US Plastic Packaging for Food Market Report 2023-2027: Sustainability Will Have Nuanced Effects on Plastic Packaging

Dublin, Nov. 15, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The "US Plastic Packaging for Food Market Report 2023-2027" report has been added to's offering.

Demand for food packaging made from plastic is forecast to increase 3.0% per year to $36 billion in 2027. Plastic will continue to be the largest and fastest growing of the major food packaging materials - thanks to its versatile nature, low cost, and excellent performance - although other, more sustainable materials like molded fiber will provide increasing competition going forward.

Sustainability Will Have Nuanced Effects on Plastic Packaging

The growing impact of sustainability on the packaging market will affect plastic in several distinct ways. Despite plastic being the leading target for sustainability conversions, end-users continue to value plastic over other materials based on cost and performance. However, manufacturers have employed several techniques to improve the environmental profile of their products in recent years, including:

  • Incorporating greater amounts of recycled content
  • Ensuring their plastic packaging is recyclable, with a trend toward mono material packaging becoming more prevalent
  • Lightweighting and source reduction

Additionally, bioplastics will play a more significant role in the plastic food packaging market going forward. However, bioplastics must overcome price and scalability issues in order to become truly competitive with conventional plastics.

Flexible Packaging Will Continue to Gain Favor Among End Users

  • Demand for flexible plastic food packaging will be supported by both its performance benefits and favorable environmental profile compared to rigid packaging. Flexible plastic packaging is highly versatile, conforming to various product shapes, sizes, and applications, allowing for widespread market penetration. Moreover, it often requires fewer resources to manufacture and produces less waste.
  • Gains will also be driven by the increasing popularity of stand-up pouches, which are valued for their aesthetics and portability. Additionally, newer flexible packaging products, such as vacuum skin packaging and brick packs in meat packaging and bag-in-box formats (which use plastic bladders) for foodservice and retail, will support demand growth.

Healthy Growth in Prepared Foods and Candy & Confections Will Support Demand

While meat, poultry, and seafood will continue to account for most of plastic's absolute gains, faster growing markets such as prepared foods and candy and confections will support even greater demand for plastic food packaging overall, driven by:

  • Expanding availability of fresh/refrigerated prepared foods like grab-and-go complete meals, salads, and sandwiches at grocery and convenience stores
  • Increasing sales of pre-packaged refrigerated meals (including prepared meats and pasta dishes) from leading food companies
  • The trend toward smaller individually wrapped versions of larger candies
  • Shift to higher-value packaging formats such as stand-up pouches and two-piece containers

Demand by Packaging Format (Rigid vs. Flexible)

In the broadest terms, food packaging includes rigid and flexible products, with competition coming both between these two broad types and among the products within each of those categories. Factors that determine the mix of packaging at this level include cost and product performance, though sustainability initiatives are increasingly important.

Demand for plastic food packaging overall is forecast to rise 3.0% per year to $35.9 billion in 2027. In addition to overall growth in food production, the mix of foods produced, and trends in packaging end uses, other factors specifically driving growth in plastic packaging usage include:

  • Sustainability initiatives, which promote demand for plastic packaging seen as more environmentally friendly, such as bioplastics, which are more expensive than traditional products
  • The popularity of single-serving and snack sizes, which are more intensive users of packaging (in terms of packaging cost per volume of food produced)
  • The need for food product differentiation, which drives demand for higher priced packaging with value-added features or improved shelf-appeal
  • Recent inflationary pressures, with some manufacturers taking to utilizing "shrinkflation" to cut costs rather than increase prices, increasing unit demand for these products
  • A general move toward higher-value packaging due to performance improvements, such as increasing shelf life or reducing leakage
  • The continued penetration of aseptic processing over more traditional processing methods, which elicits the need for certain higher-value packaging formats such as pouches and bag-in-box

Sustainability in Packaging

While environmental concerns have impacted the choice of packaging in the food industry to some degree for decades, sustainability has recently become one of the most important trends in the global manufacturing industry. Plastic packaging is a high-profile target for those looking for sustainability improvements because it is:

  • Used pervasively by most industries worldwide
  • Is generally meant to be disposable
  • Often finds its way into the environment

However, the pursuit of sustainability is not straightforward, as packaging must also continue to provide acceptable performance, especially in the food industry where it plays a key role in maintaining food quality and safety. In addition, for foods to remain affordable and food companies to remain profitable, packaging costs will remain a key variable in packaging choice.

To understand whether a specific type of packaging is truly sustainable, other factors must also be considered beyond the renewable nature of its raw materials and the final packaging's levels of recyclability or compostability. These factors include:

  • How much energy or water is used in manufacturing processes
  • Packaging's impact on final product transportation costs

At present, there is no one perfect packaging choice for all applications. Most packaging materials currently on the market have advantages and disadvantages, and even newer products are being introduced primarily for their sustainability merits. Packaging end users must choose the product that provides the best balance of cost, performance, and environmental impact and then find a way to help customers understand the benefits of that packaging choice.

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