The North American food and drink market is mature, but the expanding demand for packaging does not abate. Between 2012 and 2016, consumption rose by 9.8% to 700.92 billion packages, according to research by Smithers Pira. By 2022, the study projects, consumption across the region is forecast to increase by a further 19.6% to 838.12 billion units. In Europe, rising demand for innovation and shifting consumer requirements will push the food and beverage packaging market forward at a rate of 3.1% per year, reaching 1.32 trillion packages in 2023.
As we reported in the most recent issue of this magazine, food waste is growing and will not be ignored. Consumers are aware that the cost of waste is built into the price of the stuff they buy, and they insist on product freshness and safety. This demand is not lost on those competing for success in the food packaging segment. The popularity of ready meals is one area where such demand can be met.
Ready meals have been a fast growing part of consumers’ lives and are expected to increase in share. The evolving lifestyles and the needs and desires of intelligent consumers place significant demands on food marketers today.
The global ready meals market, valued at $194.06 billion in 2016, is expected to grow more than 13.6% from 2018 through 2023, according to Mordor Intelligence. “Though health concerns restrain the market, the perception of consumers towards ready meals has been improving constantly. The introduction of healthy ready meals and low carbon, biodegradable barrier tray packaging – which maintain the quality and increase the shelf life of products – are supporting the market. The need for constant innovation is a challenge for the manufacturers.”
The market has been segmented into frozen ready meals, chilled, canned, and dried ready meals. Frozen ready meals dominate the global market with a share of more than 52%. Europe dominates with a predicted market value of more than $45 billion, due mainly to the introduction of healthy ready meals. In the Asia-Pacific region, the ready meals market is expected to grow rapidly with India and China becoming the major markets in the region.
An analysis by Grand View Research says that advances in the packaging industry enable producers to meet those demands, challenging though they might be.
“Demand for food that is additive-free, minimally processed and with extended shelf life is expected to drive the market,” the study says. “Changing consumer lifestyle is another factor favorable for the ready meals market. Consumers are spending time commuting and working long hours; this has led to growing demand for maximizing limited leisure time. Travel has been driving the demand for ethnic flavors and food, which is expected to give impetus to the market. The chilled ready meals market is expected to be the fastest growing sector of the ready meal market. However, increasing safety concerns associated with ready meals could pose a challenge for industry participants.
“The market can be segmented on the basis of product into ethnic ready meals, dried ready meals, chilled ready meals, frozen ready meals and canned ready meals. The ready meals market across the US and Europe has grown in the recent years. Frozen meals account for the majority of the overall ready meal sales in Europe and the US. In addition, these products have greater shelf life and better value than chilled products.
“Despite the negative health perception, consumers’ increasing need for convenience is driving growth in the ready meals market. Over one-fifth of the world’s internet users purchase ready-to-eat meals rather than preparing traditional meals. Increasing need to preserve product shelf life, taste, texture, product quality, color and the vitamin content, from production to consumption, has motivated vendors to innovate new packaging designs that preserve the characteristics of the final products. Therefore, vendors have been working jointly with packaging manufacturers to stay competitive in the market.”
The Challenge of BPA
Bisphenol A, or BPA, has been in headlines around the world for several years. The compound is an ingredient in epoxy resins, which are used to form barriers in food and beverage containers to keep the contents from contact with the metal cans. Exposure to BPA can be a risk to human endocrine function, and as a result is the focus of both growing public concern and an effort by the food industry to replace it with a BPA-free barrier.
Many in the industry dispute the alleged risk of BPA exposure at the low levels used in can barriers. A recent study published by the Society of Toxicology, however, says, “BPA is one of the best-studied endocrine disrupting chemicals, with more than 75 out of 91 published studies showing associations between BPA exposure and adverse human health effects as of May 2013.”
In a recent interview with Packaging Digest, Robert Budway, the president of the Can Manufacturers Institute, said that at least 90% of can makers have replaced the linings in their products that had contained BPA.
“The Can Manufacturers Institute surveyed the industry, including can makers and can lining companies, to determine this percentage,” Budway said. “We believe the percentage is likely somewhat higher than 90, but we erred on the side of caution so as to avoid overstating the progress made.
“This percentage is increasing because when consumers made clear their preference to move away from BPA, the industry was eager to respond and committed to the research and testing necessary to find high-performing alternatives. Continual research is helping the industry innovate and find new options.”
He says that the new linings, which are made from acrylics and polyesters, are BPA-free.
The Food Packaging Forum notes, “Can manufacturers and food companies have started to replace BPA-based epoxy coatings by alternatives as a consequence of toxicological evidence, public discussions and recent regulatory decisions. Acrylic and polyester coatings are currently used as first generation alternatives to epoxy coatings and, more recently, polyolefin and non-BPA epoxy coatings were developed. Further inventions include BPA-capturing systems and top coatings. Most of these alternative coatings are more expensive than epoxy coatings and may not display the same array of characteristics with respect to their stability and universal applicability yet.”
Mexico Tackles Change
The nation of Mexico is not exempt from meeting the challenges of change in lifestyles and demographics. Packaging must conform to meet those changes. According to Euromonitor International, urbanization and the trend toward smaller households are determining the most significant shifts in demand, specifically for smaller packages, multipacks and packaging that is lighter, more portable and more easily stored.
Two years ago, the Mexican government instituted a series of special taxes on food and beverage products deemed to be unhealthy. The aim of the taxation imposition is to discourage consumption of food and drink that contributes to the country’s high rates of obesity and diabetes. A tax of 8% is applied to all food products with a minimum of 275 calories per 100 grams.
Some results are in. In the first year after the tax was introduced, consumption of sugary drinks declined 5.5%. In the second year the drop was 9.7%, averaging 7.6% over the two years. lnw
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.