Demand for converted flexible packaging in the US is expected to exceed $18 billion in 2013 as per Freedonia. Gains will reflect a rebound in the US economy and will be supported by cost, performance and source reduction advantages over most rigid packaging formats. The need for value-added materials to enhance shelf life, product protection or convenience of preparation will also support advances, as will technological innovations in self venting films that enable steam cooking of frozen and other foods in their packaging. Converted flexible packaging’s source reduction capabilities will be increasingly important in light of its ecofriendliness and cost reduction.
Pouches will experience the fastest growth among converted flexible packaging products through 2013. Demand will decelerate from the pace of the 1998-2008 period based on the more established presence of pouches in a number of markets and more moderate raw materials price increases. Nonetheless, stand-up pouches will gain an expanded presence in a variety of food and nonfood uses based on advantages of product differentiation and the presence of convenience features such as zippers and spouts. Robust growth is also anticipated for relatively newer pouch types such as flat-bottomed, side-gusseted pouches and stick pouches. Belowaverage growth for bags will reflect the maturity of many applications along with loss of share for paper bags to plastic bags and sacks, and pouches. Faster advances for plastic bags will be driven by performance advantages over paper in terms of moisture protection and puncture resistance, along with resin enhancements enabling further downgauging of films, which helps hold down packaging costs.
Growth in food markets will be driven by rising demand for convenience-oriented or other further processed food items, which often use more costly higher barrier packaging materials for extended shelf life. Demand will also benefit from demographic trends such as increased numbers of single-person or empty nest households or households where all adults work. These trends propel demand for food in smaller package sizes and more convenient foods designed to reduce food preparation time. The fastest growing food packaging markets will be meat and related products, produce and beverages. Among nonfood packaging markets, pharmaceutical and medical applications will experience the fastest growth based on heightened barrier performance needs, cost and convenience advantages, and adaptability to growing unit-of-use requirements.
Polyethylene will remain by far the dominant film based on its cost effectiveness, versatility, good barrier properties and suitability for downgauging. However, polypropylene is expected to log faster gains based on its combination of cost, lightweighting and performance attributes. Among smaller-volume films, biodegradable films such as polylactic acid will experience the fastest gains as a result of lower prices, growing interest in green packaging and improved formulations. Above-average growth is anticipated for polyester and ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH), reflecting growing barrier requirements in food packaging. Despite an overall expected decline, paper’s good environmental profile will be advantageous as interest in sustainable packaging increases.