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Demand for meat, poultry, and seafood packaging in the US is forecast to exceed US$9.5 billion in 2017, according to international business research company Freedonia Group.

Its new report, "Meat, Poultry & Seafood Packaging to 2017", predicts that Gains will be driven by improved growth in meat, poultry, and seafood production along with the growing presence of smaller sized and single portion items, and products that are further processed for convenience of preparation.

Heightened demand for single portion and other smaller sized products will reflect the significant level of one and two person households in the US, as well as efforts among processors and retailers to hold down selling prices of beef in the face of escalating prices. Products that are further processed generally employ more packaging relative to their volume than larger unprocessed items.

The significant shift to case-ready packaging among grocery retailers as a means to reduce labor costs will also drive value gains, as case-ready formats typically utilize more costly trays and high barrier films. Additional underlying growth factors will be the importance of packaging in the merchandising of protein products, and the need for packaging designed to provide longer shelf life and user friendliness in terms of resealability and storage.

According to Freedonia, flexible packaging demand growth will outpace that of rigid packaging as a result of solid prospects for pouches and high barrier film. Advances for pouches will be driven by heightened demand for single portion fresh, frozen, and processed products in vacuum pouches, with stand-up pouches continuing to supplant bags in frozen meat, poultry, and seafood applications due to their good aesthetics, ability to stand upright, and large front panels, all of which provide merchandising advantages.

The large package size requirements of club stores will also be stimulants for value growth. Gains for high barrier film will be based on the prevalence of vacuum packaging and modified atmosphere packaging with fresh and processed meats, since the efficacy of these packaging technologies generally depends on barrier films.

Among rigid packaging products, plastic containers and trays will see the fastest growth, the report said. Demand for plastic containers will be supported by the expanding presence of prepared meat and poultry items in supermarkets, warehouse clubs, and other retail sites. Tray demand will be helped by a shift in the product mix toward larger and more expensive foam and rigid plastic trays as a result of the increasing share of case-ready meats and the expanded presence of processed ready-to-cook meat, poultry, and seafood products.

However, plastic containers and trays will face increased competition from flexible packaging, which offers sustainability benefits via reduced material use, and significantly lower shipping costs than rigid containers.

The ready-to-eat market will log the fastest increases, driven by the growing range of prepared foods in the retail sector, analyzes Freedonia. Demand in the fresh and frozen market will be supported by the rising presence of case-ready and modified atmosphere packaging to extend the shelf life of fresh meat, poultry, and seafood. In the processed market, demand will be aided by product development efforts toward higher margin items offering convenience (e.g, precooked bacon, fully cooked ground meat, and products that can be cooked in their packaging) as well as a wider variety of flavors.

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