(Sept. 13) Produce packaging will be a business of $4.3 billion a year in the U.S. by 2010 and will top $5 billion by 2015, according to a recent report by the Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based independent market research firm.

Produce packaging sales were $3.4 billion in 2005 and are expected to grow at a rate of 4.6% during the next four years, according to the report.

The rising demand for fresh-cut fruits and vegetables was a key factor cited in the 260-page study.

“There’s more demand for convenience,” said Freedonia analyst Esther Palevsky.

Other factors cited in the study include increased interest in healthier diets, the aging U.S. population and the growth of Hispanic and Asian populations.

Corrugated boxes dominate the industry, accounting for $1.4 billion in sales. Palevsky said that figure could grow to $1.6 billion a year by 2010, fueled by increasing demand for specialized packs such as moisture-resistant boxes.

Demand for new reusable plastic containers grew by 60% from 2000 to 2005, but Palevsky said RPCs won’t be able to sustain that growth without adding new retail customers. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark.; H.E. Butt Co., San Antonio; and Colton, Calif.-based Stater Bros. are the primary users of RPCs among retail chains.

David Rodgers, vice president of Orbis Corp., Oconomowoc, Wis., and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition, said RPCs account for less than 10% of the market in produce shipping.

TOP SELLERS

After corrugated boxes, bags and liners were the second-largest sellers, at $1.1 billion a year. Palevsky said bags and liners were expected to grow at a rate of 5% a year.

As for the products being shipped in those boxes and RPCs, salads accounted for 13% of produce packaging demand and make up the fastest-growing segment in the market.

The Freedonia Group also recently published a 324-page study on the U.S. plastic film industry. That study says the $23 billion industry will grow at a rate of 4.5% through 2010.

For more information, go to www.freedoniagroup.com/packaging.html.