Insight: Influences on the Future of Specialty Films

In this latest bulletin, Smithers Pira assesses the key influences on the future of the specialty films market.

The Future of Specialty FilmsEconomic influences

Specialty film demand, like other polymer markets, is influenced by the economic cycle. However, consumer demand for staple products such as food, beverages and healthcare products has tended not to decline quite as much as demand for discretionary items such as consumer durable products, manufacturing or service industries when real income falls. European manufacturing production, for example, declined by around 18% during the 2009 recession compared to a decrease of only 3.0% in food and drink production. Furthermore, the European residential and non-residential construction sector output fell by around 18% between 2007 and 2010.

Social influences

There are a number of social trends affecting specialty films growth. Consumers of all ages are more genuinely concerned about their health than ever before and are purchasing healthcare products and food and drink products that are perceived to be healthier. This trend is benefiting specialty film sales for pharmaceutical and medical products.

An increasingly urban society is leading to busy lifestyles for consumers. People are working longer hours, there are more women in the workforce and there are also longer commutes to and from the workplace. Faced with growing time pressure, consumers are opting for convenience when selecting food and beverage products and their packaging. This favours packs that are easy to open, store and cook, including microwavable ready meal packs, boil-in-the-bag and stand-up pouches.

Similarly, there has been an increase in eating away from home for time-pressured consumers. As a consequence, food service packaging demand and portable packaged products for 'on the go' consumption have benefitted. The 'on the go' eating trend has spurred food manufacturers to expand their offerings of snacks, baked goods and beverages, in single-serving packages.

Demographic influences

The faster growing population of Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe and South America are generating additional demand for packaged products. In developed regions the population is aging. From 2010 to 2050, in developed regions, those aged 65 and over will swell from 16% to 26% of the population, while those aged 80 or over will rise from 4% to 9%. An ageing population in advanced economies and longer life expectancy in developing countries is leading to growing demand for healthcare and personal products. Furthermore, products and packaging must be designed with seniors in mind. While all manufacturers should be incorporating universal design principles into their packaging design briefs, this is especially critical for the priority product categories, such as prescription and OTC medications, functional foods, and heavy or spill-prone household products.

Other demographic trends include the growing numbers of single-person households and households where all adults work. These trends will boost demand for food in smaller package sizes and more convenient foods designed to reduce food preparation time.

Film downgauging

Downgauging or lightweighting refers to the process of reducing the amount of polymer and hence film thickness used to produce a plastic package whilst maintaining adequate strength and protection for the packaged product. Film downgauging can lessen the impact of packaging waste on the environment, reduce transportation costs and improve processor's profit margins.
There are still opportunities for further downgauging of specialty plastic film over the forecast period. Even for film where downgauging has gone as far as possible for the moment, technological advancements may provide future scope for lightweighting. This might be accomplished through use of nano-materials.

Source reduction and sustainable packaging

Sustainable packaging is growing in popularity because of the increasing focus by end users on carbon footprint and lifecycle impact analysis. Retail chains and brand owners are reacting to growing interest from consumers concerned with depletion of fossil resources and climate change and are taking initiatives to evaluate the packaging used by their suppliers in terms of source reduction, eco-friendliness and cost reduction. They are favouring the growing use of sustainable packaging based on biodegradable materials and bio-based packaging from renewable material, rather than conventional plastics.

For more information on the specialty films market, see Smithers Pira's report, The Future of Specialty Films to 2018.