The COVID-19 epidemic is causing major disruption in the US food processing industry, with mass infections among employees leading to temporary facility closures and declines in output. This could mean sporadic meat shortages over the course of the pandemic – regardless of federal efforts to keep operations running – and a negative impact on related packaging demand.
Despite these near-term challenges – which are expected to remain mostly confined to 2020 – the $11 billion meat, poultry, and seafood packaging market is on track for healthy growth through 2024. Below we highlight three areas where growth potential will remain strong – through the crisis and beyond.
Retail-ready packaging & other convenience-oriented products
The convenience of packaging products – e.g., ease of storing, opening, using, and disposing of packaging – continues to influence both how consumers engage with products and brands and how retailers stock their shelves. Characteristics that provide the convenience consumers desire include:
- handles for heavy products
- spill protection for prepared items
- peel-tops on metal cans
- easy resealability, particularly of pouches
Single-serving packaging that facilitates consumption by hand or includes a disposable utensil can also enhance convenience for consumers engaged in such trends as portion control and on-the-go snacking.
Convenience is also important to storeowners looking for efficient ways to place products on the sales floor (e.g., retail-ready packaging). For example, corrugated box sales will be supported by the expanding use of boxes with quality graphics and other value-added features for lunch meats, sausages, and jerky, as these products are increasingly distributed in retail-ready boxes to facilitate in-store display and marketing.
Rapid growth in case-ready packaging & products that improve shelf life
Case-ready packaging involves cutting and packaging products at central processing facilities rather than inside retail store meat departments. Expanding demand for case-ready meat, poultry, and seafood will continue to support sales gains for plastic films, bags, and trays, which are expected to grow at an above average rate through 2024. This is especially due to the more intensive use of better performing products that help extend shelf life and improve package performance, particularly:
- modified atmosphere packaging
- vacuum packaging
- active and intelligent packaging
For example, active and intelligent packaging involves the use of materials and/or technologies that can sense alterations in the condition of packaged foods and control the impacts of those alterations. These materials and technologies can prolong shelf life and improve food safety or sensory properties while maintaining the quality of the packaged products.
Sustainability trends driving demand for value-added packaging
The packaging industry is increasingly focused on how to make their packaging more sustainable and how it can improve the environmental profiles of the products it contains. To this end, meat, poultry, and seafood packaging suppliers have focused on:
- source reduction (e.g., lightweighting or downgauging, elimination of secondary packaging)
- increasing recyclability and degradability to lessen strain on the solid waste stream
- producing packaging from recycled materials that can be re-recycled, reducing the amount of raw materials used in production
- extending the shelf life of packaged products in order to reduce the amount of packaging and food that ends up in landfills, which dovetails with food waste reduction, another key sustainability target of packaging suppliers and end users
In particular, producers are increasingly looking to bio-based plastics, biodegradable materials, and paper-based materials as alternatives. For example, per a June 2018 agreement, Sealed Air will produce renewable packaging for perishable foods such as poultry, beef, and seafood utilizing Kuraray’s Plantic bio-based resins. The packaging is designed to provide highly effective oxygen barriers while being cost competitive with traditional roll stock barrier films.
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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.