April 13, 2021

Fresh packaged produce expected to see solid growth in coming years

A new Freedonia Group analysis projects U.S. sales of fresh produce packaging to grow 3.7% per year to nearly $7 billion in 2024, as demand continues to rise among both consumers and foodservice establishments for produce sold in some form of packaging, including pouches, bags, and rigid plastic containers.

Among the key drivers of growth will be increasing sales of ready-to-eat (RTE) salads, as well as pre-cut produce such as apple slices, melon spears, and carrot sticks — which are typically sold in clamshells, cups, and other plastic containers. Sales of these and other prepackaged fresh produce have soared during the pandemic due to:

  • Surging grocery sales — including more packaging-intensive online grocery orders — as consumers began eating out far less and cooking in way more.
  • Increased concerns about the safety of loose bulk-bin items that have been handled by others in stores.
  • Rising demand for convenience foods, including RTE produce, which require minimal or no prep before consumption, unlike their unpackaged counterparts, which often need to be washed, peeled, and/or chopped.

Produce plastic container sales rose 5% in 2020, boosted by rising demand for RTE Produce

Sales of plastic containers increased 5% in 2020, the biggest gain of the main produce packaging types — boosted by their intensive use with RTE produce. The sharp increase recorded in organic produce sales further bolstered plastic container demand, as these premium brands tend to employ value-added rigid packaging for product differentiation purposes, whereas non-organic brands tend to employ bags or pillow pouches due to their lower cost.

Through 2024, sales of plastic containers are expected to outpace those for all other major packaging categories, as clamshells and other plastic containers continue to supplant commodity bags and pillow pouches due to their good protective and display properties.

“Fresh Produce Packaging” is now available from the Freedonia Group. This study analyzes the U.S. market for produce packaging. Historical data (2009, 2014, and 2019) and forecasts for 2024 are presented for produce packaging demand in current U.S. dollars (including inflation) by product and application.

Products covered include the following:

  • Retail-ready and other corrugated boxes (regular slotted containers, full telescoping boxes, boxes with cut-outs for display purposes, open-top tray-style boxes, fold-over gift boxes, bulk bins, and display ready boxes)
  • Plastic containers (clamshells, tubs, cups, bowls, square &and rectangular two-piece containers, and pails, domed containers, lidded buckets)
  • Bags, including bag liners (e.g., plastic mesh, paper, textile)
  • Flexible packaging (bags, pouches, plastic film) pouches (pillow and standup)
  • Plastic containers (clamshells, tubs, cups, bowls, square & rectangular two-piece containers, and pails)
  • Trays and platters (including molded pulp, rigid plastic, expanded polystyrene foam, and paperboard types)
  • Baskets, punnets and tills
  • Other products, including rigid plastic containers (RPCs), plastic film, foam boxes, wood crates, folding cartons, sleeves, dividers, tissue paper, and ventilation pads

Demand is also discussed by produce applications:

  • Fresh vegetables and salads — salad, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, lettuce, carrots, mushrooms, celery, broccoli, cucumbers, spinach and greens, sweet corn, sweet potatoes.
  • Fresh fruit — berries, apples, citrus, melons, grapes, avocados, bananas, cherries, kiwis, peaches, pears, pineapples.

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