US & Global Economic Impact Analysis and Forecasts

Freedonia analysts and economists are sharing their insights on how major events are impacting different parts of the US and global economies.

Why is Gardening Trending in the Media… in January?

You might have noticed as we have that both the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian (and I’m sure others) have articles about gardening trending on their pages.

But… isn’t it January? Many of us are wearing winter coats and the eastern US is digging out from a winter storm. This is well outside the typical growing season for much of the US, as well as Canada, Europe, and more.

But what makes us think about gardening in winter… and, by extension, why might the pandemic gardening boom be one that sticks with us?

  • Gardening is productive. We get something out of it and success involves improving skills.
  • Gardening is meditative and soothing. It is quiet and can be solitary.
  • Gardening is community. We share seeds, seedlings, ideas, our harvest.
  • Gardening is hope. We plant with the hope that they will bloom, no matter how tumultuous our world.
  • Gardening is nurturing. We care for the plants to help them grow. (Ever heard of “Plant Parents?” Ask a younger person)
  • Gardening is exercise. We work hard pulling weeds, digging dirt, and bending and stooping to harvest.
  • Gardening can be done by anyone. Don’t have a yard? Get some pots or join a community garden.
  • Gardening is for all ages. The idea of the retired person spending their days in the garden is real (it takes time!), but how many of us first learned about plant varieties as children from our grandparents or did our first gardening as chores for our parents, community service, or a summer job?
  • Gardening is COVID-safe… as much as things can be anyway. We’re outside in the fresh air, often socially distanced.

Freedonia analysts continue to examine and track the consumer behaviors, attitudes, and trends that affect how we live now and in the post-pandemic future.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly our series of studies in the Consumer Goods catalogs, with analysis covering Outdoor Living, Landscaping Products, Power Lawn & Garden Equipment, Home & Garden Pesticides, Lawn & Garden Consumables (fertilizers, growing media, pesticides, etc), and Lawn & Garden Watering Products. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence

  Consumer Goods      Industry Studies    

Happy New Year!... Is Your Sustainable Packaging Target Due This Year?

More companies have been announcing and pursuing sustainability goals and targets – many of which are coming due in 2022, if they didn’t already in 2021. Packaging is a big part of many of these initiatives, whether increased recyclability, compostability, lightweighting, right-sizing, plastic-reduction, or increased recycled content.

As a result, demand for more paper and post-consumer recycled content of all types has led to high prices… and some creative measures to get the materials suppliers need.

ND Paper in Old Town, Maine, noted that increased online shopping and plastic packaging converting (from bags to pouches and others) to paper-based options, was rapidly driving up prices for the old corrugated cardboard (OCC) they used to make recycled paper pulp. The company began asking local residents to drop off their e-commerce shipping boxes, pizza boxes, cereal boxes, and more at their mill directly.

Novolex, which makes plastic shopping bags, among other products, operates its own polyethylene film recycling facilities. For several years, the company has operated in-store drop-off collections for these films, as single-stream recycling collectors reject films for clogging sorting machinery. In this way, the company works to gain access to the materials they need to make their own plastic packaging more sustainable. More recently, in 2021, the company adopted and promoted recycling labeling  prompting consumers to return the film packaging to stores for recycling, as a relatively small number of consumers are in that habit.

Access to adequate paper and post-consumer recycled materials supplies remains a concern of many packaging companies and suppliers of various consumer products. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) proposals are still a possibility to improve recycling and collection when strapped municipal waste management departments have limited or eliminated recycling services. While in place in the EU, they have yet to advance on a national level in the US. Still, in 2021 Maine and Oregon enacted EPR initiatives for plastic packaging, and more states are considering similar legislation in 2022.

With all the renewed consumer and investor focus on accountability for sustainability targets and goals, Freedonia analysts continue to watch trends in waste management and packaging input demand/pricing.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly our series of studies in the Packaging and Plastics & Other Polymers catalogs. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Packaging      Plastics & Other Polymers    

Missing Something From Your List For This Holiday This Season?

If you’re having a hard time finding a traditional item or that perfect gift for your holiday celebrations, there are a lot of potential reasons behind that.

We’re all familiar with supply chain challenges, whether it’s misplaced shipping containers, high-priced air freight, or not enough truckers to get the products to retail shelves or your door. By now, this isn’t news. In fact, many shopped early to be sure they could get orders in time. Still, mail has been slow (personally, I saw a delivery take 2 weeks to go from Philadelphia to Cleveland), but last mile delivery drivers can still be seen out making deliveries after 10 PM and even in the overnight hours.

High demand…that’s also not new, although the products involved have continued to shift. Many of us have had the same ideas for how to spend our pandemic period, from home baking to gardens and home pools to camping and hiking to outdoor socializing in backyards and event spaces, or buying chicken (alive for eggs or prepared for eating). So a lot of things are in short supply mainly because so many of us want them. We have to be flexible and willing to wait – and possibly pay high prices – for these in-demand items.

But what about hackers? Yes, cyberattacks have been disruptive this year. Well-known production disruptions due to hackers included

Freedonia analysts continue to track changes in supply chains and other challenges to production that create both roadblocks and opportunities for market participants and potential entrants.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly our series of studies in the Consumer Goods and Packaging industry catalogs. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.

  Food & Beverage      Industrial Components    

Automation Spurred by the COVID-19 Pandemic: Investments in Meat Processing & Beyond

We first discussed the trend of pandemic-related increases in manufacturing automation in 2020. At the time, meat processing – an industry that has long considered automation inferior to human activity due to inexact cuts and too much waste – was only just considering it and looking into how they could make it happen.

However, machinery innovations through the use of artificial intelligence, sensors, and cameras are resulting in machinery that is both increasingly better performing and less expensive. To that point, recently Tyson Foods announced plans to invest $1.3 billion to automate parts of its production lines over the next three years.

The need to implement automation has been spurred by a variety of challenges:

  • worker protection – particularly the need to space workers out amid high infection rates
  • the need to continue operating when outbreaks occur
  • labor shortages as it becomes difficult to find sufficient staffing for all necessary shifts
  • high demand as restaurants reopened this year and consumer grocery spending remains at elevated levels

Tyson Foods stated that they expected automation will allow them to increase production volumes, produce more reliability, and reduce costs over time. The company expects to automate roles that are more difficult to do and where worker turnover is high.

This is a trend that continues to spread across a variety of other industries as well. For instance, Amazon has invested in robots to help fill orders in warehouses and smart machinery that makes right-sized custom boxes for each individual shipment.

The benefits of investments in automation in this era include:

  • hedging against hiring challenges, when not enough of the right kind of workers available
  • reducing the cost of production in a country or region with high labor rates to become more competitive with other areas as more manufacturers are diversifying their supply chains
  • increasing worker safety, not only in terms of keeping workers spaced out for pandemic productions, but also potentially reducing human involvement in tasks more prone to worker injury, whether repetitive or traumatic
  • improving efficiency as sensor-driven machinery can quickly make customize operations, including shipping container selections for fulfillment firms

Freedonia analysts continue to track the automation trend throughout our coverage areas, searching for key impacts and opportunities for growth.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, including Global Food Processing Machinery, Global Packaging Machinery, and Meat, Poultry & Seafood Packaging. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.


Commercial Construction Market Adapts to Post-COVID World

The daily commute and weekly (if not more often!) shopping trip has been replaced by the simple act of turning on the computer or reaching for the mobile phone. In consequence, employers, building owners, and municipalities are realizing that the US has an excess of commercial building space. The question now, of course, is to determine how to fill this space:

  • Some office complexes are being repurposed into warehouses (to house the increasing number of packages being shipped across the US) or apartments (to meet the need for residences, especially in urban and suburban areas).
  • Smaller retail spaces (such as restaurants and convenience stores) are being converted into “dark stores,” or mini-warehouses that facilitate the rapid delivery of groceries and other staples in urban centers.
  • Other developers are refurbishing office complexes by adding amenities (such as game rooms, nap rooms, and personal chefs) to entice both employers and employees back to the office.

The stakes are high for all involved:

  • Municipalities are concerned about the loss of tax revenues from employees working from home – not only depriving them of payroll taxes, but also sales taxes from the various purchases employees make when in the city.
  • Building owners must fill properties with tenants to remain profitable.
  • Firms must navigate the challenge of wanting people back in the office while also realizing that many workers feel they are equally, if not more, productive at home.
  • Construction firms concerned with a loss of business must reposition themselves from builders of new structures to specialists in remodeling existing properties.

For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, particularly our series of studies in the Construction and Building Products catalog. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.