With a US market volume of more than $2 billion in 2003, the material has proved highly flexible and adaptable.
According to Kline's materials industry manager LaVerne Ellerbe, these market pressures have been a key driver behind the growth for plastic films. "In the price-driven flexible packaging markets, barrier film converters like Pliant and Pechiney Plastic Packaging have found a competitive advantage in new technologies. They've developed new film structures, coating technologies, and package designs that compete more effectively against foils and other traditional barrier materials."
Key developments in flexible packaging include recent equipment advances that have enabled coextrusion of films with more than seven layers. New package structures like multilayer standup pouches and metallic films have also allowed plastic films to aggressively compete against rigid packaging in a number of areas such as snack food packaging.
Innovations in barrier coatings technology have also intensified intermaterial competition among plastic films, including high-performance barrier structures fabricated from OPP and PET. And multilayer coextruded films are now vying for a larger share against laminated and coated film structures.
Even with advances in technology, the prime mover in the world of packaging is still pricing. "Not only do plastic films have to do it better than other barrier materials, they also have to do it cheaper to win new applications and maintain their share in replacement markets," said Ellerbe. She points to silicone oxide and aluminum oxide coatings that are now economically feasible, delivering a value-added barrier over foils in clear, retortable standup pouches. Metallic films have also proved to be cost- effective in snack food packaging, and laminated plastic/foil constructions are displacing metal cans in fish and pet food containers.
The Kline study predicts that over the next five years, continued consolidation and intense competition will drive industry participants to formulate clear strategies for what lies ahead. "Packaging materials suppliers need to be aware of where their products and their competitors' products are in their life cycles in order to focus their R&D efforts, defend market share, and maintain growth," said Ellerbe.
To examine recent industry trends and quantify the market for barrier materials used in flexible packaging, Kline is planning to undertake a comprehensive market study. High-performance barrier packaging films 2004 will provide market size, segmentation, and growth data, including forecasts through 2008. The study will also include a technology overview, end-use market and package structure analyses, and profiles of leading and niche suppliers of barrier films and resins. It will identify and analyze opportunities for high-performance barrier films in dynamic flexible packaging markets.
Established in 1959, Kline & Company is an international business consulting firm that offers a broad range of services to the plastics and packaging materials industries. For further information, visit the company's website or email LaVerne Ellerbe.