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This study analyzes the US market for produce packaging. 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.
Demand by Packaging Type
Demand for fresh produce packaging is projected to increase 3.7% per year to $6.7 billion in 2024. Despite relatively slow growth in domestic produce output, advances will result from increases in the amount of produce sold in retail packaging. In addition, gains will benefit from greater use of higher value packaging types for fresh-cut produce that offer consumer convenience, ease-of-use features for both store personnel and customers, and improved performance characteristics designed to keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer.
Rigid products account for the larger share of produce packaging (70% in 2019):
Corrugated packaging will remain the largest product type, even though RPCs are gaining share in bulk applications.
Plastic containers will post the fastest gains among the major packaging types due to consumer preferences for RTE products and other fresh-cut offerings in clamshells, tubs, bowls, and other container types.
Flexible packaging products – including bags, pouches, and film – will continue to benefit from greater demand for packaged fruits and vegetables and from the more intensive use of higher value stand-up pouches. Nonetheless, bags and pouches face strong competition from rigid plastic containers in areas such as salad mixes and pre-cut produce, as well as from retail-ready corrugated boxes.
Demand by Application
Demand for produce packaging is projected to increase 3.7% per year to $6.7 billion in 2024. Sales gains will be stronger than those registered during the 2014-2019 period due to improvement in the production forecast for fresh produce (specifically for fruits), and the continuation of a trend favoring greater packaging intensity. The latter has been spurred by:
greater availability of fresh-cut produce as on-the-go snacks or convenient cooking ingredients
increased packaging of products traditionally sold in bulk displays – such as apples and tomatoes – especially in large supermarket chains and limited selection grocery stores
continuing proliferation of sizes for produce packages – particularly smaller sizes for smaller households and increased portability – but also including larger sizes for foodservice operators and club stores
Demand by Material
Demand for produce packaging is forecast to increase 3.7% per year to $6.7 billion in 2024. Plastic accounts for the majority share of packaging sales (53% in 2019), as it is the most commonly used material for rigid packaging such as clamshells and other plastic containers, trays and platters, baskets, and flexible packaging such as bags, pouches, and film.
Plastic has gained share over paper and other materials due to performance advantages including light weight, moisture resistance, enhanced barrier properties and puncture resistance.
Whether paper is actually more sustainable than plastic, a number of companies are capitalizing on the perception of paper and molded pulp as more eco-friendly alternatives and are using new packaging technologies that can stand up to plastic’s good performance properties.
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)
pouches (pillow and stand-up)
trays and platters (including molded pulp, rigid plastic, expanded polystyrene foam, and paperboard types)
baskets, punnets, and tills
other products, including rigid plastic containers (RPCs), plastic film, foam boxes, wood crates, folding cartons, sleeves, dividers, tissue paper, 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.
Packaging includes products used by:
retailers, wholesalers, and foodservice establishments
packers and repackers
shippers and distributors
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
corrugated displays other than bulk bins (i.e., freestanding or handing displays designed to hold packaged goods)
Demand is also discussed by produce applications.
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 for fresh produce packaging is forecast to increase 3.7% per year to $6.7 billion in 2024. Sales gains will be driven by:
rising demand for produce sold in some form of packaging, including pouches, bags, and rigid plastic containers
more intensive use of higher value packaging that offers convenience and ease-of-use features, superior performance and shelf life, and/or improved environmental footprints
increasing sales of ready-to-eat (RTE) salads as well as of pre-cut produce such as apple slices, melon spears, and carrot sticks – typically sold in tubs, cups, or other rigid plastic containers
Nonetheless, stronger increases will be limited by relatively slow growth in overall domestic produce output, with declines projected for a number of key fruit and vegetable types, including tomatoes and citrus.
Rigid Plastic Containers to Outperform All Other Major Packaging Types
Sales of plastic containers are expected to outpace those of all other common used types of produce packaging, as clamshells and other plastic containers continue to supplant commodity bags and pillow pouches due to their good protective and display properties, especially with RTE foods such as salads and pre-cut/pre-sliced fruits and vegetables.
Within the corrugated boxes market, retail-ready types are forecast to see strong gains, supported by further penetration in retail stores, as well as by anticipated growth in warehouse clubs and discount stores (e.g., Costco, ALDI), which predominantly display products in retail-ready packaging. Additional packaging products projected to post above average growth include stand-up pouches – for their convenience and display advantages – and reusable plastic containers (RPCs) for their reusability and efficiency.
Salad & Berries Remain Largest Fresh Produce Packaging Applications
Salad and berries will remain the largest markets for fresh produce packaging in value terms, together accounting for over 20% of demand. Salad’s market position is supported by its strong sales in consumer and foodservice markets, as well as by its intensive use of higher value packaging types – such as two-piece plastic containers and modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). Berry packaging sales are similarly aided by strong consumer demand, as well as by their relatively intensive use of higher cost rigid packaging containers due to their greater need for protection compared to other produce types.
Sustainability Remains a Primary Goal for Produce Packaging Suppliers
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a greater focus on cleanliness and sanitation for food packaging, sustainability is regaining strength as a key focus for suppliers – especially since consumers who purchase fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be environmentally conscious. Consequently, packaging producers are focusing on improving product recyclability, increasing use of recycled content, and extending shelf life.