Consumers want robust packaging, but they also want the products they buy to be light and to take up less space on their shelves, leaving thin-wall plastic and flexible packaging showing the greatest growth across the Polish food packaging sector, according to a report by market analysts Euromonitor.
A large part of this growth has also been put down to a surge in sales of dairy products across Poland, especially yoghurts and cheese-based goods, with Polish company Bakoma and German firm Zott now packaging all of their yoghurts in thin-wall plastic.
"Sales of the other packaging types are decreasing with thin-wall plastic gaining significantly, and an indication of thin-wall plastic's success is the fact that it accounts for the majority of new processed cheese product launches there," says the report.
One major consumer advantage of thin-wall plastic, compared to traditional paper or aluminium foil, is the development of resealable containers, which are now used on most processed cheese products weighing between 150 grams and 200 grams.
Elsewhere in the dairy sector, a rise in UHT milk sales has also benefited liquid cartons. The use of these cartons has risen by 30 per cent over the last four years and is expected to rise by 55 per cent in the next five years.
Of all packaging types, flexible packaging comes out on top, with a 67 per cent share of the market, compared to its closest competitor, rigid plastic, with an 18 per cent share.
Flexible plastic packaging is forecast to maintain its position at the top with an average 3 per cent increase every year, spurred on by a growing bakery and snacks sector and, in particular, a new law introduced by the Polish government in January 2003.
The law states that any bakery product which has been touched by a consumer's skin must be purchased by that consumer. As a result, retailers have begun selling more and more bread in flexible plastic foil in an effort to avoid using employees solely to watch the shop's bread section.
Euromonitor's report also expects growth in so-called metallised flexible plastic to be driven by its increased use with savoury snacks and cereals.
Underlying both the thin-wall and the flexible packaging trends is the dominance of plastic as the key packaging material, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the packaging industry, and predicted to remain on top for the foreseeable future by most food and packaging manufacturers interviewed by Euromonitor.
"However, the entire recycling issue is practically non-existent in Poland and an awareness among consumers regarding the environmental aspects of plastic is for the time being not that high, although more and more consumers are becoming sensitive to this issue," the report says.
Plastic is also increasingly popular with manufacturers as they look to lower their costs in a national food industry which has been hit hard by a poor-performing economy in recent years.
"One of these means is lowering transportation costs, including waste during transport. This means that manufacturers are looking more and more towards lightweight, non-fragile packaging, and these criteria work in favour of plastic packaging," states the report.
Other materials such as glass and metal have also shown some growth as part of the trend for thinner packaging. Since 1998, use of glass has risen almost 15 per cent and metal by nearly 10 per cent, although metal is expected to decline by around 2.3 per cent in the next five years.
Improvements in glass technology over the last decade have allowed for thinner glass containers which weigh 50 per cent less than traditional, thicker glass packaging and claim to be stronger.
Despite the higher cost of glass compared to other materials, the Euromonitor report says use of glass packaging will remain stable in the next few years with good growth potential, having already stolen some ground from metal food cans as consumers look to avoid a metallic taste in their food. For example, French company Bonduelle has started to sell certain vegetables, such as sweetcorn, in glass as well as cans.