The growth outlook for PE film used to package frozen foods, meat, poultry, and ice is less optimistic than the double-digit gains forecasted for other consumer packaging. Mastio & Company's latest PE film market study predicts average annual growth of just 3.6% through 2006 for frozen-food, meat, poultry, and ice packaging. At that rate, resin use in this market will grow from 875 million lb in 2001 to 1 billion lb by 2006.
PE film in this market constitutes 29% of all PE film for consumer packaging. Meat and poultry packaging is the largest slice, representing 57% of the sector. The next largest sub-category is frozen-food packaging at 31% of the total, followed by ice bags at approximately 12%.
Frozen-food packaging shows the strongest growth opportunity over the next five years, and ice bags will have the slowest growth (see graph).
Increases in the number of dual-income and single-parent families mean that consumers today have less time to spend preparing meals. People are more likely to eat on the run and/or consume several mini-meals throughout the day. Consequently, consumers rely more and more on frozen foods, especially precooked products.
Stand-up pouches and reheatable entrees have the most potential for growth during 2002 and 2003. Frozen meal kits and entrees in flexible stand-up pouches can expect growth of 10% to 15%/yr. Most stand-up pouches have resealable zipper closures for storing uneaten portions. Reheatable meat entrees can be prepared by heating the frozen bag or pouch in the microwave and pouring the contents back into the tray it came in.
Processed meats such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, and bacon are expected to show little or no growth for the remainder of 2002 and beginning of 2003. However, case-ready meat packaging is growing faster because consumers associate it with quality and freshness. Although meat packaging is currently growing at 3%/yr, it is expected to accelerate slightly in 2003.
Ice bags are growing at the slowest rate. Packaged ice competes with gel packs, especially in medical uses. Gel packs have largely replaced ice in transportation of transplant organs or other medical perishables.
Frozen-food, meat, poultry, and ice packaging must maintain its strength at very low temperatures. LLDPE resin meets that requirement and is also favored in this market because it offers better downgauging ability. A traditional disadvantage of LLDPE, especially for ice bags, has been its lower clarity than LDPE. This has largely been overcome by metallocene grades (mLLDPE), which offer higher strength as well. These resins are also preferred for meat and poultry because they offer the clarity and oxygen resistance of PVC without any plasticizers, plus they have the grease resistance of ultra-low-density PE (ULDPE). Metallocene LLDPE also offers superior downgauging, high gloss, and faster printing and converting.
HDPE is used for meat and poultry packaging because of its higher strength and puncture resistance at thinner gauges. LDPE copolymers are used for all three market segments. EVA gives clarity, sparkle, and high seal integrity. A few processors use EAA for its low seal temperature, transparency, high shrink force at low temperatures, and outstanding puncture, abrasion, and tear resistance. However, mLLDPE is making inroads against more costly EAA.
Mastio & Company, based in St. Joseph, Mo., is a well-known consulting firm specializing in industrial-consumer opinion research and market trends in the plastics industry. For more information, call (816) 364-6200 or visit www.mastio.com/pt/outlook.html.