Folding carton pack volumes set for growth

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As the threat of the pandemic recedes folding carton pack volumes are forecast to increase by two per cent for 2020-21, before recovering to a 4.6 per cent compound annual growth rate through to 2026.

Growing: cartons
Growing: cartons

The market size will grow by more than a quarter over the next five years, according to research agency Smithers, which is good news for print businesses, many of whom see cartons as an opportunity.

Smithers' latest market data says the global market for folding cartons will be $136.7bn this year, and as the market recovers from Covid-19 disruption, global demand will reach $172bn in 2026.

Converted carton volumes were found to also rise marginally from 48 million tonnes in 2019 to 48.3 million tonnes in 2020, but are forecast to surge to 61.58 million tonnes in 2026.

The new The Future of Folding Cartons to 2026 report shows that the Covid-19 pandemic slowed, but did not reverse, the rising demand for more cartonboard packaging witnessed across the 2010s.

Smithers says the report examines the immediate post-Covid and future market in unprecedented detail. Comprehensive historical and forecast data is given for cartonboard and converted folding cartons, by value and volume – presented in 300 data tables and figures.

This is segmented by board grade, end-use application, geographic and national market, including data on major mill and converter market shares, to produce an authoritative business forecasting tool as the industry enters the 2020s.

Production volumes rose by just 1.6 per cent in 2019-20 and conversion volumes increased by less than one per cent during the year. Total cartonboard production will be a projected $46.28bn in 2021, based on Smithers’ latest price estimations.

The pandemic has affected end-user consumption of folding carton packaging in varying degrees with different sectors exhibiting a range of recovery rates. Soft drinks volumes have seen the greatest decline in the past year, while for dry foods, folding cartons enjoyed good growth in 2020.

Medium term consumption is expected to show the highest growth rates in the confectionery and dry foods sectors.

As this happens, multiple drivers will help redefine the market proposition for cartonboard, including:

Sustainability will encourage wider use in some segments, as consumer, retailer and brand owner concerns over the environment lead to substitution of plastic materials. This is also seeing more interest in recycled grades, with the nascent market for uncoated recycled board (URB) seeing the fastest growth over the Smithers forecast period. This will be supported by legislation in many jurisdictions, and places an emphasis on the evolution of sustainable barrier technologies, especially for food-contact applications, like fresh produce trays.

E-commerce has become a focus for many retailers in 2020, with online sales rising by 25 per cent over the year, even as overall retail sales fell by three per cent. This is particularly focusing attention on microflute formats that can be litho laminated to exteriors of corrugated e-commerce delivery packs.

Over 2021-26 there will be wider use of digital printing (inkjet and electrophotography) systems, with higher speed presses to provide quick turnaround and variable data print to complement existing higher throughput analogue presses.

In the short term, there has also been the design challenge for folding carton converters to develop new pack formats for pharmaceuticals and other Covid-19 supplies, such as home test kits. With more online sales and trade in more sensitive goods there will be an increased use of tamper-evidence and other security packaging features through to 2026.

Geographic shifts are being reflected in converting capacities, even as the paper segment looks to adjust to a post-Covid world. In 2018-20, Smithers estimates nearly three million tonnes of new cartonboard manufacturing capacity came on stream, although this was offset by the closure of over 2.2 million tonnes. The new machines installed over this period included over 2.4 million tonnes of additional capacity to China.

For more, the definitive business strategy guide is now available to purchase for $6500 from the Smithers website.

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