There's still growth in plastics packaging, but it is getting harder for Graham Packaging Co. LP and other similar companies to find.
``It used to be no problem to find 10-20 percent growth, but lately it's been 3-5 percent,'' Graham's Mark Leiden said at the Packaging Conference in Las Vegas.
Leiden serves as vice president of global marketing for York, Pa.-based Graham. The firm ranks as North America's largest blow molder with $2.5 billion in annual sales. About 60 percent of Graham's sales are generated by food and beverage containers made of PET or polypropylene.
Total North American container sales for all packaging materials - based on retail scanner data - was a bit downcast in 2007. Carbonated soft drink sales were down almost 8 percent, the segment's fourth straight annual drop, Leiden said. Sales of refrigerated juices were down 13 percent.
Bottled-water sales were up almost 11 percent, but are slowing down after posting a 27 percent growth rate in 2006. The growth rate for isotonic drinks fell from 15 percent to less than 3 percent, and energy drink sales checked in at 24 percent, after being close to triple digits in 2006.
Sales of auto lubricants - a big market for Graham - also are declining in size by 8 percent per year, even though that segment still tops the $100 million mark.
``There are very few growth opportunities that don't rely on conversion,'' Leiden said. ``In yogurt, going from spoonable to drinkable is a great opportunity. Dairy is a big opportunity in developing countries, and there's also potential growth in beer and tea.''
Sustainability score cards being used by Wal-Mart and other firms ``are real, and they're impacting decisions,'' he added.
``Pound for pound, PET is disadvantaged vs. glass [in sustainability], but it does well on freight cost and weight reduction,'' Leiden said. ``Greenhouse- gas performance also is favorable for PET.''
Graham has found some success with its Sustainer-brand family of containers, rolled out in 2007. The line offered to reduce package weight by 8 percent with no compromise on performance. Graham has set a two-year target for Sustainer to cut container weights by 10-20 percent for single-serve, multiserve, wide-mouth and beer markets.