State of the Folding Carton Industry

Hub Folding Box won a first place award for its Rémy V.I.P. Cocktail Pack entry in packagePRINTING’s Excellence Awards competition.
Printers are finding the right tools and strategies to open up new opportunities in folding cartons.

Long after predictions about other kinds of printing have come to pass or failed to materialize, folding cartons will still be doing their time-honored job of bringing consumer products safely, efficiently, and attractively to market. The folding carton manufacturing industry has always benefited from this stability of demand, rising and falling more or less predictably with general trends in the consumer economy.

This doesn’t mean, however, that making folding cartons is itself a predictable business or one that isn’t subject to continuous pressure for change. In its present state, the folding carton industry is both mature and dynamic—rooted in its traditional role, but driven as never before to improve the value of what it offers to customers and consumers.

In a market of this size, there are plenty of opportunities to add value. Paper and board packaging, the largest segment of the packaging industry, is projected by Smithers Pira to be worth about $250 billion globally in 2016, with the U.S. accounting for better than one-quarter of the total volume. Smithers Pira reports that global folding carton production has grown by about 2.5 percent per year since 2005, and it expects this trend to continue.

Growth not at a gallop

The rate of growth in the U.S. is likely be more restrained, however. The Paperboard Packaging Council’s (PPC) Trends: 2012 Industry Outlook and Market Data Report forecasted that total growth in the folding carton market would average just 0.5 percent annually over the next five years, with carton shipments expected to rebound to 1.8 percent in 2012. Ben Markens, president of PPC, says that the actual growth figure for 2012 was one percent and that this pace has remained “pretty flat” through this year.

Markens agrees with market forecasts from RISI that identify food and beverages as the leading growth segments for folding cartons. In contrast, he says, are the two in steepest decline: tobacco and hardware. Tobacco use is diminishing in the U.S., and packaging for hardware—including commodities such as fasteners and nails—saw a drop in demand because of downturns in housing and construction.

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