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Demand for aseptic packaging for food is forecast to increase 5.5% annually to $2.3 billion in 2026. Aseptic processing will increasingly be preferred over more traditional thermal processing methods such as retort and hot fill due primarily to its shorter heating times, which better maintains the flavor, texture, and nutrition of food that these other processing methods.
Aseptic Cartons Remain Most Popular Form of Aseptic Packaging
Aseptic cartons account for the largest share of aseptic packaging, and they are increasingly taking share from traditional shelf stable packaging such as cans in applications such as soups, stocks, broths, and sauces. The advantages aseptic cartons offer over cans include their lower weight, more modern aesthetic, and greater shelf appeal. However, the higher cost of these products and issues surrounding their recyclability will restrain even further penetration into these applications.
Strong Gains Expected in Every Application Except Juice
Aseptic packaging will continue to see strong demand growth in the packaging of milk and milk alternatives, soups, tomato products, and other foods, but will lag significantly in the juice market – the largest application of aseptic packaging – due to market maturity and a declining interest in the overall ambient juice category, which faces intense competition from fresh and cold-pressed juices and other lower sugar beverages.
Sustainability Remains a Key Innovation Driver
Sustainability remains a key issue in the packaging industry as a whole and especially for aseptic packaging. The composite material used in the manufacturing of cartons and pouches to extend shelf life is difficult to recycle in practice due to lack of adequate recycling infrastructure and difficulty in separating the materials. However, aseptic packaging producers are addressing this by focusing on material improvements. Carton producers are eliminating the aluminum barrier layer typically found in aseptic cartons to increase their recyclability, while monomaterial pouches are being developed that are still compatible with aseptic filling.
Historical Market Trends
Shifts in demand for food packaging from year to year are determined by a number of factors, primarily related to the production and marketing of food products. These activities in turn are influenced by:
- demographic trends such as age, average household size, and levels of disposable income
- consumer spending on food and the balance between at-home and away-from-home meals
- food preferences (e.g., demand for enhanced convenience or for organic products)
- restaurant and other foodservice industry trends
In addition, a number of competitive variables determine the mix of packaging types used and their cost, including:
- raw material and conversion costs
- changes in the mix of foods being packaged, particularly in terms of food format (canned, dried, frozen, fresh)
- trends in packaging size and format, such as shifts toward smaller single-serving packages, family-size units, or multipacks
- the proportion of food that is sold via retail channels versus foodservice establishments
- environmental and regulatory factors, including trends such as source reduction, the use of recycled content, and recyclability – especially important for the composite materials used in the manufacturing of some aseptic packaging
Demand for aseptic packaging in 2020 saw growth slightly below historical levels. Though the shelf stability of aseptically processed foods made them a primary target for retail consumers looking to stockpile food, institutional closures caused declines in key formats at the foodservice level. A rebound in foodservice combined with continued purchasing of aseptically packaged foods at the retail level led to an acceleration in aseptic packaging demand in 2021.
Food Safety Issues
Packaging plays a key role in food safety, and companies involved in the food industry (including foodservice establishments and retailers) often view food safety measures as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Packaging, including shelf-stable formats, keeps food products fresh and protects them from exposure to contamination during shipping and storage. Aseptic processing and its related packaging are specifically designed to maintain food quality and safety for long periods of unrefrigerated storage. As food distribution becomes increasingly globalized, with many products being shipped long distances without refrigeration, the role of packaging in ensuring products are safe for consumption will become even more critical.
The following are examples of recent aseptic packaging innovations aimed at improving food safety:
- Tetra Pak has developed the WingCap screw cap for its aseptic cartons, a cap designed to improve safety by offering visible tamper evidence.
- Tetra Pak has developed the Connected Package platform, which provides cloud-based digital traceability of individual packages, enabling product manufacturers and retailers to quickly find stock that has potential safety or quality issues.
- Serac has developed the BluStream continuous cap sterilization module, which provides electron beam sterilization of caps used on aseptic packaging. BluStream technology is an alternative to chemical sterilization processes, which can leave potential harmful residues and typically involve high temperatures that can distort the structure of the cap.