Flexible Packaging Forecasts: Market Researchers Say Segment Fraught with Challenging Dynamics

Adaptability, attractive operating expenses, excellent print capabilities, compact and efficient production lines, minimal energy requirements and low labor costs have combined and caused multiple industry analysts to declare flexography the print process of choice among flexible packaging converters.

While projections point to significant growth, differences in predictions are sizeable when it comes to dollar value, yet much more identical in terms of compound annual growth rate (CAGR) patterns. For good reason, too: Definitions of flexible packaging vary, with some market watchers including certain labels, paper wrappers and even select forms of carton, while others stick strictly to filmic substrates and the pouches, bags and sacks they can form.

From Research And Markets to Smithers Pira, and Mordor Intelligence to Arizton Research, CAGR calculates out to between 3 percent and 4 percent, with one group citing the low edge of the curve, one opting for the high end and two in the middle at 3.3 percent and 3.8 percent. Business volume expectations range from slightly less than $200 billion in 2024 to barely more than $300 billion.

All agree food packaging drives the business, with beverages and pharmaceuticals also being highly significant. Most discussed global trendlines, but Research And Markets had a great deal of North America-specific observations.

In succinct form, here is a look at findings and revelations reported out in late 2019.

Arizton’s recent research report, Flexible Packaging Market – Global Outlook and Forecast 2019-2024, proclaimed, “The global flexible packaging market is expected to reach revenues of more than $186 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 4 percent during the forecast period. Standup pouches are the most sought-after pouch products and witnessed a demand of more than 80 billion units in 2018. The US alone witnessed a demand of more than 10 billion units.”

A sample of flexible packages that captured recent FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards

Smithers Pira maintained, “Over the last 10 years, flexible packaging has taken off, doubling in size to $228 billion in 2019.” In fact, its latest market report, The Future of Flexible Packaging to 2024, forecasts that it will continue growing by an annual rate of 3.3 percent, reaching $269 billion in 2024. Suggested areas to watch include:

  • Supply chain efficiency—Flexible packaging allows manufacturers to increase efficiencies in manufacturing of products, including reduced transport costs and reduced waste
  • Lifestyle and social influences—Busier and more demanding lifestyles are leading to growing demand in convenience products, particularly food items

Mordor Intelligence contended, “The flexible packaging market was valued at $241.4 billion in 2018, and it is expected to reach a value of $303.2 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 3.9 percent, over the forecast period (2019-2024).”

Analysts added, “Consumer interaction with packages is changing. With an increasing focus on sustainability, traditional rigid packaging solutions are being replaced by innovative, flexible packaging solutions. Increasing market demands for consumer-friendly packages and enhanced product protection have propelled flexible packaging as a viable and cost-effective alternative.”

Elaborating on that observation, the research team members continued, “Flexible packaging for commodity goods and services is a high-volume, low-margin world of a product polymer manufacturer. It includes a wide range of processes, ranging from extrusion, slitting and rewinding to printing, coating and lamination.”

Research And Markets came in on the low scale of global market dollar projections (approximately $200 billion in 2024), but its market watchers zeroed in on North America’s experience. In that region, it pinpointed 2024 sales volumes at $42 billion, then said, “The North American economy has performed well over the years, thereby increasing the per capita consumer spend. The flexible packaging market in the US reported a total pack sale of more than 142 billion units in 2018.” Researchers noted, “Challenges related to regulatory compliance are influencing the dynamics of the North America flexible packaging market.”

Flexible Packaging Forecast Figures

There, like elsewhere, Research And Markets found that the food industry constitutes a share of more than 60 percent and is the major demand contributor for flexible plastic pouch packaging, followed by pharmaceuticals and beverages. Analysts noted, “While pouches and wraps constitute the highest share in the consumer flexible paper packaging market, application of paper wraps in the food industry is growing at an annual rate of 7 percent, driven by demand from dry and pet foods.” It was noted:

  • Four-sided, flat-seal pouches are expected to witness the highest growth rate driven by packaging application of meat, poultry and seafood items
  • Flexible paper packaging has wide applications in the health care sector and tobacco. In North America, the usage of paper wraps in the foodservice industry is growing at an annual rate of 8 percent to 10 percent, which is largely driven by the demand from pet food and dry food sectors
  • North America’s flexible packaging market for bags and sacks is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3 percent, with the food industry accounting for the highest share in pouch usage in both the US and Canada

Turning the discussion specifically to flexography, Research And Markets offered, “In North America, the market for packaging inks, such as flexographic and gravure inks, is expected to increase during the forecast period. Flexographic printing is widely adopted in North America and South America. The high adaptability of flexographic printing can be attributed to factors such as low operational cost and excellent print capabilities. Attributes such as low labor costs, compact press footprints and fewer energy requirements are key contributors to the high market share of flexographic printing.”

Finally, when addressing environmental consciousness in the flexible packaging marketplace, Research And Markets voiced multiple observations:

  • Sustainable flexible packaging is currently more dependent on recovering plastic products and recycling them. Bags, pouches and films are the major products in demand in North America
  • Many vendors are expected to shift completely to green packaging materials by 2025. The penetration of bio-based plastics in several end-user categories is expected to increase and favorably influence early movers in the industry
  • Sustainability is not limited to material; it extends to the production process, logistics, functionality, and end-user of the product. The need to positively impact the environment is high among both buyers and suppliers