Corrugated & Paperboard Boxes

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Through 2026, demand for boxes in the US is forecast to increase 2.0% yearly from a high 2021 base to $49.9 billion, with volume demand reaching 31.9 million tons. Although the corrugated and paperboard box market in the US is mature, there are notable growth opportunities in nonmanufacturing applications such as e-commerce, foodservice, and delivery. In addition, suppliers will continue to introduce higher value boxes to the market in order to meet the sustainability and efficiency needs of their customers.

E-Commerce Will Provide the Best Opportunities for Corrugated Boxes

Demand for boxes in e-commerce applications will grow at a double-digit pace, the fastest rate of any market. E-commerce continues to account for an increasing share of retail sales, a trend that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic when more people took advantage of these services to stay at home. Corrugated boxes will account for nearly all demand in this market due to their predominance as shipping containers.

Several e-commerce trends are expected to have a large impact on corrugated and paperboard box design and innovation, including:

  • direct-to-consumer shipments, which will boost demand for primary packaging that can also act as a shipping container
  • right-sizing of packaging, which will act to limit the volume of packaging used

Foodservice & Carryout Applications Will Bolster Demand for Folding Cartons

Rising use of multi-restaurant delivery platforms such as DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats – along with subsequent increased delivery and takeout options offered by restaurants themselves – will boost healthy gains in demand for folding cartons in foodservice and carryout applications. New municipal regulations and manufacturers’ efforts to reduce the amount of single-use plastics used in the foodservice segment will also benefit demand for folding cartons; however, cartons will continue to face some competition from single-use plastics due to consumer preferences for packaging that reduces the occurrence of food spills and leaks.

Better Aesthetics, Sustainability, & Advanced Features Support Use of Higher Value Boxes

Although they are essentially a commodity product, boxes are increasingly enhanced to improve their aesthetics and functionality:

  • Digital printing is increasingly used to add photo-quality images to both the interior and exterior of boxes in order to catch a customer’s eye, and graphics can be easily altered for short production runs or personalized packaging.
  • Concerns over the sustainability of boxes has led suppliers to continue to shift from wax coatings to higher cost water-based or biobased alternatives, which enhance moisture-resistance while enabling boxes to be recycled.
  • Boxes are increasingly being equipped with features such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors, which help with inventory management and shipment tracking.

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