Industry Market Trends

Legislation at the Core of Food-Contact Packaging Trends

Jul 31, 2014

Packaging researcher Smithers Pira says the food-contact packaging market will continue to be influenced by legislation at all jurisdictions, local and national, around the world. The global roster of allowable substances is one in constant motion and which increasingly includes recyclable and recycled materials.

In recent years, there have been many significant developments regarding food-contact regulations and consumer perception of associated materials and technologies used in packaging. From the controversy surrounding plasticizer use to the growing packaging consumption in China, the food-contact packaging market has to continue moving in lockstep with consumer and government demands.

Consumer and Regulatory Pressure for BPA Phase-out

Bisphenol A (BPA) continues to dominate the food contact agenda because of the heightened perception that the plasticizer has adverse health effects when it migrates from packaging to food.

BPA has been widely used in food packaging for a long time, within clear plastics and inside metal cans. Although BPA's true hazard profile is contested, recently there have been suggested links to diabetes, as well as miscarriages and heart disease. An ongoing high media profile is manifesting in consumer-led moves to force manufacturers to make non-BPA products. Initially aimed at changing infants' and children's items (such as feeding bottles, pictured), the movement is now affecting all food packaging.

Alternatives to BPA for use in food-contact materials exist. In fact, an inventory listing 73 substitutes was published by France's food safety agency, ANSES, in April 2013. These consist of 21 polycarbonate polymers, 18 epoxy resins, and 34 thermal papers. However, hazard assessments have not been done for these materials, making any kind of meaningful substitution difficult. According to an ANSES status report, "no single alternative stood out for replacing bisphenol A for all of its uses... [and most] have not yet undergone thorough toxicological testing."

On the other side of the coin, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintains that there is "no convincing evidence" to support restrictions of BPA. Attempts by California lawmakers to require compulsory marking of BPA containers were defeated in court. The European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, earlier this year issued a new statement recommending that the current tolerable daily intake (TDI) of BPA be lowered from its current level of 50 g (micrograms)/kg bw (kilogram of body weight)/ day (or 0.05 mg/kg/bw/day) to 5 g/kg bw/day (0.005 mg/kg/bw/day).

EFSA also noted that uncertainties remained over a number of other health hazards considered as less likely. As a result, the proposed TDI should be set on a temporary basis pending the outcome of research from the U.S. National Toxicology Program, which will address many of these current uncertainties about the potential health effects of BPA. However, EFSA concluded that BPA poses a low health risk to consumers as exposure to the chemical is well below the temporary TDI.

Toxicological threshold of concern (TTC) is an alternative method for assessing the substances migrating from food packaging. It offers a quick, effective method to screen out chemicals found at very low concentrations. The FDA already accepts TTC, and EFSA has a positive position, too, meaning other jurisdictions could also approve this cost-effective measure in the near future.

Public concern about BPA, especially in the United States, continues to be high, despite official reassurances. Consumers drive the non-BPA market by increasingly opting for products labeled as "BPA-free," with retailers and manufacturers following suit.

China Will Offer Food-Contact Packaging Opportunities

China is fast becoming a priority market for food packaging suppliers. The country is seeing a transition from traditional shops to Western-style supermarkets and packaged food, and Beijing is making a conscious effort to cut red tape for suppliers.

The Chinese food packaging market rose from almost $18 billion in 2007 to over $33 billion in 2012. This market will continue to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7 percent over the next four years. Beverage packaging will rise at a CAGR of 8 percent until 2018, driven by increased consumption of bottled and canned beverages. The Chinese markets for food and beverage packaging will rise to $50 billion and $17 billion, respectively, over the next five years.

Food packaging materials used in China are now the responsibility of a single body: the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), founded in March 2013. The CFDA is now compiling its list of substances approved for domestic use. Under the new streamlined rules, an application for approval of a new substance should take around one year to complete.

Consumables Will Impact Food-Contact Regulations

New Yorkers discard around 23,000 tonnes of food packaging each year. Such packaging can take 500 years to decompose and is rarely recycled. In December 2013, the City of New York agreed to ban polystyrene food containers for takeout food by 2015, and several other U.S. cities -- Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles -- have similar bans.

To demonstrate their environmental awareness and commitment, many companies are keen on embracing recycled plastics. The use of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is already established, with a number of new packaging products entering the market in 2013. Meanwhile, studies into the viability of recycling polypropylene will continue in 2014.

What does the rise of recycled packaging mean for the food-contact industry? Food and beverage packaging applications currently account for over half the use of sustainable packaging. This market was worth $100 billion in 2013, and it will rise to $133 billion in 2018. By 2023, sustainability is predicted to be the number-one challenge facing companies, and 60 percent of consumers have indicated a willingness to forgo convenience to embrace sustainable food and drink packs.

Ongoing safety concerns are creating increased interest in low-migration inks for use in food packaging. Germany has expressed an interest in a national regulation to impose migration limits on packaging inks. As a result, a variety of low-migration inks suitable for use in food packaging applications are now reaching the market. Printing companies are investing in new production machinery to allow them to deliver packaging marked with low-migration inks.

Top photo credit: jomphong at

Smithers Pirais the worldwide authority on packaging, paper and print industry supply chains. Established in 1930, the company provides strategic and technical consulting, testing, intelligence, and events to help clients gain market insights, identify opportunities, evaluate product performance, and manage compliance. To find out more about the food-contact packaging industry and the various changes to regulation, see The Future of Food Contact Paper and Board to 2017.