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Sustainability demands will push surging growth in sales of cartonboard, microflute and miniflute packaging over the next five years, providing strong growth prospects for carton printing.

Carton: set to surge over next five years
Folding carton: set to surge over next five years

Exclusive forecasting available to purchase now from Smithers in its latest market report – The Future of Folding Cartons to 2028 – shows this will reach 77.3 million tons in 2028, equivalent to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of +6.4 per cent.

Commercial printers are increasingly looking to carton packaging as a potential growth opportunity, as the commercial market stagnates at best, the latest figures would encourage those moves. Similarly, label printers are likely to see multiple print systems at the upcoming Labelexpo that can print both labels and some forms of carton.

According to Smithers, across the same period 2023 to 2028 the value of cartonboard will increase from US$60bn to US$80bn billion (at constant prices), equivalent to a CAGR of +5.7 per cent. Smithers says the global value of converted folding carton packaging will reach US$199bn by the end of this year, and then increase to US$275bn in 2028.

This year actual consumption of cartonboard, microflute and miniflute paperboard formats will reach a projected 56.8 million tons worldwide this year, up from 47.8 million tons in the pre-Covid year 2019.  

Offset, flexo or in this case HP digital: Carton opportunities for different types of print technologies
Offset, flexo or in this case HP digital: Carton opportunities for different types of print technologies

Analysis of 24 end-use applications included in Smithers’ data set reveals folding carton use will remain fairly evenly split between food and beverage, and other applications.

Much new growth is coming from evolving existing paper technologies to replace plastics, supported by legislation, such as the forthcoming revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive in Europe. This includes new formats in fresh produce, food service, beverage multipacks, ready meals, home, and personal care.

The fastest growing sectors across the next five years will be dry foods, confectionary, healthcare, personal care, and chilled food. Acceptance in several of these is conditional on deploying improved coating technology to protect fibres from wet or fatty foods, and present a premium print surface.

Smithers estimates that nearly 70 per cent of all cartonboard packaging carries a coating of some form. This year some 90 per cent of these coatings by weight are thermoplastic polymers or aluminum, and there is a premium to develop for functional coatings that do not compromise fibre recyclability. It says paper mills are taking steps to upgrade machines to enable or improve inline coating on the paper machine to meet the growing demand for these types of coated cartonboard.

Luxury packaging remains a major target for many suppliers, with new premium grades entering the market combining superior print surfaces, with greater recyclability credentials. This is stimulating greater demand for virgin pulp cartonboards. Simultaneously, there is an impetus to add smart tracking technology to folding cartons, giving greater supply chain insight and protecting high-value goods against counterfeiting.

The market is also having to negotiate price disruption. Raw material prices rose by 25 per cent or more last year, coming on top of a 14 per cent increase the year before. In the short-term this is creating a febrile marketplace, even as new folding carton assets come online.

 Some six million tons of production capacity entered the market between 2020 and 2022, which gives a global installed capacity in 2022 of 59 million tons, providing a buffer of some five million tons.

Paper mills are increasingly investing in more energy-efficient equipment and even trialing alternative pulp supplies. This is reflected in an increased consumption of uncoated recycled board; although coated recycled board/white-lined chipboard, and folding boxboard, will continue to represent the majority of the market.

Booming demand for dedicated e-commerce formats has translated into an acceleration of demand for microflute packaging, featuring a litho-laminated outer layer of cartonboard applied to the single-face corrugated under-layers. Over time, it is anticipated that some of this cartonboard market will be eroded by the use of linerboard, thereby removing the need for a separate lamination process.

The Future of Folding Cartons to 2028 dissects the current and future market for this packaging type in forensic detail. Its exclusive data (by volume and value) is presented in 350 tables and figures, segmenting the market by eight board grades and formats; 24 end-use applications, and 31 leading national and regional markets.

The business strategy guide to this rapidly evolving segment of the packaging market is available to purchase now.

Strong growth: Folding carton
Strong growth: Cartonboard production by region
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