Rigid v Flexibles: How big a bite can flexibles take?

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

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Rigid packaging will remain a necessity for some food and pharmaceutical applications, according to Transparency Market Research (TMR) – but Flexible Packaging Europe (FPE) believes the door is wide open for flexibles to take a big bite out of rigid packs. 

Both organisations agree on a healthy outlook for flexible packaging. But TMR warns flexibles face challenges from raw material prices and will always have to compete with rigid packaging to a certain extent.

FPE, however, argues raw material costs will affect all packaging, not just flexibles, while there are very few exclusive niches left for rigid packs.  

Volatile raw material prices

The flexible packaging market for food and beverages will grow at a ‘healthy’ CAGR of more than 4% between 2013 and 2019, and is expected to generate revenues upwards of $65bn in 2019, according to TMR.

Sheela Ak, director business development, TMR told FoodProductionDaily.com rigid packaging will ‘restrain’ growth of flexibles to a certain extent.

The firm believes volatility in crude oil prices – which consequently affects other chemicals – will keep flexible packaging growth in check.

The most common factors restraining the market for plastic flexible packaging are volatility in raw material prices and the various regulatory factors determined by the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] in terms of toxicity levels and recyclability,​” Ak said.

Add to this the necessity of rigid packaging for some food and pharmaceutical applications and this substitute market also plays a major role in restraining the flexible packaging market to a certain extent.​”

Everything can be flexible packaging

But Guido Auftemkamp, communications director, FPE, believes most rigid packaging products can make the transition to flexibles. The question is not of the necessity of rigid packaging, but consumer acceptance of flexibles, he said.  

There is the trend from rigid to flexible packaging. Basically everything can be flexible packaging – the only example I can think of [that can’t be flexible] is carbonated drinks. Even wine can be packed in pouches. But it depends on consumer acceptance and convenience.

Raw materials are used for any kind of packaging, so I wouldn’t say [price] is a flexible specific issue.​”

Auftenkamp agrees the market for flexibles looks healthy.  “It will continue like it has in the past years, also with general development and evolution and performance,” ​he said. “There may be more portion packaging. But it is hard to generalize. The dairy market has different conditions or requirements than the beverage market, for example.​”

Healthy growth for flexibles

The food and beverages market is expected to ‘fuel growth’ in the overall global flexible packaging market, and this segment will account for a major share of the whole market.

Factors such as varying eating habits, changing consumer lifestyles and growing awareness regarding benefits of packaged food are expected to drive the demand for flexible packaging in the food and beverage industry during the forecast period,​” said TMR.

Additionally, growth in the bottling industry is expected to fuel the demand for flexible packaging in the next few years.

Technological developments in the packaging industry and increased consumer preference for convenient packaged foods, biodegradable and fully recyclable plastics are being introduced in the market.”

Plastics are preferred material

In the global flexible packaging market (covering both food and non-food), plastics have been used extensively due to good barrier properties, cost effectiveness and durability. The material accounted for over 70% of the market share in 2012.

However, rising awareness of the environment has resulted in growing demand for biodegradable materials. Cellulose has been particularly popular because of its high durability and protection.

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