Flexible packaging and the label converter: a recent survey commissioned by All Printing Resources reveals a growing, profitable market and a tremendous opportunity.

Author:Katz, Steve

Flexible packaging is defined as any packaging or any part of a package whose shape can be readily changed. It can take on many shapes and sizes-bags, pouches, liners or overwraps-and it's a packaging technology that's on the rise. According to market research firm The Freedonia Group, in the US alone, demand for converted flexible packaging is projected to increase 3.3% annually to $20.7 billion in 2019.

Consumer demand for convenience, fresh food and added value are all fueling growth for flexible packaging. "Growth will benefit from the increased prevalence of value-added features, such as spouts and fitments, as well as the development of newer standup pouch designs that can contain heavier weight contents," explains Esther Palevsky, an analyst for The Freedonia Group.

The demand for bags is expected to rise at a slower pace, due to the maturity of a number of applications, competition from pouches, and to some degree, rigid packaging such as clamshells and blister packaging. Factors that will play into the growth of bags include increased food production, an expanding elderly population and a desire for bags for bulk and large-sized packaging applications. Some of these include pet food, chemicals, building materials and agricultural and horticultural products.

The demand for wraps and other converted flexible packaging is forecasted to increase 3.1% per year to $1.6 billion in 2019. Applications in this category include meat overwrap films, candy wrappers, butter and cheese wrappers, and sleeve overwraps for refrigerated dough. Nonfood applications include ream wrap, pharmaceutical strip packs and overwraps for items including paper products, soap, tobacco and bandages.

Because of the diversity of these applications and their levels of maturity, prospects in these uses will vary. Food applications, which accounted for 74% of demand in 2014, will experience faster growth than nonfood packaging.

Flexible packaging material demand is projected to increase 1.4% annually to 8.8 billion pounds in 2019. Factors contributing to this increase will include cost, performance and source reduction advantages over rigid materials. Advances in barrier strength and other physical properties will play a role, as well.

Materials used for converted flexible packaging involve a combination of plastic resins. These primarily include polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester and some specialty resins. Kraft and sulfite paper and aluminum foil are regularly used as a barrier layer.

These materials, often blended in coextruded or laminated constructions, offer an enhanced barrier for extended shelf life and freshness that competes favorably with rigid containers in many...

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