Data Points: Flexible Packaging on the Rise in U.S.
The study, Converted Flexible Packaging, projects that advances will decelerate from the pace of the past decade, but converted flexible packaging will remain a growth area in both food and nonfood applications. This is due to the inherent cost and performance advantages of lightweight bags and pouches.
Further, converted flexible packaging’s source reduction, space savings and lower production and transportation costs will be increasingly advantageous as major retailers and packaged goods firms increase the importance they place on supply chain sustainability as a competitive advantage.
Above average gains are expected for pouches, as opportunities in food and nonfood segments increase and rigid packaging applications convert to flexible.
“Growth will benefit from the increased prevalence of value-added features, such as spouts and fitments, as well as the development of newer standup pouch designs that can contain heavier weight contents,” Esther Palevsky, an analyst for The Freedonia Group, said.
The demand for bags is expected to rise at a slower pace, due to the maturity of a number of applications, competition from pouches, and to some degree, rigid packaging such as clamshells and blister packaging. Factors that will play into the growth of bags include increased food production, an expanding elderly population and a desire for bags for bulk and large-sized packaging applications. Some of these include pet food, chemicals, building materials and agricultural and horticultural products.
The demand for wraps and other converted flexible packaging is forecasted to increase 3.1 percent per year to $1.6 billion in 2019. Applications in this category include meat overwrap films, candy wrappers, butter and cheese wrappers, and sleeve overwraps for refrigerated dough. Nonfood applications include ream wrap, pharmaceutical strip packs and overwraps for items including paper products, soap, tobacco and bandages.
Because of the diversity of these applications and their levels of maturity, prospects in these uses will vary. Food applications, which accounted for 74 percent of demand in 2014, will experience faster growth than nonfood packaging.
Flexible packaging material demand is projected to increase 1.4 percent annually to 8.8 billion pounds in 2019. Factors contributing to this increase will include cost, performance and source reduction advantages over rigid materials. Advances in barrier, strength and other physical properties will play a role as well.
Materials used for converted flexible packaging include a combination of plastic resins. These primarily include polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester and some specialty resins. Kraft and sulfite paper and aluminum foil are regularly used as a barrier layer.
These materials, often blended in coextruded or laminated constructions, offer an enhanced barrier for extended shelf life and freshness that competes favorably with rigid containers in many uses. Some of the specialty resins and foil laminates also offer stiffness, high-quality reverse printing and graphics, protection from spoilage and contaminants and lightweighting capabilities through the use of thinner gauges and fewer film layers.
Material selection for converted flexible products is primarily influenced by application requirements, material attributes, emerging changes in chemistry and design, product marketing and sustainability concerns, including recycling, compostability and cost-containment factors.
Shifts in consumer demand and pricing also affect material usage, which can account for as much as 50 percent of the cost of finished goods. As the array of stores selling food items widens, brand manufacturers are increasing the pressure to compete with fresh foods in this crowded market. This has led to a greater focus on materials that offer on-the-go portability, convenience features and package graphics that market products effectively.