Flexible Packaging in Western Europe

November 2021

Flexible packaging continues to be an important and well-developed pack type in Western Europe, heavily used in the packaged food industry, and confectionery in particular. However, applications using plastic will have to cope with the ever increasing opprobrium heaped on this packaging material from many quarters, with regulations, including legislation being introduced in EU Member States to try and phase out the use of single-use plastics, expected to tighten over the forecast period.

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Key Findings

Flexible packaging the main pack type

Flexible packaging, holding a 35% share of overall retail packaging unit volumes, remains the number one pack type in Western Europe. Within flexible packaging itself, flexible plastic is the dominant pack type, accounting for more than two thirds of total units. The main industry for flexible packaging is food.

COVID-19 boosts sales

Flexible packaging’s 2020 performance in Western Europe was given added impetus by the pandemic. While on-the-go consumption was hit by the measures to control the spread of the virus, lockdowns and foodservice closures saw consumers preparing and eating a lot more food at home than usual, but also washing and cleaning more to help maintain high hygiene levels.

Flexible packaging causing green headaches…

The recycling of flexible packaging continues to represent a challenge. Flexible pack types can come in hard-to-recycle formats, can be more difficult to process and recover due to their lightweight nature, and can end up contaminating other recyclable materials. Recycling infrastructure is not currently well adapted to the growing use of flexible packaging, especially multi-layer high-barrier films that require separation before recycling.

…but industry association defends its environmental performance

Nevertheless, flexible packaging producers argue that the environmental cost of flexible packaging is much lower compared to PET, glass and metal. A study conducted by the Flexible Packaging Association comparing the environmental footprint of different coffee packaging types found that the use of HDPE tubs and metal cans generated 5-8 times more greenhouse gas emissions in their production as well as higher transportation emissions in their transport. In addition, the volume of material required to produce individual units is also claimed to be significantly less than for materials such as glass and PET.



Key findings

Regional Overview

Flexible packaging historic period CAGR boosted by 2020 sales spike
Pouches enjoying dynamic growth over the historic period
Generally modest annual growth rates for flexible packaging
Flexible plastic dominates sales of flexible packaging
Germany and the UK the biggest markets in Western Europe
Dynamic growth for plastic pouches in Turkey over 2015-2020
Pouches enjoy a strong historic period across the region
Recycling remains an important consideration for flexible packaging

Top Applications

Stand-up pouches heavily used in wet cat food
Flexible plastic gaining ground in baby food
Nestlé launches paper-based wrapper on its Yes! snack bar
Industry players investing in stand-up pouches in Spain
Zip/press closures increase ease of product storage
Plastic dispensing closures seeing increasing usage in the food industry
Larger pack sizes popular in dog and cat food and home care
Smaller packs in demand in packaged food

Forecast Projections

Turkey leads in terms of flexible packaging usage in beverages
Hot drinks dominates flexible packaging in beverages
Confectionery the main flexible packaging user in Germany and the UK
Flexible packaging will remain popular despite environmental concerns
UK expected to become the biggest market over the forecast period
Strong growth expected for plastic pouches in French bath and shower
Germany to overtake France as biggest market in 2020-2025
Technology to produce odourless and colourless recycled polypropylene
UK will remain the biggest market for dog and cat food flexible packaging
Continued growth expected for plastic pouches in the UK

Country Snapshots

France: Market Context
France: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories
Germany: Market Context
Germany: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories
Italy: Market Context
Italy: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories
Netherlands: Market Context
Netherlands: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories
Spain: Market Context
Spain: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories
Sweden: Market Context
Sweden: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories
Switzerland: Market Context
Switzerland: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories
Turkey: Market Context
Turkey: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories
UK: Market Context
UK: Pack Types by Top 10 Categories


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