Through 2026, demand for folding cartons in the US is projected to rise 1.8% per year to $12.8 billion, with an uptick in real growth offset by slowing price increases.
Folding cartons will face several limiting trends, including a continuing push to reduce the amount of secondary packaging used with manufactured products. For example, in many markets cartons are seeing loss of market share to stand-up pouches, which offer:
Sustainability has a complicated impact on demand for folding cartons, as the relative advantages and disadvantages of paperboard can benefit some aspects of sustainability while detracting from others. While there is demand for use of paper-based products over plastic types (especially in foodservice applications) because paper is commonly perceived by consumers as being more environmentally friendly, the rigid nature and poor barrier properties of paperboard compared to plastic are causing folding cartons to lose share to plastic packaging in some applications.
In 2021, food and beverage applications accounted for 61% of folding carton demand. Demand for folding cartons in the beverage market will benefit from the popularity of smaller, regional runs of beverages, most notably craft beer, and proliferation of limited, seasonal varieties of hard seltzers and premixed cocktails. These products frequently use folding cartons with more colorful and elaborate graphics to stand out from the competition.
The frozen food market will also see relatively healthy growth, boosted by continued consumer interest in convenient trays or bowls, which frequently employ folding cartons as secondary packaging. However, further gains in this market will be limited by competition from paper sleeves for secondary packaging of frozen food.
The foodservice and carryout market for folding cartons is expected to expand much more quickly than average, due largely to the importance of takeout and delivery, as well as of online ordering and third-party delivery services. While consumer interest in sustainability is boosting use of paper folding cartons (which are seen as recyclable and biodegradable) in place of single-use plastics, sealable plastic packaging continues to provide strong competition for some foodservice items, as consumers are most concerned that their food arrives intact and plastic containers have higher leak resistance than cartons.