Frozen Specialty Food Packaging

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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:

  • frozen dinners
  • 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
  • breakfast foods
  • 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

  • packaged ice
  • frozen carryout
  • meal delivery program foods
  • shelf-stable products that are frozen after purchase

Packaging product segments covered include:

  • rigid packaging:
    • 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)
  • flexible packaging:
    • bags
    • 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.

Pricing Trends

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.

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