35 to +30 degrees Celsius. The most important aspect of the entire tour was the very intensive trade and market discussions I was able to have with the market leaders in the PET packaging world of North America.