US households spent about $3.75bn on luncheon meat in pouches in 2006, marking a doubling of sales from 2003, according to US market analyst Nielson Homescan Consumer Facts. Sales of luncheon meat not sold in pouches, however, went down, indicating that easy-to-handle packaging is the key driver in the processed meat industry, and perhaps is more important to consumers than the quality of the product itself. "As a package form, deli pouches are seriously outpacing other segments of sliced and non-sliced lunchmeat," Nielson stated in the report. Pouches containing the high-protein treat were bought by 56.2 per cent of American families, marking a doubling of sales from 2003, the report stated. This segment also represents 34 percent of the dollar volume of the total lunchmeat category, compared with four years ago, when it contributed just 19 percent of sales, the report added. Pouches of luncheon meat that ticked the health trend were particularly popular, the report said, with sales of organic, natural and low-fat pouches flying off the shelves. According to Neilson, organic boasted a 68.6 percent growth leap in dollar sales to $15.1m, natural varieties soared by 47.8 percent in dollar sales to $98.6m, a growth rate double that of the prior year, while fat-presence data for lunchmeat showed explosive sales trends for the "absence of specific fat" varieties rose a massive 987.8 percent rise to $2.0 million in pouches. However, sales of refrigerated sliced lunchmeat have fallen to $2.17bn, from $2.48bn in 2003. "It has slid by 1.3 percent, 3.0 percent, 4.1 percent and 4.8 percent in dollar sales each year," the report said. The food container market is currently experiencing overall growth in the US, as smaller household sizes and rising personal containers drive the demand for convenient packaging. According to the Freedonia Group, US demand for food containers will climb 3.3 per cent a year and reach $23.5 billion by 2011. Plastic containers and bags will experience the fastest growth, with the market worth $9.9bn in 2011 from $8.0bn in 2006, driven by its performance attributes and an increasing demand for smaller packages sizes, the group said. As a material for rigid packaging, plastic will continue to outpace paperboard, metal and glass in terms of percentage growth. Rigid plastic container demand is expected to grow 6.3 per cent each year from $3.3bn in 2006 to $4.5bn in 2011. Stand-up pouches with their visual appeal, product differentiation, convenience and portability will drive demand, along with reclosability and freshness protection, the study said. The study estimates that container demand for the fruit and vegetable market with increase at an average pace, faster growth will be experienced for pouches, bags, salad containers and other ready-to-cook fresh produce sold in plastic packaging. Gains are expected especially for meat and related products, dairy, and frozen specialty foods, because of shipment growth and more convenience targeted products on the market, which are often value added and designed to extend shelf life or aid access.