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This study analyzes the market for frozen specialty food packaging. Historical (2009, 2014 and 2019) data and forecasts to 2024 are presented in current dollars.
Applications covered include:
pizza, including pizza pies, slices, flatbreads, pizza pockets, pizza rolls, and other frozen pizza products (e.g., Kraft Heinz’s
Bagel Bites pizza snacks) entrées and side dishes
other frozen specialties (e.g., appetizers, blintzes, burritos, egg rolls, hand-held entrées, hot cereal, meat substitute products, pierogis, quiche, snacks, soups, tacos, whipped toppings)
For the purposes of this study, entrées are distinguished from dinners in that they do not generally contain a complete meal. Excluded from this segment are hand-held entrées, which are included in the Other Frozen Specialties segment.
Excluded from the scope of this study are
meal delivery program foods
shelf-stable products that are frozen after purchase
Packaging product segments covered include:
boxes and cartons (e.g., folding cartons – also known as folding paperboard boxes – corrugated boxes)
trays, including rigid plastic trays made from such resins as polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and crystallized polyethylene terephthalate (CPET); trays produced via thermoforming plastic film; and trays made from paperboard or molded pulp (i.e., molded fiber)
tubs, cups, and bowls, including round and square-round tubs, cups, and bowls for retail packaging as well as larger tubs (such as those used to package ice cream for foodservice establishments) as well as lids that are sold with the unit (but excluding those sold separately)
paperboard sleeves, including paperboard sleeves used as outer packaging and paperboard susceptor sleeves
other rigid packaging (e.g., pails, plastic containers)
wrap, including foil wrap, paper wrap and overwrap, as well as plastic film wrap and overwrap, including stretch and shrink film/wrap and thermoforming film but excluding lidding films, chubs, brick packs, vacuum seal packaging (VSP), and vacuum sealed bags
lidding, including plastic film lidding (typically made from one or more layers of plastics such as PET or PP), paper lidding, and aluminum foil lidding but excluding paper and plastic lids sold together with accompanying paper or plastic containers as well as plastic overwrap and shrink wrap
pouches, including flat (e.g., pillow, four-side seal, and three-side seal) and stand-up (e.g., round-bottom/Doyen, K-seal, corner-bottom, flat-bottom)
other flexible packaging (e.g., brick packs, interleaving, vacuum skin packaging)
Corrugated boxes used as primary packaging are included; however, corrugated boxes for secondary packaging with case quantities are excluded, as are shipping containers and retail-ready packaging.
Also excluded are separately sold lids, caps, and closures.
Demand by Packaging Type
Demand for frozen specialty food packaging is projected to expand 4.0% annually to $3.1 billion in 2024. Advances will be driven by:
increased at-home meal preparation – a trend boosted further by stay-at-home orders and restaurant closures during the COVID-19 pandemic
ongoing changes in consumer perceptions of frozen foods and their quality, as more shoppers turn to the freezer aisle for primary meal components (e.g., entrées, sides) rather than for backup items
quality improvements resulting from packaging innovations
demographic trends, such as growth in older age groups and single-person households, supporting demand for convenient and single-serving/portioned foods (which typically use more packaging per volume than multi-serving items)
Folding cartons and trays are the leading packaging products for frozen specialties, accounting for a combined 59% of demand in 2019. Other significant packaging types include tubs, cups, bowls, paperboard sleeves, bags, corrugated boxes, wrap, lidding, and pouches.
While efforts to reduce packaging weight will drive further shifts away from folding cartons and trays to flexible alternatives such as bags and pouches, rising production of frozen items that typically employ rigid packaging – such as dinners, entrées, and side dishes – will fuel ongoing demand.
The fastest annual increases are projected for tubs, cups, and bowls, supported by favorable prospects for single-serving entrées and bowl meals, including products using steam generated during microwaving for enhanced flavor and texture. Such products typically use two bowls, one for holding a sauce and a perforated bowl that allows steam to pass through during heating.
Even stronger gains for tubs, cups, and bowls will be prevented by competition from pouches, which benefit from cost and source reduction advantages over rigid packaging, as well as from expanding applications for self-venting pouches that enable steam cooking of foods in microwave ovens.
Given the highly competitive nature of the food packaging industry, pricing plays a crucial role in the success or failure of a given container type as a packaging choice:
Frozen specialty foods generally have higher gross margins than most “center store” food items, a factor that can make product manufacturers more willing to use value-added packaging to help convey a premium image for their products.
The more specialized packaging requirements for some types of microwavable frozen specialties can add to packaging costs.
Convenience and quality can outweigh pricing issues since consumers are generally willing to pay more for products that save time or are high quality.
Demand for frozen specialty food packaging is forecast to increase 4.0% per year to $3.1 billion in 2024. Sales gains will be driven by:
strong consumer demand for convenience-type foods
product innovations and a continuously expanding range of healthy and premium options, which tend to use higher value packaging
increased at-home meal preparation
the use of higher value packaging – including stand-up pouches, susceptor trays, and folding cartons with high-quality graphics – that can help differentiate products
expanded availability of products in portion-control sizes, with smaller servings resulting in higher packaging use per product
Frozen Dinners Is the Largest Packaging Application
Frozen dinners will offer the strongest growth opportunities for frozen specialties packaging suppliers, boosted by factors such as:
increased at-home meal preparation and the convenience of frozen dinners (though they will continue to face competition from easy-to-prepare fresh meal kits)
the improved quality of frozen dinners, specifically a wider range of healthy and clean-label options that appeal to millennials and younger consumers
demographic trends, such as growth in older age groups and single-person households that are more intensive users of portioned dinners
Folding Cartons & Trays Remain Leading Packaging Formats
Through 2024, trays and folding cartons will remain the leading packaging types used in frozen specialties applications. Folding cartons are widely used with dinners packaged in trays, tubs, cups, and bowls, where they provide protection and billboard space for demonstrating the appearance of dinner items when heated. Trays are favored in these applications for their structural stability, ovenability and microwavability, and (often) recyclability.
The fastest gains among frozen specialties packaging products are expected for bowls due to the rising popularity of convenient, healthy bowl meals. However, bowls will continue to face competition from pouches, which compete with rigid packaging like bowls on cost and source reduction advantages and benefit from expanding applications for self-venting pouches.
COVID-19 Pandemic Boosts At-Home Cooking & Reliance on Convenience Foods
Increased work-at-home and remote learning activities during the COVID-19 pandemic boosted at-home meal preparation, which, in turn, prompted consumers to stock up on convenient, long-lasting frozen foods. In addition, panic buying and supply chain issues for fresh and shelf-stable foods encouraged increased purchases from the freezer aisle. Heightened sales of frozen specialties and other frozen foods are expected to carry forward – supporting related packaging demand – as consumers become increasingly accustomed to the convenience of frozen foods and as they become more familiar with the quality and variety of frozen dinners, entrées, and other available items.