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The Paperboard Packaging Industry: An Overview

PPC serves the $8.8 billion industry that prints images on paper-based substrates that are then converted into commercial packaging. Our membership encompasses approximately 80% of all paper-based packaging manufactured in the United States and includes several Canadian firms. These companies produce folding cartons, rigid boxes, rigid cylinders, and folding cartons converted from micro-flute corrugate and finished with printed paperboard top sheets.

In 2013, the industry shipped 5.03 million tons of paperboard packaging with an average value per ton of $1,742. 

In the five year period between 2013 and 2017, the industry is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 1.1% in sales, 0.8% in tons. The average value per ton per year is expected to rise 0.2%.1

While we do not have any solid data to confirm the following (because sales data is not readily available), PPC’s best sophisticated guess is that these 14 companies represent the largest companies in our “space.” This list likely contains at least eight of the top ten, and possibly all of the top ten.

Americraft Carton
Cascades Inc.
Clondalkin Group
Georgia Pacific (Color Box)
Graphic Packaging International
Malnove, Incorporated
Multi Packaging Solutions
MeadWestvaco Corp.
PaperWorks Industries, Inc.
Rock Tenn
Zumbiel Packaging

Independently owned private companies, defined as converters who do not own their own mill, several of which are ranked in the top 14 by volume, comprise about 20% of industry sales. Market share has declined from approximately 30% over the past 15 years, due primarily to industry consolidation.

After four years of decline, 2012 saw the first positive growth in the folding carton industry—a 1.2% increase in tons shipped. While moderate growth is expected to continue through 2015, 2012 shipments still fell approximately 537,000 tons short of the total reached in 2007. Slow growth in tons of cartons shipped is expected to continue, averaging 0.8% per year between 2013 and 2017.1  A major strength of the industry, bringing steady growth and stable earnings, is the fact that most paper-based packaging is used for consumer staples. Over 60% of all paperboard packaging is destined for such food product segments as beverages and dairy products, candy and confections, dry foods including cereals, and frozen foods such as meats and vegetables. The balance services these vital industries: pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and personal care products, soaps and household maintenance products, toys, sporting goods, and most of the items found in grocery or club stores.

North America has been the leading market for packaging; in 2003 Americans consumed $132 billion worth of all packaging (32%), edging out Western Europe and Asia, each with 26%. However, 2009 statistics show that Asia has now outpaced both North America and Europe in packaging consumption, consuming almost $170 billion in packaging, or 30% of $564 billion worldwide.2

Sustainability. This one word embodies the greatest challenge to our industry in the coming years. We must do a better job of educating the public what our industry has known for generations – that paperboard packaging, unlike fossil-fuel based plastic packaging, is made from a renewable resource, is recyclable and the best choice for the environmentally conscious consumer. Over 60% of all communities in the U.S. are collecting paperboard, exceeding the “recyclable” threshold established by the FTC's Green Guides.

Lightweighting and the subsequent reduction of fuel costs are not the factors that make a material sustainable. One look at the millions of plastic particles floating in our oceans should convince consumers that buying paperboard packaging whenever possible has the least impact on our planet’s health. American forests are growing; we plant more than three times more trees than we use, and every tree is taking carbon out of the atmosphere. In 1987, the United Nations said that to be sustainable means “to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Paperboard packaging supplies consumer packaged goods companies with the only substrate that meets that demand. Since the late 1800’s, our industry has been dedicated to meeting the needs of the public with beautiful, recyclable, renewable packaging. 

2 2009 study from the World Packaging Organization/PIRA International Ltd., “Market Statistics & Future Trends in Global Packaging.”