Fresh Produce Corrugated Boxes

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This study analyzes the US market for produce corrugated boxes. Produce is defined as fresh, minimally processed fruits and vegetables, and for the purposes of this report includes salad mixes and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.

Products covered include the following corrugated box types:

  • regular slotted containers
  • full telescoping boxes
  • boxes with cut-outs for display purposes
  • open-top tray-style boxes
  • fold-over gift boxes
  • bulk bins
  • display-ready boxes

Demand is also discussed by produce applications:

  • fresh vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, onions, carrots, mushrooms celery, cabbage, peppers)
  • fresh fruit (e.g., berries, apples, melons, citrus, grapes)
  • salad

Excluded from the scope of this study are:

  • packaging for nuts, herbs, seeds, spices, and other items commonly sold in produce departments other than fresh fruits and vegetables
  • separately sold lids
  • restaurant and foodservice carryout containers, including those used for in -store prepared foods
  • packaging used for canned, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables
  • plastic baskets, punnets, and tills

Historical data (2009, 2014, and 2019) and forecasts for 2024 are presented for produce packaging demand in millions of dollars using current US dollars (including inflation) and in unit terms 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 Type

Demand for corrugated boxes in fresh produce applications is projected to increase 3.3% per year to $2.4 billion in 2024. Greater use of improved, valued added boxes – notably modular and display-ready containers, white-top linerboard boxes, and moisture-resistant boxes – will provide support to market value.

Unit demand will expand 1.5% annually to 2.6 billion boxes, outpacing fresh produce production based on the greater use of smaller boxes, especially for fresh-cut produce and other more delicate items. Demand for boxes will also be aided by the increasing popularity of locally grown produce in retail establishments, as boxes are more likely to be used in these situations. However, growth will be restrained by market maturity and competition from other bulk containers, particularly RPCs.


Demand by Application

Demand for corrugated boxes in fresh produce applications is projected to increase 3.3% per year to $2.4 billion in 2024. As corrugated boxes are a mature product, growth will mainly be driven by increased production of the produce types packaged in boxes.

Corrugated boxes find use in a wide range of produce applications, with citrus fruits, apples, tomatoes, salad, berries, and potatoes among the leading uses. For produce such as berries, mushrooms, or cherry or grape tomatoes, boxes are generally used as secondary packaging to hold rigid plastic containers or baskets of these products.

In a number of applications (e.g., onions, lettuce, melons) boxes are losing ground to plastic containers and flexible packaging alternatives for primary packaging, and to RPCs in some secondary packaging applications. However, these losses will be offset somewhat by strong increases in the use of retail-ready boxes. Packaging

Pricing Trends

The produce market for packaging is highly competitive, and pricing plays an important role in packaging choice. However, the decision process is usually more complicated than a simple direct comparison of unit prices, as factors such as sustainability and the rising popularity and low cost of plastic produce packaging complicate matters.

Average box prices are expected to increase 1.8% annually through 2024, with growth limited to some extent by changes in the product mix favoring smaller box sizes.

Prices for corrugated produce boxes are primarily affected by trends in the US economy, price fluctuations of raw materials, and trends in the popularity of other produce packaging materials. Average corrugated and paperboard box prices can fluctuate significantly from year to year because of pricing variations in pulp and other raw materials. Since boxes are typically considered to be commodity products and face competition from other packaging formats, pricing is a significant competitive factor for box manufacturers.


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