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PE Film Market Analysis: Frozen Foods

By: James Callari 27. July 2015

 

Last year, polyethylene  resin consumption for frozen-food packaging reached 343.5 million lb. This market's consumption of PE is expected to increase at an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 5% over the next three years, boosting it to 397.8 million lb.

 

These are among the conclusions of the most recent study of the PE Film market conducted by Mastio & Co., St. Joseph, Mo.

 

Industry analysts estimated that U.S. retail sales of frozen foods were flat and amounted to approximately $44 billion in 2012 (most recent figures), with nearly all dollar sales gains resulting from inflation or new products. Previous forecasts that this market would expand aggressively did not come to pass due to the nation’s slow economic recovery, changing consumer eating patterns, demographics, and shopping patterns, according to the Mastio report.  Retailers are expected to continue focusing on the “freshness” factor and promote fresh foods, due to competition from prepared fresh foods, shelf-stable foods, and restaurants; thus hurting frozen foods and frozen foods packaging sales.

 

PE film used in frozen foods is limited to packaging some, not all, of the frozen foods sold such as vegetables, fruits, pizza, pastries, potato products, appetizers, and some breakfast and side-dish items. According to several industry analysts, U.S. product shipments of frozen fruits and vegetables reached $11.1 billion dollars in 2011 (most recent figures). A little more than 72% of the product shipment value amount was captured by the frozen vegetables segment, and the remaining by the frozen fruit segment.

 

PE frozen food film is typically sold as rollstock, but some companies manufacture finished bags. Rollstock frozen food film varies in width and length depending upon customer specifications. Typically, widths range from 6 in.  to 40.0 inc., but can be as wide as 90 in, Mastio’s research reveals. The gauge of this film ranges from 0.5 mil to 6.0 mils, with 1.5 mils and 2 mils being the most typical. Institutional (food service) rollstock is typically 1.5 mils to 2 mils, and retail (consumer) rollstock typically has a gauge ranging from 2 mils to 2.5 mils.

According to the study, finished bags are commonly 12-in. wide by 12- in. long . Smaller bags are commonly 8-in. wide by 15-in. long. The largest (institutional) finished bags are 48- in.-wide by 60-in. long. Finished bags are generally 2.25 mils and typically come in 9-, 16-, 20-, 32- and 40-oz capacities, says Mastio

 

Some performance specifications for frozen food film include the following: sealability, strength, puncture resistance, moisture barrier, odor barrier, oxygen barrier, toughness, cold temperature resistance, opacity and appearance. Because of the damaging ultraviolet rays from fluorescent lighting in grocery store freezers and unsightly ice crystals which surround frozen foods, many manufacturers blend titanium dioxide (TiO2) in the film structure to produce opaque film.

 

Zippered closures have been accepted in the frozen food packaging market. Zippered bags have been used to package fish, battered chicken strips, and various other appetizers. Zippered closures enable the consumer to use a portion of the product, reclose the package, and return it to the freezer with the food product protected from possible freezer storage damage. Although the zippered closure offers convenience, added value, and product freshness; it has yet to completely penetrate the market, primarily because it is more expensive than traditional frozen food bags.

 

MATERIAL ALTERNATIVES

Other materials, such as biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) film, PP film, polymer-paper structures, polyester film, wax paper, and extrusion coated paperboard cartons, all compete with PE film for frozen-food packaging, says Mastio. Although alternative packaging is commonly used in the frozen foods market, PE film is the preferred material because of its superior moisture retention properties. Over time, frozen produce packaged in extrusion coated paperboard cartons loses moisture and become brittle, while PE bags retain the natural moisture in frozen foods. When frozen foods film producers were asked what the advantages of PE film were, responses included: cost effectiveness, good sealant properties, ease of disposal, source reduction of packaging, and ease of recycling, Mastio says.

 

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

Frozen food packaging is produced via blown and cast film extrusion processes. That said, according to this report, approximately 99.1%  of the PE film for this market was processed via blownfilm.

 

Frozen food packaging can be either monolayer or multi-layer coextruded in construction. Approximately 46.1% of PE film utilized in the frozen food packaging market was monolayer in construction. More frozen-food film is multi-layer. Participants in the Mastio study reported producing 2-, 3-, or 5-layer coextruded films; several companies have capabilities of coextruding up to 11-layers.

 

Mastio & Co. profiled 32 North American film extrusion companies in the frozen food film market during 2014. The five largest producers of frozen food PE film are: Bemis North America; Sigma Plastics Group; Apollo Management, L.P. (Berry Plastics Corp. Div.); EPC Industries Ltd. (Polycello Ltd. Div.) ; and Sigma Plastics Group (ISO Poly Films, Inc. Div.). Collectively, they consumed approximately 51% of PE resin this market gobbled up last year.

 

MY TWO CENTS

“Millennials” (the generation born between 1982 and 2001) will play a strong role in determining the future of this market. By and large, they  are less brand-loyal and are more willing to purchase organic and locally produced products and meal solutions. As millennials move into their peak earning years, this growing consumer segment will spend nearly 50% of their food budget on ready-to-eat solutions, such as take-out food and restaurant meals. Millennials buy fresh food more frequently and eat immediately versus the older generations that buy, store and eat later.

 

That said, some PE film processors are predicting and hoping for growth through innovative products and packaging, population growth, and the fact that companies such as Nestle S.A. and ConAgra Foods, Inc. are improving efforts to reinvigorate this sluggish food segment.

 

One other point: unlike higher-volume PE markets, the major players in frozen-food film hold a strong yet not overwhelmingly dominant position in the market, suggesting there is room for processors with innovative solutions to either enter the market or grab market share.

 

PE Film Market Analysis: Cheese Packaging

By: James Callari 14. July 2015

 

Cheese packaging is designed to contain three major cheese types including natural cheese, powdered cheese and processed cheese. Natural cheese is manufactured from pasteurized milk with no secondary processing. Natural cheese is aged by manufacturers and continues to age on the shelf. Powdered cheese is natural cheese which is dehydrated and powdered for use as a flavoring in snack foods and other food products. Processed cheese is produced by squeezing natural cheese solids, which are ground and cooked with whey, water, salt, and emulsifiers to enhance shelf life and stability. The cooking process also pasteurizes the product and stops the aging process.

 

In 2014, 232.2 million lb of PE were consumed by processors making cheese packaging. Withan average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 4.4%, the cheese film market is projected to consume 264.3 million lb of PE resin by 2017.

 

These are among the conclusions of the most recent study of the PE Film market conducted by Mastio & Co., St. Joseph, Mo.

 

Natural cheeses require packaging with greater barrier properties than processed cheeses because natural cheeses are highly susceptible to outside aroma transfer and spoilage from exposure to oxygen, Mastio reports. The type of film utilized for natural cheese packaging depends on how long the cheese will be aged. Longhold cheese remains in packaging film for 60 days or longer during aging. Short-hold cheese requires greater gas barriers to help slow the aging process.

 

An exception to this is Swiss cheese, which is very gassy, so the film must allow gas to escape. Excess gas in Swiss cheese packaging will not harm the cheese, but consumers prefer that cheese film fits tightly around the cheese. Natural cheese film ranges in gauge from 2-5.0 mils, with 3 mils being the most typical, according to Mastio’s research.

 

Processed cheeses do not need a gas barrier because they are not aged; however, processed cheeses do require a grease barrier because of the emulsifiers used. Flex-cracking and hermetic seal requirements are less rigorous for processed cheese films than for natural cheese films. Some processed cheeses do not require refrigeration. Processed cheese film ranges from 1-3 mils in thickness, says Mastio.

 

MATERIAL ALTERNATIVES

In the past, polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) films were sometimes used in the cheese packaging market, but in 2014 there was no reported usage of this material. PVDC films have higher hot fill capabilities than PE films and provide good gas barriers. However, as Mastio points out, PVDC resins are often more costly than PE resins, and do not always process as well as PE resins.

 

Oriented polypropylene (OPP) film is another polyolefin material utilized for this market and is often used for its moisture barrier properties. Additionally, oriented polyester film is substituted for OPP film when gas flushing is not a requirement. Processed cheese slices are often packaged with polyester film.

Foil substrates are also used in this market, and are often laminated to PE films, which add flexibility and strength.

 

During 2014, approximately 84.1% of the PE film for cheese packaging applications were manufactured using the blown film extrusion process, according to Mastio. The remaining 16.9% of PE cheese film was manufactured by the cast film extrusion process.

 

Coextruded film is most common in this market representing 81.1% of resin consumption. The number of coextruded layers can be as high as eleven, however, three-layer and five-layer structures are most typical for cheese film. In coextruded structures nylon and ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer (EVOH) resins can be used with PE resins because they provide the required oxygen and gas barrier properties necessary. More sophisticated coextruded structures may consist of PE/tielayer/nylon/EVOH/nylon/tie-layer/PE resins. In this market, PE films are typically laminated to other substrates, including oriented polyester, OPP, cellophane and PVDC films.

 

MY TWO CENTS

Among those film processors profiled by Mastio, three of them—Bemis North America; Winpak Ltd. (Winpak Films, Inc. Div.); and Sealed Air Corp. (Cryovac Div.)—collectively held 76.4% of the cheese-film market in 2014. These are considered by many to be among the elite in film processing. This is a fairly small market and, ironically, improved economic conditions can actually adversely impact it. That's because when the economy is good, people tend to eat out more and thus buy less pre-packaged food,

PE Market Film Analysis: Converter Film

By: James Callari 29. June 2015

 

Last year, approximately 1. 073.1 billion lb of PE resins were consumed in the production of sheet and tubing film, also referred to as converter film. With an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 3.6%, PE resin consumption for the production of sheet and tubing film should reach 1.194 billion lb by 2017.

 

Several processing companies are periodically involved in the sheet and tubing market,manufacturing sheet and tubing on an “as needed basis” to fill capacity during slower periods of demand for other traditional PE film products. Other PE film extrusion companies reported manufacturing sheet and tubing intermittently according to specifications by film converters or end-use customers. Some participants in this market extrude film only, while others extrude film and also convert film into various packaging products.

 

These are among the conclusions of the most recent study of the PE Film market conducted by Mastio & Co., St. Joseph, Mo.

 

According to Mastio research, during 2014, the six largest sheet and tubing processors that participated in the company’s study were market were: Sigma Plastics Group; Apollo Management, L.P. (Berry Plastics Corp. Div.); Next Generation Films, Inc.; Emballages Polystar (Polystar Packaging Canada, Inc. Div.); Inteplast Group Ltd. (IBS Div.; Lone Star Plastics, Inc. Div.; Niaflex Corp. Div. & Trinity Plastics, Inc. Div.) and Inteplast Group Ltd. (P&O Packaging, L.L.C. Div.). Collectively, those processors gobbled up close to 50% of the material consumed in this market.

 

MATERIAL TRENDS

 

Overall consumption of LLDPE-butene, LLDPE-hexene, LLDPE-super hexene, LLDPE-octene, and mLLDPE resins have outpaced overall consumption of LDPE resin for the sheet and tubing market, according to Mastio research. LLDPE resins yield greater impact strength and puncture resistance in lower gauges than LDPE resin. High-clarity grades of LLDPE resin allows manufacturers to produce films with high optical properties in thinner gauges than was previously possible with LDPE/LLDPE resin blends. This has further eroded LDPE resin’s dominance in this market.

 

LDPE resins were the second most utilized material of choice for the production of sheet and tubing, either utilized alone, in blends, or in multi-layer film coextrusion. LDPE resin’s characteristics of high clarity, ease of processing, low relative costs, and adaptability of blending with other PE resins are some of the reasons for its greater use. LDPE-copolymers, such as LDPE-ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer (LDPE-EVA copolymer), LDPE-ethylene methyl acrylate copolymer (LDPE-EMA copolymer), and LDPE-ethylene acrylic acid copolymer (LDPE-EAA copolymer) resins will continue to be utilized in blends or in multi-layer film coextrusion with other PE resins.

 

Medium molecular weight-HDPE (MMW-HDPE) and high molecular weight-HDPE (HMW-HDPE) resins are extruded solely, in blends, or in film coextrusion with LDPE and LLDPE resins. HDPE resins allow even further downgauging, while providing even greater film strength than LLDPE resins. HDPE resin is also utilized as an additive in blends with LDPE or LLDPE resins, or as a processing aid to add stiffness and increase bubble stability in blown film extrusion. This is especially helpful in bubble diameters greater than 80 in. Additional benefits of utilizing HDPE resin are added barrier properties, excellent environmental stress crack resistance (ESCR), and greater ease for converting the film into finished bags or sacks. However, when implementing HDPE resin, some film clarity is sacrificed.

 

Other resins reported in the market during 2014 included the following: medium density PE (MDPE), polypropylene (PP), nylon, and ethylene-vinyl alcohol copolymer.

 

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

 

During 2014, the 99.7% of film for the sheet and tubing market was produced utilizing the blown film process, accounting for 1,069.6 MM lbs. (99.7%) of resin consumption, states Mastio.  Cast film accounted for the rest. Monolayer sheet accounted for about 60.3% of PE resin consumption, with coextruded sheet representing the rest.

 

Improvements in both film coextrusion and PE resin technologies have greatly increased the sophistication of PE films. A greater variety of film characteristics are now possible, such as a three-layer form, fill and seal sheeting with different levels of coefficient of friction (COF). The film can have outside high cling, inside high slip, and a sandwiched layer of linear low density PE (LLDPE) resin manufactured using the metallocene single-site catalyst process (mLLDPE). The high cling side helps prevent the packaged product from shifting or slipping after being stacked. The one side high slip allows greater ease of inserting the product into the package. The inner layer of mLLDPE resin allows faster production rates by affording greater hot tack strength than conventionally produced PE resins.

 

Film downgauging is another advantage of film coextrusion technology, by allowing film processors to combine low density PE (LDPE) resin with stronger LLDPE or high density PE (HDPE) resins. Coextruded sheet and tubing film ranged from two-layer to seven-layer constructions, with the three-layer structure being the most typical.

 

MY TWO CENTS

 

Converter film is one market where complex film structures will continue to be developed as processors seek a means to distinguish their products from competitive offerings. Today’s three-layer structures will be tomorrow’s five-layer configurations, as suppliers of both materials and extrusion technology continue to push the envelope in product development. Another trend to watch is development of new equipment technologies that help processors switch from one product to another to minimize waste and allow them to more ready deal with lower-volume runs.

PE Film Market Analysis: Consumer Can Liners

By: James Callari 15. June 2015

 

The consumer trash bag market can be divided into the categories of national brand, private label, and generic market segments. All three types of bags can be purchased by consumers in a variety of places including grocery stores, mass merchandise stores, and discount stores. National brand and private label bags are usually sold at a higher price than generic bags. Typically, there is very little, if any, advertising to promote the generic bags, further helping to lower the costs to consumers.

 

In 2014, approximately 1.023 billion lb of PE resin were consumed in the production of consumer trash bags. By 2017, consumption of PE resin for the consumer trash bag market is expected to reach about 1.040 billion lb, with an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 0.5%,.

 

These are among the conclusions of the most recent study of the PE Film market conducted by Mastio & Co., St. Joseph, Mo.

 

Many processors are producing consumer trash bags in designer colors, Mastio reports. Consumers can find trash bags in a variety of colors, ranging from soft pastels to something more bold and bright. Current trends are the determining factor in the availability of specialty hues. Also available are scented and odor blocking consumer trash bags. Vanilla, cinnamon and spring flowers are just a few of the scents that customers will encounter when shopping for kitchen or bathroom trash bags. Combining colors and scents has transformed consumer trash bags from just a common necessity to a decorative commodity.

 

According to Mastio, in 2014 the four largest consumer can liner processors wereClorox Co. (Glad) Manufacturing Co.; The Rank Group/Reynolds Consumer Products, Inc. Group (dba Presto Products Co. Div.); Poly-America, L.P. and Apollo Management, L.P. (Berry Plastics. Combined, Mastio says these companies consumed approximately about 67% of PE resin used in this market.

 

MATERIAL TRENDS

The resin most commonly utilized for consumer trash bags in 2014 was LLDPE, says Mastio. LLDPE resin provides added strength, puncture, and tear resistance over LDPE resin, which makes the bags less apt to puncture. Blending or coextrusion of LLDPE resins with LDPE materials allows processors to downgauge the film while maintaining or increasing the overall strength of the consumer trash bags.

 

The metallocene single-site catalyst based LLDPE (mLLDPE) resin is used to improve the strength and puncture resistance of consumer trash bags. When used in blends or in coextrusion with conventionally produced PE resins, mLLDPE resin greatly enhances the physical properties of the films in lower gauges. Other reported LLDPE resins utilized in this market include LLDPE-hexene, LLDPE-octene, LLDPE-butene, and recycled post-consumer LLDPE (PCR-LLDPE).

LDPE resins were the second most commonly consumed material in this market during 2014. LDPE resin, when utilized in blends or in coextrusion with LLDPE resin, adds to the overall appeal of the finished bags. LDPE resins have the greatest clarity of all grades of PE resin and give the film a higher surface gloss. Bag clarity can be important for custom tinted, semi-transparent bags used in recycling programs. Additionally, both LDPE-homopolymer and LDPE-ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer (LDPE-EVA copolymer) grades, when used alone or in blends, have increased processing ease and improved seal characteristics. Other reported LDPE resins utilized in this market included LDPEethylene- methyl acrylate copolymer (LDPE-EMA copolymer) and LDPE-ethylene acrylic acid copolymer (LDPE-EAA copolymer).

 

High molecular weight-HDPE (HMW-HDPE) and medium molecular weight-HDPE (MMW-HDPE) resins were also utilized in 2014 yielding added strength to consumer trash bags. Consumer trash bags constructed with HDPE resin are three times stronger and more durable than LLDPE or LDPE trash bags of the same thickness. HDPE resin is more puncture-resistant and/or less apt to zipper if punctured vs. bags constructed with LDPE resin. Consumer trash bags constructed with HDPE have less surface gloss, are stiffer, and have less stretch than either LLDPE or LDPE bags. Additionally, HDPE resin requires specialized film extrusion equipment and is more difficult to process.

 

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

 

In 2014, 100% of consumer can liners were produced by blown film extrusion Monolayer film construction was most prevalent accounting for about 95% of resin consumption for this market.

 

MY TWO CENTS

 

As with institutional can liners, the fact that this market is still so heavily dominated by single-layer structures is surprising, suggesting that products are being produced on older equipment. The challenge for consumer can liner makers is to produce more structures containing recycled materials. Some are having issues with getting their hands on material. Others, such as Aluf Plastics, have been using reclaimed material for years. As consumers and retail establishments place demands on manufacturers of all types to use reclaimed material, you’ll see more processors including post-consumer scrap in their products in the years ahead, either as a blend with prime resin in a single-layer structure, or as a core layer as more multi-layer capacity comes on stream.

PE Film Market Analysis: Institutional Can Liners

By: James Callari 2. June 2015

 

During 2014, approximately 1.398 billion lb. of PE was consumed in the production of institutional trash bags. With an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 3.7%, this market is expected to increase to 1.561 billion lbs of PE resin consumption by 2017.

 

These are among the conclusions of the most recent study of the PE Film market conducted by Mastio & Co., St. Joseph, Mo.

 

Widths of institutional trash bags range from 13 to 69 in., with the most typical width being 30 in. Institutional trash bag lengths vary from 17 in. to 90 in., with the average length being 48 in. Institutional trash bag capacities range from 4 gal to 90 gal, with 33, 40, and 45 gal being the most common, Mastio notes.

 

Institutional trash bag film gauges range from 0.1 mil to 10 mils in the United States (U.S.) and 0.3 mil to 12.8 mils in Canada. Many producers stated there is not a typical gauge for institutional trash bags as the film gauge depends on the application, Mastio points out.

 

MATERIALS TRENDS

Many institutional can liner processors are beginning to use biodegradable resins such as polylactic acid (PLA) and synthetic polyesters in the production of institutional trash bags. PLA is a corn-derived biodegradable plastic that is designed to biodegrade in any standard compost bin.  That said, none of the processors who participated in the Mastio study reported any use of PLA resin in the production of can liners during 2014.

 

Mastio reports that the resin most commonly utilized for institutional trash bags in 2014 was LLDPE. LLDPE provides added strength and tear resistance over low density PE (LDPE) resin, which makes the film  less apt to puncture. LLDPE can be further down gauged without sacrificing strength. Various grades of LLDPE resins utilized in this market include the following: LLDPE-hexene, LLDPE-butene, LLDPE-octene, mLLDPE, and LLDPE-super hexene.

 

High density PE (HDPE) was the second most utilized material in this market during 2014. High molecular weight-HDPE (HMW-HDPE) and medium molecular weight-HDPE (MMW-HDPE) resins allow processors to manufacture institutional trash bags in thinner gauges that are about three times stronger and more durable than other trash bags constructed with LLDPE, LDPE, and/or medium density PE (MDPE), according to Mastio HDPE provides the highest level of puncture resistance of all PE resin material. However, HDPE requires more costly, specialized film extrusion equipment and is more difficult to extrude. Several film processors in this market lack the specialized film extrusion equipment needed to process HDPE materials.

 

Post-consumer reclaim was the third most commonly utilized material in the production of institutional trash bags during 2014. The reported utilization of PCR included post-industrial scrap resins consisting of PCR-LLDPE, PCR-LDPE and mixed PCR-PE (HDPE, LDPE, LLDPE and MDPE). Cost savings and adherence to mandates of PCR content by a few states, such as California; have also contributed to increased use of PCR in this market.

 

LDPE is also utilized in this market, mostly in blends with LLDPE and in multi-layer coextrusions. One advantage of utilizing LDPE resin is increased bag clarity, which is important for bags used in recycling programs. Also, LDPE resin, when used alone or in blends, has increased processing ease.

 

Utilization of LDPE-homopolymer, LDPE-ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer (LDPE-EVA copolymer), and LDPE-ethylene-methyl acrylate copolymer (LDPE-EMA copolymer) grades were reported in this market during 2014.

 

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

Monolayer blown film constructions remain the principal design for institutional trash bags, accounting for more than 94.3% of PE resin consumption.

 

MY TWO CENTS

It’s a bit surprising that monolayer structures are still the technology of choice in this market. It suggests to me that equipment assets in this market are aging. As more film-recycling streams start to develop, it’s possible that institutional liner companies will add more coextrusion capacity. As the report suggests, many are using PCR now, but apparently in blends with prime resin in single-layer structures.

 




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