Shelf-Stable Packaging

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Food Packaging

Demand for shelf-stable food packaging is forecast to increase 2.4% annually to $9.6 billion in 2026. The food market is challenging for packaging suppliers due to the vast number of applications where packaging must not only meet specific performance criteria but also be cost effective and in line with changing sustainability goals and consumer preferences. This especially applies to shelf-stable packaging because it tends to be more costly, the type of processing and packaging used depends on the application, and consumers’ views regarding the nutrition of shelf-stable food remain in flux. Trends in the shelf-stable food packaging market include:

  • Flexible packaging continues to gradually take market share from rigid types based on cost and sustainability advantages.
  • Paperboard will remain the fastest growing material for shelf-stable packaging due to growing use of aseptic and retort carton packaging.
  • Despite innovations in the field of shelf-stable food and packaging, frozen and especially fresh foods continue to see faster growth as consumers increasingly prefer minimally processed, preservative-free foods due to both taste and nutrition concerns.

Aseptic Processing Continues to Take Share from Retort Cans & Hot Fill

Aseptic processing affords multiple benefits over more traditional thermal processing methods such as retort cans and hot fill containers. The most important advantage of aseptic processing is shorter heating times, which minimize the impact of thermal processing on flavor, texture, and nutrition. Aseptic processing is not only important for organic foods and items such as baby formula and protein shakes, it can boost the perception of preserved foods overall. Pouches will see the fastest growth among aseptic packaging formats due to their lower weight and material usage, as well as the popularity of aseptically processed condiments.

Paperboard Cartons Remain the Fastest Growing Shelf-Stable Packaging Format

Aseptic and retort cartons have superior barrier properties and offer a lightweight, resealable way to package shelf-stable food. Soups, juices, and milk are established markets used with cartons; however, cartons are increasingly used with a variety of shelf-stable liquid applications – such as processed vegetables and sauces. This is due to their premium and sustainable image, bolstered by their large billboard space, simple shape, and consumers’ perceived image of paperboard as more environmentally friendly than plastic.

Sustainability Concerns Continue to Drive Innovation

Sustainability is an issue for all food packaging, but especially for shelf-stable packaging products such as pouches and cartons, which are often made of composite materials and can be difficult to recycle. These issues are driving the development of improved barrier materials that are more easily recycled. Food waste also remains a primary concern among consumers and producers, leading to the increasing usage of high evacuation rate shelf-stable formats such as pouches and bag-in-box, as well as resealable options ­– such as bottles and cartons – as opposed to traditional cans.

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