Demand for U.S. foodservice packaging is forecast to climb 2.3% per year to nearly $8 billion in 2014, according to a new study from The Freedonia Group, Foodservice Packaging: Bulk & Portion Control. The report notes that growth will be driven by rising disposable personal income levels and expanding foodservice revenues as consumers continue to favor convenient, ready-to-eat foods that provide a change of pace from meals prepared at home.

 Leading the way in the market is flexible packaging, which will outpace rigid packaging in growth, expanding nearly 3% annually to $3.6 billion in 2014. Gains will be bolstered by cost, convenience and performance advantages over rigid containers. In addition, sustainability and environmental concerns will support demand for flexible foodservice packaging.

 Pouches are expected to post the fastest gains of all flexible foodservice packaging types, with growth often coming at the expense of metal cans. Bags and sacks will remain the dominant flexible packaging format in foodservice uses.

 Rigid foodservice packaging demand is expected to increase less than 2% per year to $4.4 billion in 2014. Gains will be limited by loss of share to flexible alternatives, as well as a moderation in materials pricing, particularly in metal cans.

 However, growth will be supported by the widespread use of corrugated boxes as shipping containers for a broad range of food items. In addition, demand will be bolstered by healthy gains for plastic containers as a result of heightened use of single-serving plastic condiment containers, which are making inroads at the expense of portion-control pouches.

Fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry, seafood and eggs; and baked goods were the three leading applications for foodservice packaging in 2009, together accounting for more than 60% of the market. Through 2014, foodservice packaging utilized in specialty processed food applications will register the most rapid gains based on the increasing importance of premade food items that can speed food preparation, reduce labor costs and give the appearance of being made from scratch. In addition, increasing use of more costly rigid plastic condiment containers will boost value gains in specialty processed food applications.