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This study analyzes the US market for fresh fruit packaging, defined as fresh, minimally processed fruits, and for the purposes of this report includes fresh-cut fruits.
Fruit packaging can be segmented broadly by rigid and flexible. Specific products covered include the following:
- retail-ready and other corrugated boxes (regular slotted containers, full telescoping boxes, boxes with cut-outs for display purposes, open-top tray-style boxes, fold-over gift boxes, bulk bins)
- plastic containers (clamshells, tubs, cups, bowls, square and rectangular two-piece containers, pails, domed containers, lidded buckets)
- bags, including bag liners (e.g., plastic mesh, paper, textile)
- trays and platters (including molded pulp, rigid plastic, expanded polystyrene foam, and paperboard types)
- pouches (pillow and stand-up)
- baskets, punnets, and tills
- other products, including rigid plastic containers (RPCs), plastic film, foam boxes, wood crates, folding cartons, sleeves, paperboard partitions, tissue paper, and absorption and ventilation pads
For products packaged in combination-type formats – such as a tray of peppers enclosed in a pillow pouch – the value of each type of packaging is counted separately and included within each respective product segment.
Excluded from the scope of this study are:
- canned and frozen fruits and vegetables
- packaging for nuts, herbs, seeds, spices, and other items commonly sold in produce departments other than fresh fruits and vegetables
- plastic and paper retail bags
- plastic bags provided in produce departments for customer self-service
- bag closures and separately sold lids
- rubber bands and twist ties
- restaurant and foodservice carryout containers, including those used for in-store prepared foods
- packaging used for canned, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables
- pallet wrap
- corrugated displays other than bulk bins (i.e., freestanding or hanging displays designed to hold packaged goods)
Demand is also discussed by fruit applications.
In addition, demand is segmented by packaging material:
- paper and paperboard
- other materials (e.g., molded pulp, cotton and plastic mesh, wood, textiles)
Finally, demand is analyzed by packaging formats
- ready-to-eat (e.g., pre-cut, pre-peeled, pre-washed)
- other formats (unprepared fruit sold in bulk or prepackaged)
Historical data (2009, 2014, and 2019) and forecasts for 2024 are presented for produce packaging demand in current US dollars (including inflation) by product and application. The terms “shipments”, “production”, and “output” are used interchangeably in the study, as are the terms “demand”, “sales”, and “market”, which are defined as domestic shipments, plus imports, minus exports.
Demand by Packaging Material
Demand for fresh fruit packaging is projected to increase 4.0% per year to $2.4 billion in 2024. Plastic packaging will account for the largest share of absolute gains:
- Plastic accounts for the majority of fresh fruit packaging sales (52% in 2019), as it is the most commonly used material for rigid packaging such as clamshells, cups, plastic containers, trays, platters, and baskets, and for flexible packaging such as bags, pouches, and film.
- Plastic packaging will also see solid growth due to its performance advantages including light weight, moisture resistance, enhanced barrier properties, and puncture resistance.
- Source reduction efforts favor flexible plastic packaging formats, such as pouches. The use of foam trays with plastic film overwrap will be slow due to sustainability efforts, although these are often replaced with other plastic packaging formats.
Outside of plastics, paperboard is most common packaging material due to its use in the production of corrugated boxes, which are widely used for the shipping and display of fresh fruit. Demand for this material will benefit from the rising popularity of retail-ready boxes, which are of a high-quality and offer appealing aesthetics.
Other fruit packaging materials are projected to increase only 1.8% per year to $126 million in 2024. Molded pulp and mesh make up the vast majority of demand in this category:
- Suppliers of molded pulp will benefit from its environmental friendliness as sustainability increases in importance..
- Demand for mesh bags will be supported by the increasing domestic production and sales of apples, onions, key limes, and other fruit.
Fresh Fruit Industry Outlook
Although the US is one of the world’s leading agricultural producers and supplies a significant amount of fresh fruit, the country is a net importer of fruit, much of which is in the form of fruit not grown in the continental US (e.g., bananas) or for fruit that is grown in insufficient quantities for US demand (e.g., citrus).
US production of fresh fruit is projected to increase less than 1.0% to 27.9 billion pounds in 2024. While overall production declined slightly between 2009 and 2019, output is expected to return to the more typical growth rate of production seen in the US.
Fruit consumption has generally increased at a moderate rate, with imports accounting for a larger share of consumption than in the past:
- Mexico and Canada are the leading sources of US fruit imports. For instance, Mexico and several countries in Central and South America are leading importers of bananas. Although bananas are widely eaten in the US (nearly 30 pounds per capita), there is almost no US banana production.
- Other fresh fruit items supplied heavily by imports include mangoes, limes, pineapples, and grapes.
Demand by Packaging Product
Demand for fresh fruit packaging is projected to increase 4.0% per year to $2.4 billion in 2024. There is considerable variation in the importance and growth outlook for the various fruit packaging products:
- Corrugated boxes account for the leading share of fruit packaging demand, supported by their widespread use as primary packaging for larger, sturdier fruits such as citrus, melons, and apples, as well as by their use as secondary packaging for containers of berries and grapes.
- Plastic containers – mostly clamshells – are the second leading product type and are commonly used for smaller and more fragile fruits, such as berries, as well as for pre-cut and pre-sliced RTE fruits (e.g., apple slices, melon spears).
The fastest gains are projected for pouches – particularly stand-up types – as handled and resealable pouches are increasingly favored for their convenience and reduced plastic use compared to clamshells.