A new Freedonia Group analysis forecasts US demand for food packaging bowls to increase 7.3% per year to nearly $300 million in 2025, a rate well above the average for food packaging overall. Though advancing from a relatively small base, a number of trends are boosting demand for food packaging bowls – from rising interest in fresh and frozen prepared foods and single-serving sizes of such items, to a heightened focus on sustainability driving increased use of often-higher value materials like molded sugarcane.
Below, we highlight three key trends that’s driving this rapid demand growth for one of the newest food packaging formats.
Rising interest in frozen dinners and fresh prepared foods
Already the leading outlet for food packaging bowls, prepared foods (including fresh and frozen products) is also projected to be one of the fastest growing applications for these products through 2025, with demand growing 6.3% annually. Growth will be driven by several factors, including the:
- expanding availability of fresh (refrigerated) prepared foods such as grab-and-go complete meals, entrées, appetizers, side dishes, and salads at grocery and convenience stores
- increasing sales of pre-packaged refrigerated meals (including prepared meats, ethnic dishes, pasta dishes) from leading food companies
- convenience and value offered by frozen foods, as consumers have less time to prepare meals from scratch
- increase in the elderly population, who tends to prefer easy-to-prepare meals that reduce waste and facilitate portion control
- ongoing new product introductions, especially dishes influenced by popular ethnic flavors and products with improved health benefits
While trays will continue to see much wider use in prepared foods applications, bowls are expected to see faster growth from a lower market base. Sales will be boosted by the shift to bowls from traditional trays in some frozen dinner applications due to their shelf appeal, which evokes a more contemporary and fresh image for many consumers.
Continuing popularity of single-serving sizes
In addition to the convenience of bowls (e.g., food can often be eaten directly out of the container without having to dirty a dish), their ability to take the guesswork out of portioning is another key reason they are increasingly popular packaging formats for prepared foods.
The rising trend of single-serving meal bowls – already fast-growing before the COVID-19 pandemic – exploded in 2020, driving a nearly 25% demand increase for bowls in that year. As consumers began preparing more meals at home due to the pandemic, many turned to prepared foods to save time in the kitchen. In turn, major prepared foods brands ramped up production, boosting bowl sales, and further introductions of new products (already rapidly expanding prior to the pandemic) continued, attracting still more first-time buyers.
Additionally, rising demand for convenient, single-serving foods will promote demand for bowls in fresh produce applications such as ready-to-eat salads, fruits, and vegetables.
Increased focus on sustainability
Another key trend boosting value demand levels in the food packaging bowl market is growing interest in higher value products that improve packaging sustainability – especially among premium brands targeting health- and environment-conscious consumers.
Molded sugarcane is thought to hold especially strong potential to this end. A renewable and degradable alternative to plastic and paper that also has stronger performance (e.g., leak protection) than other available molded fibers, such as molded pulp, molded sugarcane is experiencing rapid sales growth in the foodservice sector, and this trend is beginning to spread to retail food packaging bowls. For example:
- In March 2020, Sonoco Products introduced a 100% sugarcane-based fiber bowl for refrigerated, frozen, and prepared foods. The bowl is sold under the Natrellis brand and was developed through a partnership with packaging company Tellus. Natrellis bowls will be used as the primary packaging for PRIMAL KITCHEN frozen bowl and skillet meals.
- In April 2020, Genpak launched Harvest bagasse fiber oval bowls, which are compostable and intended for prepared foods applications.
Molded sugarcane is expected to make further inroads in the retail food packaging bowls market over the next decade. While the material’s high costs will likely limit adoption to premium brands/segments in the short-term, significant growth opportunities are expected in a broad array of fresh produce; prepared foods; and meat, poultry, and seafood applications.
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About the Author: Peter Kusnic is a Content Writer with The Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies focused on an array of industries.