The e-commerce channel continues to grow in importance globally. In this article, Sarah Jin and Yang Li, application development team leads at ExxonMobil, unpack the effects of this growth on packaging trends.
Increased adoption is driven by behavior shifts due to the pandemic, burgeoning on-line access and the continued worldwide growth of the middle class and its associated disposable income.
In 2019, 14 percent of worldwide retail sales (US$3,535 billion) were completed online, estimated to reach 22 percent in 2023. Asia Pacific (US$2,271 billion) led the pack in terms of sales size with China (37 percent) and South Korea (26 percent) leading the e-commerce channel share, both regionally and globally.
North America has reached a level of US$637 billion, above Europe (US$520 billion) as of 2019. Latin America’s and Middle East/Africa’s e-commerce sales are worth US$71 billion and US$35 billion. The global retail e-commerce packaging market is predicted to have a CGAR over 12 percent between 2020 and 2030.
Now let us consider the sub-market. Polyethylene demand for air pillow pouches and air tube bags in 2019 was 751kT with Asia Pacific (450kT) accounting for about 60 percent of that total. Asia Pacific is a prominent market with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18 percent, during the period 2018-2022, mainly driven by demand for high performance air tube bags and HDPE-based air pillow pouches.
North America used 154kT of polyethylene films and has a CAGR of nine percent characterized by a high percentage of LLDPE-based air pillow pouches and HDPE-based air pillow pouches. Europe used 119kT and has a CAGR of 11 percent with larger demand for HDPE based air pillow pouches. Latin America and Middle East/Africa used only 17kT and 11kT, but have a CAGR of 28 percent and 23 percent.
Ensuring safety, yet reducing waste and cost
The rapid growth of e-commerce is generating a new demand for packaging globally. Packaging needs to ensure safety during transit in variable and challenging delivery conditions. Meanwhile, there is a growing requirement that the packaging industry generate less plastic waste and be more cost effective.
E-commerce a game changer?
Leaking fresh meat packaging is the number one complaint in fresh e-grocery. This occurs as a result of seal failure, puncture due to sharps or abuse, and poor choice of materials
Leaking rigid liquid containers are another big problem in e-commerce, with Amazon viewing laundry detergent packaging as a major challenge. Caps and pump fixtures can fail, and bottles may split at weld lines
In light of this, e-commerce is accelerating the shift of liquids packaging from rigids to flexibles. Bag-in-box design with spout attachments are a growing trend from wine to dairy to laundry. Refill-style packaging in a pouch is also being seen as a way to reach eco-friendly initiatives – primarily in Home Care categories.
Applications and benefits
Typical applications include films for courier bags and inflatable cushion bags (air tube bags and air pillow pouches) and bag-in-box.
Across the supply chain, performance PE polymer-based solutions deliver performance and value. Formulations can be tailored to derive maximum benefit.
- Good bubble stability and easy extrusion
- Extremely high MD and TD tensile strength even at fast line speeds
- Raw material supply reliability and quality consistency
For brand owners
- Cost saving potential through downgauging of courier bag films
- Packaging innovation due to extreme performance at lower thickness
- Less plastic material use in response to industry policy
For logistic delivery service providers
- Courier packaging integrity from the moment the bag is filled until it is delivered in various transportation and storage conditions
- Good brand image due to high quality consistency of bag
- Safe delivery of products
Air tube bags
Inflatable cushion bags are commonly used for protective packaging — filling voids and cushioning fragile goods within a box. These bags help to reduce the friction and risks associated with impact and vibration during the transportation and delivery process. Air tube bags are made of PE/PA co-extrusion film, typically used in Asia Pacific.
Across the supply chain, performance PE polymer-based downgauged solutions deliver performance and value. Formulations can be tailored to derive maximum benefit.
Air tube bag
PE/PA co-extrusion film, typically used in Asia Pacific
Downgauge solution with performance PE polymers provide
- Comparable burst pressure and tensile strength at 10 percent downgauge
- Improved puncture, dart and MD tear performance
- Balanced film toughness and burst pressure
- Cost saving opportunity
Air pillow pouches
Courier bags are commonly used for protective packaging — filling voids, and cushioning fragile goods within a box. These bags help to reduce the friction and risks associated with impact and vibration during the transportation and delivery process. Air pillow pouch is normally made of LLDPE-based film, commonly used in North America and Europe.
Across the supply chain, performance PE polymer-based downgauge solutions deliver performance and value. Formulations can be tailored to derive maximum benefit.
Air pillow pouch
LLDPE based film, commonly used in North America and Europe
Improved performance PE polymers provide:
- Improved tensile force at break and puncture resistance
- Enhanced dart impact
- Balanced film toughness and stiffness
Downgauge solutions with performance PE polymers provide
- Comparable tensile force at break and puncture at 20 percent downgauge
- Excellent dart impact
- Cost saving opportunity
Bag in Box
PE polymers allow the fabrication of BiB packaging films with extreme toughness and flex-crack resistance. Even with less material per bag and a thinner gauge, these solutions deliver extreme performance dart-drop, flex-crack and puncture resistance that is not achieved with a market reference solution. PE polymer-based films deliver high-integrity BiB packaging solutions from the moment the bags are being filled to the minute the products are being used, enhancing end-customer satisfaction.
The growth in e-commerce shows little sign of abating. This will continue to drive requirements for new packaging solutions that boost performance while reducing waste and lowering cost. Both converters and brand owners have a vested interest in meeting these requirements.