Amazon’s decision to move toward lightweight flexible plastic mailers over its traditional cardboard boxes will likely set a trend for the rest of the industry, according to Wood Mackenzie Chemicals’ recent Q1 2019 Flexible Packaging Global Market Overview.

“As the market leader in the U.S. e-commerce sector, Amazon is in a particularly powerful position to shape decisions on packaging preferences. The company currently controls just over 49 percent of the U.S. e-commerce market and nearly 5 percent of the total U.S. retail market, generating sales of over $250 billion in 2018. Few other companies have such industry influence to impact large-scale packaging trends and demand. Putting this into context, the U.S. e-commerce market accounts for 12 percent of all retail sales and is expected to grow to around 17% by 2022," said Brendan Connell-French, Wood Mackenzie Chemicals research associate.

Amazon cites a number of environmental benefits to back their decision, including a reduced consumption of energy and natural resources during production, reduced CO2 emissions, and fewer vehicles required during transportation. 

Amazon is also currently working on a cushioned mailer (typically a paper//PE laminate) that is fully recyclable in paper recycling streams, reinforcing its new direction away from carton board. The company confirmed that, after continually working to improve packaging options, it reduced global packaging waste by 20 percent in 2018.

“In terms of converted primary packaging, Amazon represents a major potential vehicle for growth in flexible packaging for food. With both its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017 and subsequent sustained push into online grocery sales, the company has signaled its intention to ramp up its involvement in the U.S. food retail market as it has with other sectors. Amazon currently controls 30 percent of online grocery spending in the U.S. - accounting for around 5.5 percent of all grocery sales," Connell-French added.

The company is also planning to establish a new chain of retail options as it diversifies its options in the market. All of these avenues will rely upon an increasing consumption of flexible packaging within the U.S. as Amazon pushes further into food applications, with its food and beverage category expected to grow more than 40 percent this year.