Ice Cream & Frozen Dessert Packaging

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This study analyzes the market for ice cream and frozen dessert packaging. Historical (2009, 2014 and 2019) data and forecasts to 2024 are presented in current dollars

Applications covered include:

  • ice cream and frozen yogurt, including hard and soft ice creams and frozen yogurts
  • frozen novelties, including frozen ice cream and yogurt snacks, individually packaged ice creams treats, ice cream sandwiches, popsicles, ice cups, as well as ice cream in cones, bars, edible cookie dough bites, mochi ice cream, and frozen candy bar snacks
  • sherbet, sorbet, and other frozen desserts (including gelato, frozen custard, ice cream cake, and flavored ice not sold in individual packs)

Excluded from the scope of this study are

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

Packaging product segments covered are:

  • rigid packaging:
    • folding cartons
    • tubs and cups
    • pails
    • other rigid packaging (e.g., pails, sleeves)
  • flexible packaging:
    • pouches
    • wrap and lidding
    • bags

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

Rising demand for ice cream novelties and bite-sized frozen treats – which use more packaging than frozen dairy products in larger containers – will support upward momentum for packaging. However, further gains will be restrained by limited volume growth in ice cream production.

Tubs and cups are by far the type of packaging most used with ice cream, representing 54% of demand in 2019. Additional packaging demand is generated by folding cartons, pouches, wrap and lidding, bags, and other containers such as plastic pails. Through 2024, pouches are expected to post the fastest gains, largely the result of growth in demand for novelties.

Tubs and cups for ice cream include round and square-round types for retail packaging and larger paperboard tubs for ice cream stores and other foodservice establishments:

  • Paperboard tubs and cups, especially square-round types, have largely supplanted square “brick” cartons and tall round paperboard tubs in the packaging of consumer ice cream products.
  • Among other advantages, two-piece containers such as tubs with lids are easier to reseal, which keeps contents fresher once the container has been opened. Additionally, it is easier and less messy to scoop ice cream from square-round containers than from tall, round containers.
  • Despite competition from square-rounds, opportunities for round tubs and cups exist with pint and quart sizes of these products, which are frequently used with frozen yogurt, sorbet, and superpremium ice cream.

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 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 premium ice cream and other frozen desserts 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.

Price competition in frozen food packaging is intense, both between different materials and between vendors of comparable products, because many of these packaging types are low technology commodities. Pricing advantages for one packaging material over another tend to fluctuate depending on economic conditions, raw material costs, excess capacity, or discounting. Costs for raw materials – which include paper, paperboard, plastic resin, and aluminum foil, as well as adhesives, inks, and coatings –typically account for 50-60% of the final packaging price.

Other considerations with an influence on pricing include design costs, shipping and filling costs, and the degree of customization required. Costs associated with labor, equipment, and environmental compliance are also key factors.

Price competition in frozen food tubs, cups, and bowls is intense, both between different materials and between vendors of comparable products, because these are low technology, commodity-type products:

  • Average prices for ice cream and frozen dessert packaging products in 2019 ranged from about 16 cents per unit for plastic tubs, cups, and bowls to 21 cents per unit for paperboard types.
  • Plastic pricing tends to fluctuate depending on economic conditions, raw material costs, and excess capacity. However, this variation does not always affect use of plastic, which offers performance and other advantages over paper and paperboard in growing frozen food applications such as ready-to-heat meal bowls and single-serving dessert cups.
  • Though traditional paperboard will continue to dominate in the large ice cream and frozen dessert market, plastic is also seeing rising use in superpremium applications such as gelato because its transparency enables consumers to see the product contents.

Average growth in packaging prices will be influenced by several factors, including:

  • rising resin prices as oil prices recover from a sharp drop in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • expanding use of recycled content in packaging, which can increase raw material costs
  • increased use of high-quality graphics and higher value packaging with improved barrier technologies

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