Fibre-packaging for food lifts ‘specialties’ to a new level

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In part driven by sustainability, global food businesses and brands are increasingly focussed on shifting their packaging to fibre and away from less sustainable offerings. While that is a welcome – some say overdue – direction, the reality is that some grades of fibre packaging, specialty papers and fibre alternatives are already winning increased market share.

Latest data demonstrates that some of the growth has been driven by the pandemic, but for some specialty applications and sectors, fibre has been growing its share significantly, even prior to the pandemic. This is a global trend, as much as a local experience, and one that yet again, increases the emphasis on fibre as the preferred packaging option.

As the chart below shows, despite a mid-year stumble in 2020 when global market disruption was at its height, imports of specialty industrial papers were at monthly record levels in October and November 2020. Cigarette paper and moulded fibre are not included in this analysis.

With the exception of wrapping and some greaseproof papers, there is very little paper and board produced in Australia or New Zealand that is deployed to these activities.

Australian imports of what we consider ‘industrial specialties’ lifted only 4.5% over the year-ended November 2020, rising to 122.1 kt, inclusive of Plastic Coated paper grades and Self Adhesive paper and Labels, both printed and non-printed, the market for which we analysed in the December 2020 edition of Pulp & Paper Edge.


Australian Specialty Packaging/Industrial Paper Imports: Jan ’18 – Nov ’20 (ktpm)

Source: ABS, derived and IndustryEdge


Notably, the big mover in late 2020 was imports of Plastic Coated paper. This is a broad group of paper products that includes paper suitable for food in the hot, chilled and frozen environments, as well as for a range of other purposes. An importer advised us their orders had been very strong since the pandemic for heavier-weight grades that could be used to package take away food.

The other significant contributor to the specialty grades is the Self Adhesive paper and Labels group. Though down marginally on the prior year, imports remain significant and clearly lifted in late 2020.

The index chart below shows the recent experience for the main grades and products.


Australian Specialty Packaging/Industrial Paper Imports: Jan ’18 – Nov ’20 (Index: Base = Jan ‘18)

Source: ABS, derived and IndustryEdge


Unfortunately, not all of these specialty paper grades and specific paper products are recorded by volume or even by consistent weights. That makes price comparisons – at the import level, at least – quite difficult.

No one will be surprised that for these specialty grades, packaging and other industrial products, Asia dominates supply to Australia, accounting for almost two-thirds of the total over the year-ended November 2020.

Most of the major supplier countries are significant added value manufacturers.

That fact provides some hope that the near AUD500 million annual trade could be replaced by some local manufacturing in the future. Perhaps the extension into these areas of sustainable food packaging is a sweet spot for the local industry to further consider?


This is an edited extract of an item first published in Pulp & Paper Edge in January 2021 (Edition 187)

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