Plastic bottles challenge and re-shape packaging demand

Substantial opportunities for the further penetration of plastic bottles in packaging markets have been identified by Applied Market Information Ltd, in its latest research project. In its report on “Growth opportunities for blow moulded bottles in Europe”, AMI researchers found plenty of reason for blow moulders to be optimistic – especially those in PET. The latent potential for PET barrier bottles in beer, wine and milk is believed to be equivalent to the current size of the carbonated soft drinks (CSD) market for PET bottles which was just under 1 mln tons for 2009. Glass has reached its limits in terms of light weighting and there is growing doubt at its ability to evolve with market needs. The growing emphasis on the carbon footprint of packaging supply and end of life management will prove a compelling competitive advantage for plastic packaging. In particular, PET will present an increasingly persuasive case in terms of sustainability, technical performance and aesthetics gaining increased access to applications hitherto unavailable to it. AMI forecasts demand for plastic bottles (under 5 litres) will continue to grow at over 2% pa for the next five years, largely driven by the growth in PET packaging. The potential in beer and alcoholic drinks is highlighted by the low penetration achieved to date with plastic bottles estimated by AMI to account for just 7% of the packaging in these markets. However there is a growing interest in and acceptance of PET for beer and other alcoholic drinks driven by improved economics of bottle production compared to glass, its favourable LCA and the growing emphasis on pack weight reduction. Other opportunities are expected to emerge in food markets, where plastic bottles have yet to make a major impact constrained by the hot filling and retort technology used to package products and the high speed filling lines that already exist for jars, cans and cartons. However, plastic bottles are expected to be able to make penetration gains over the next few years thanks to growing investment in aseptic cold filling, improved barrier monolayer PET bottles and the sustainability argument. For example, jam in PET is well established in the USA and Europe is expected to see an increasing number of introductions in squeezable PET bottles over the next five years. Highest penetration has been achieved in the mineral water and household chemicals markets where the penetration is in excess of 90%. In these markets the trends are more about inter-material competition with growing volumes of recycled PET being used in mineral water bottles and growing use of PET bottles in household chemicals packaging thanks to a reduction in the price point of PET versus HDPE and a growing preference for clear packaging to display the product. However, while growth prospects may be promising, the business remains challenging for raw material suppliers and converters alike in Europe. The forward focus for fillers is resource-efficient supply, driving the market toward on-site manufacturing options be it HTW (hole-through-the-wall), self manufacture or blow moulding of preforms. This is limiting the ability of traditional converters to add value, while for European resin suppliers this is mainly a commodity business increasingly threatened by cheaper Asian and Middle East imports. The competitive nature of the business is driving consolidation throughout the supply chain and the top 10 moulders accounted for one-third of polymer conversion in Europe for blow moulded bottles in 2009. Alpla is the clear market leader in the supply of blow moulded containers with a strong position as a supplier of blow moulded bottles, preforms and HTW services. For 2009 it purchased in excess of half a million tonnes of polymer for its European operations and accounts for over 10% of the market. The company has built its position through its investment in a network of in-plant blow moulding operations at its customers. Other major blow moulding groups detailed by AMI which similarly operate a network of HTW or in-plant operations for the major food and drink companies include Logoplaste, Serioplast, Nampak Plastics Europe and Graham Packaging. In PET preforms and bottles the leading company is Artentius PET Packaging, which acquired Amcor’s PET business in Europe in 2007.
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