Industry Outlook

Packaging is an important element in the U.S. economy. The industry grosses more than $170 billion a year and the flexible packaging industry employs nearly 80,000 workers, with many employed in the food and beverage industry. More than half of all packaging produced is for food.

One interruption to growth in the packing industry has been the coronavirus pandemic, which started in late 2019 and caused a steep decline in the North American packaging industry in 2020. The accelerated rollout of the vaccine in 2021, however, will boost the economy and the packaging industry is expected to rebound. According to a report by market research group Beroe, the downward trends in 2020 were driven primarily by a decline in demand for glass packaging, such as for bars and pubs, sporting events, and other businesses and activities that had been closed due to social distancing protocols. This sector, as well as others, showed signs of recovery in 2021 and growth was expected to continue post pandemic. For example: the flexible packaging industry is expected to grow by more than 10 percent, the paper and pulp market is expected to grow by more than 4 percent, and the containerboard market will have up to 4 percent growth through 2025.

A report by MarketWatch indicated that the North American packaging industry will have "considerable" compound annual growth through 2026. Growth is expected to continue in demand for modified atmosphere packaging, which is used in the packaging for milk products, seafood, meats, fruits, vegetables, and other consumable goods. The U.S. holds a major market share in modified atmosphere packaging technology, which will contribute to strong growth post pandemic.

The packaging industry is expected to continue its growth in the 21st century. A GlobalData report predicts that the U.S. packaging industry will grow from nearly 588 billion units in 2018 to 623.5 billion units by 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of 1.2 percent. There will be expanding employment for specialized engineers who can solve specific problems while understanding the total packaging concept. For example, as described by GlobalReport, "packaging with convenient, functional, and ecofriendly formats are expected to gain greater proliferation in the country." The fastest growth rates will be in the rigid plastics sector, while paper and board packaging is expected to decline in the coming years. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that there will be slow job growth overall for graphic designers. However, companies will continue to need designers' expertise to change and improve their products' packaging designs to keep up with marketing trends and meet industry regulations.

The shortage of trained packaging technicians has encouraged the packaging industry to promote educational programs at the technical school, continuing education, and university levels. Employers seek those who are trained in package design, materials selection, machinery functions, labeling, marketing, and environmental aspects of packaging.

American-made packaging machinery has earned a worldwide reputation for high quality and construction and is known for its outstanding control systems and electronics. The global packaging machinery market is expected to grow by a compounded annual rate of 3.5 percent through 2025, according to a trend report by ReportLinker. Approximately one-third of the world market for packaging machinery is located in North America, but the U.S. exports packaging machinery to about 140 other countries. The U.S. will maintain a 3.4 percent growth momentum in the coming years. Continued success in global competition will remain important to the packaging machinery's prosperity and employment outlook.

The introduction of computers, robotics, fiber optics, and vision systems into the industry has added new skill requirements and job opportunities for workers in the packaging industry. There is already widespread application of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM). The role of robotics, fiber optics, and electronics will also continue to expand into the packaging industry.

With packaging one of the largest industries in the United States, jobs can be found across the country, in small towns and large cities, in small companies and multiplant international corporations. The jobs are not restricted to any one industry or geographical location; wherever there is industry, there is some kind of packaging going on.