Driven by consumer demand for convenience, the market for fresh produce packaging will grow 3.3% a year through 2017, a new report about packaging trends estimates.

With produce packaging expenditures expected to top $5.7 billion by 2017, the growth in packaging demand will accelerate faster than expansion in fresh produce output, according to the Produce Packaging study from the Cleveland, Ohio-based industry market research firm The Freedonia Group, Inc. The 324-page study is available for purchase at the company’s website.

Besides convenience, produce packaging can also bring advantages in marketing and food safety assurance, according to the study.

Packaging demand for fresh fruit uses, estimated at 3.7% growth per year, will outpace the overall growth rate for produce, according to the study. Expected increases in the availability of ready-to-eat fruit marketed as a convenient, healthy snack option will push fruit packaging demand higher, said Esther Palevsky, analyst and author of the report. The use of packaging for fresh-cut pineapples, berries and other fruit is significant factor in the expected growth of fruit packaging demand, she said.

Meanwhile, Palevsky said packaging growth for vegetable commodities should grow 3.1% a year.

“For vegetables, there are more products that go in bulk form, in a box with a liner or a mesh bag, as opposed to use of plastic containers,” she said.

Gains for vegetable applications will benefit from ongoing new product introductions of fresh-cut vegetables in nontraditional categories. Products like green beans, sweet potatoes and squash are seeing more value-added retail packaging, she said.

Growth in packaging for salad uses will be held back by market saturation and price sensitivity among many consumers, according to the study.

“Salad makers are bringing out new products and new blends, but it seems like there is not the kind of growth there was a few years ago,” she said.

The study found that the corrugated box category, which represented 38% of the produce packaging market in 2012, should grow at a 2.3% annual rate in the period through 2017. The study found that gains in corrugated sales will be aided by the increased use of more costly box structures such as modular boxes, white top linerboard boxes, high-graphic boxes and moisture-resistant recyclable boxes.

Demand for bags and liners is projected to grow at a pace of 3.5% annually through 2017, according to the study. Greatest gains in the category are predicted for breathable bags for fresh cut produce and display-ready pouches, according to the study.

Pouch bags can be ideal for produce that doesn’t need to be in a clamshell and pushes less waste through the supply chain, Palevsky said.

“There are more and more products in produce using those,” she said.

The fastest growth category in the produce packaging will be for plastic containers, according to the study. That category, including consumer-oriented tubs, clamshells, and other consumer-oriented plastic containers, will grow at a 4.8% annual rate through 2017, according to the study. Advances in plastic packaging demand will be fueled by growth in berry applications, according to the study.

Other produce packaging, including reusable plastic containers, will grow at an expected clip of 3.4% per year, according to the study.

The use of overwrap trays for fresh produce is expected to grow at an average rate of 3.6% per year, according to the study.

Palevsky said increasing use of bags and pouches may steal some demand from trays and clamshells.