Some paper packaging suppliers in the food and drink retail sector have been seeing demand rise by more than 120%


In the UK, mid-2020 corrugated volumes were down by an estimated 0.5% (Credit: Pixabay)

Demand for corrugated and carton packaging in the foodservice industry has almost disappeared during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to market experts the NOA.

The global picture of demand for corrugated packaging in a year on year comparison shows volumes are slightly down at 98% from last year.

In the UK, mid-2020 volumes were down by an estimated 0.5%, while demand is also down in Europe – for example, Italy and France range between 5% and 10% down.

Demand in the US has fallen by a similar level as the UK, while other countries such as Mexico and Argentina have seen significant double-digit drops in demand.

Paper packaging suppliers who count the foodservice industry among their major clients have been experiencing large falls – in contrast, those mainly supplying food and drink into retail have been booming.

NOA managing director Neil Osment said: “It’s a story of winners and losers. Some paper packaging suppliers for the food and drink retail sector have been seeing demand rise by 120% plus, while those in the foodservice sector may have lost up to 70% of their trade, perhaps even more.”


Regional variations in corrugated and carton demand during Covid-19, say market experts

NOA researchers uncovered that hidden in some of these trends are some regional variations.

According to the analysts, demand has fallen away more steeply in the north-west during the lockdown, where customers tend to be of a “more industrial nature”.

However, in the south-west, where a growing number of food and drink producers are based, paper packaging producers have found increased demand.

Osment explained: “We’ve spoken to one business which has seen an increase of 125% in volumes year on year and they believe their competitors are having a similar experience.

“Clearly, the level of demand depends on which sectors are being served, and this is feeding through to the end-use market as well as regional variations.

“However, we believe the north-west will bounce back, as demand begins to rise again and items in the supply chain need replenishing.

“Demand and stock replenishment for food and drink are much more immediately responsive.

“The industrial economy will tend to be slower to respond to changes in demand.”

NOA predicts the food sector will remain buoyant, sustaining its paper-based packaging suppliers.

Covid corrugated demand
NOA managing director Neil Osment (Credit: NOA)

They do however say there will be a shift within this sector from shelf-ready packaging (SRP) towards distribution outers – or what the NOA describes as mail, order, distribution, internet and e-commerce (MODIE) cartons.

The researchers say that because of this increase in online food sales, retailers will want producers to adjust production away from the more expensive SRP style packaging, and provide goods instead of in cheaper format corrugated packaging that never has to hit the shelves.

Osment said: “Retailers will want simple, inexpensive corrugated packaging, so we will see a work mix change, as producers alter production away from SRP format packs and towards distribution outers.

“We were starting to see this move last year, but this will be accelerated as retailers realise they can make savings by swapping out of SRP formats for a cheaper alternative.”

The NOA team also note that sustainability – which disappeared from the agenda in the early days of the pandemic – is creeping back in, as consumers renew and increase their desire for sustainable packaging and demand for more information about its provenance.

Osment added: “Some international corrugated producers are showing great leadership regarding the environmental qualities of corrugated.

“For the first time, one of these global corrugated companies are taking out full-page adverts in the national papers in Europe to highlight their credentials in sustainable packaging.

“And of course, Sir David Attenborough is back in the news, and that is good news.”