Corrugated use is going up — except where it’s going down. Regular slotted containers (RSCs) are doubling as shelf-ready packaging — except where they’re not. Sound contradictory? Here it is in a nutshell: The big trends in secondary packaging are — well, it depends.

That’s the message of PMMI’s 2014 Secondary Packaging Market Research Study, a follow-up to its 2008 examination of the market. The new study underscores the individual nature of any packaging decision and the changes that characterize the secondary packaging market. Chief among those changes are end users’ goals for secondary packaging.

While the respondents to the 2008 study said their goals for secondary packaging were cost-reduction and sustainability optimization, 45% of this year’s respondents reported meeting those goals and striving to maintain that success. Slightly more than half (55%) continue to seek out the secondary packaging sweet spots.

In terms of materials, the report notes overall decreases in RSC usage and corrugated fiberboard materials, but overall increases in recycled material content and the use of overwrapped trays and shrink wrapped pads. In other words, these are overarching observations, not universal goals.

Secondary packaging is decided case-by-case. PMMI sees 23% of respondents looking for RSC replacements — less than half of the 51% response in 2008. Moving to formats such as over-wrap trays, bliss boxes, half-slotted display-ready containers, and slip sheets and stretch-wrapped pallets is not always practical.

In the food industry, where 45% of companies report increasing use of flexible pouches, RSCs and corrugate will get more use. For on-line merchants of all stripes, RSCs are the go-to for shipping purchases to consumers. Primary packaging choices, driven by customer demand, will shape the secondary packaging decisions.

Retailers are the manufacturers’ customers, and for stores like Wal-Mart, the goal is sustainability — as measured by points on its Sustainability Score Card. The retail giant wants lighter weight packaging, which reduces fuel use and other transportation costs. Because of advances in materials and machinery, recycled content can and does play a larger role in corrugated fiberboard, with fewer production problems, than it did in 2008.

Other retail giants in the grocery arena and dollar stores are seeking to reduce in-store labor, and for that, shelf-ready secondary packaging fits the bill. Formats like perforated RSCs protect primary packages and provide a backdrop for eye-catching graphics.

At leading warehouse stores, there’s a strong call to get more product on the shelf and to make products stand out more. They demand multi-packs, product security, greater product visibility and even smaller packages. And when items can go directly from pallet to shelf, that saves time, labor and cost.

Finally, the cost and availability of raw materials — including corrugated boxes and fiberboard — will influence packaging choices. Printing breakthroughs, rising oil prices, and more cost-effective printing on heavy-weight and glossy materials will lead package graphics in a new direction.

For a better idea of the developments in secondary packaging, make plans to attend Pack Expo East, which runs Feb. 16–18, 2015, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia.

Located within a third of the country’s largest consumer packaged goods companies, the newest Pack Expo trade show will keep attendees on the leading edge of industry trends, with more than 300 top-tier exhibitors.

To learn more and register ($30 through Jan. 21, then $60) visit