Plastics and packaging are nearly synonymous. Packaging of all types from food and beverage to consumer goods to durables makes use of plastics because of its durability, consumer friendliness, sustainability and recyclability into myriad new products.
PET is one of the primary materials used for packaging, and the PET packaging marketing is forecast to reach 21.2 million tons by 2021 with sustainability and lightweighting expected to play a major role in the development of the industry, according to a report by Smithers Pira. In 2016, PET packaging amounted to just under 16.7 million tons, representing a 3.8% increase from 2015. Growth for 2016 was projected to reach 4.8%, amounting to 17.5 million tons, with demand coming from new product developments in markets such as preserved foods (think Milacron’s Klear Can and Sonoco’s TruVue); thermoformed food containers; fruit juice containers; and other beverage packaging.
However, recent studies of consumers’ food-buying habits are showing that many are moving away from canned goods and toward fresh fruits and produce and prepared meals from the supermarket deli counter. Additionally, big-name food brands are losing shelf space to local or regional brands and smaller start-ups. Market research firm Nielsen said in a May 1 Wall Street Journal report that “sales for packaged food and products—reflecting the number of items sold—fell 2.4% in the first quarter of 2017.
Another recent market study from Ceresana focuses on global plastic films. The report from the international market research and industry consultancy noted that “packaging is supposed to be light and handy, neat and durable, microwaveable and also environmentally friendly.” Oliver Kutsch, CEO of Ceresana, said, “sales of plastic films will presumably reach a volume of about $250 billion until 2024. That’s a lot of packaging, and there are several “megatrends” that are driving this sector.
Millennials aren’t just changing the employment picture—they are changing food tastes, as well, which is having an impact on the major processed food producers and the packaging industry. A number of surveys have revealed that millennials want fresh produce and meat; they want simple food—real food—and are moving away from processed food with too many ingredients including additives and preservatives that promise a longer shelf and refrigerator life. They also look to sustainability in packaging: Is it recyclable? Compostable? Biodegradable?
The processed food producers want to satisfy these changing consumer tastes. To do that they are looking for advanced packaging technology that plastics provide, such as multi-layer barrier film that blocks oxygen and prevents food spoilage. This means less food waste, which is a big goal for many in the packaging industry.
Hoffer Plastics (South Elgin, IL) is very active in the flexible packaging market and has been working with some of the large processed food producers to develop packaging that keeps packaged food fresher longer. “We have seen the potential in the flexible packaging market and agree that the growth projections are becoming more real,” said Alex Hoffer, VP of Business Development for Hoffer Plastics, in an interview with PlasticsToday.
With Interpack 2017 coming up in Düsseldorf, Germany, interest in food packaging is at an all-time