US corrugated and paperboard box demand to grow 2.6% per year to 2020

E-commerce and retail-ready applications to drive growth; folding carton demand to be sustained by food service, carryout and pharmaceutical markets.

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Demand for corrugated and paperboard boxes in the US is forecast to increase 2.6% per year to $41.2 billion in 2020, as both non-durable goods manufacturing and retail sales post healthy gains.

These and other trends are presented in “Corrugated & Paperboard Boxes,” a new study from The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based industry research firm.

E-commerce and retail-ready applications will drive growth for corrugated boxes while folding carton demand will be sustained by the food service, carryout and pharmaceutical markets. Value gains for corrugated and paperboard boxes will be stimulated by the increased adoption of value-added features such as high-quality printing, easy-open tear strips, and special coatings. Volume growth, however, will be held back by lightweighting trends and market maturity.

Corrugated and solid fiber boxes will continue to hold the largest share of demand, comprising 74% of the total in 2020 and reaching $30.5 billion on growth of 3.0% per year. Corrugated boxes benefit from advantages in terms of cost and strength capabilities and will remain the default shipping container throughout the foreseeable future, despite some competition from reusable containers, flexible packaging, and film covers.

“Moreover, as the e-commerce market continues to expand, so too will demand for boxes to ship products to consumers,” said analyst Katie Wieser. Additionally, demand for shipping containers that can also act as retail displays will boost value growth as this application typically requires the use of high-quality printing and the integration of features that allow the box to be opened without tools.

Folding carton demand is forecast to increase 1.5% per year to $10.1 billion in 2020, posting slow growth as these containers face significant competition from flexible packaging formats such as stand-up pouches. However, the environmental advantages of folding cartons compared to foam or plastic clamshells for the restaurant carryout market will help to sustain gains.

Additionally, growing pharmaceutical output will boost demand for related packaging such as folding cartons. Demand for set-up boxes is expected to expand 2.0% per year to $540 million in 2020, bolstered by continued growth in cosmetics and toiletries, and durable goods such as silverware and medical instruments.


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