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The Outlook for Folding Carton Packaging


Folding cartons and paperboard packaging are forecast to see growing demand despite competing forms of packaging for consumer packaged goods.

The new tube of toothpaste you opened last night. The cornflakes you ate for breakfast. The ink cartridge you just loaded into your printer. Many of the consumer products that you encounter each day are sold to you in a folding carton package.

Demand for paperboard cartons is enormous and this versatility is a major reason why. Globally, the folding carton packaging market topped $134 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $177 billion by 2027. The U.S. makes up a significant portion with demand for folding cartons on pace to hit $12.8 billion annually with a 1.8% CAGR.

Blog Body Image Stat – New Folding Carton

The Many Positives of Paperboard Cartons

The fact that folding cartons can be found in so many settings speaks to the popularity of this tried-and-true packaging format. Marketers in countless industries rely on paperboard cartons to bring their products to market and with good reason.

  •   Paperboard can be imprinted with your brand message and then scored and folded into nearly any size or shape imaginable. Items as small as a pack of gum and as large as a flat panel TV are brought to market each day with the help of folding carton packaging.
  •   Folding cartons are made from paper, an infinitely renewable resource. When that raw material is sourced from responsibly managed forests, paperboard offers a significant sustainability advantage compared to plastic packaging alternatives.
  •   Paperboard packaging has been around since the late-1800s and remains a highly cost-effective solution more than a century later.

Demand Trends in Paperboard Cartons

The growth numbers provided above don’t tell the full story, however. These figures hide some interesting microtrends in the folding carton packaging market, some of which are driving growth and others that may suppress demand as consumer packaged goods manufacturers explore alternative forms of packaging. Let’s look at some of these microtrends and how they can be expected to influence demand for paperboard cartons in the years ahead.

Frozen foods

Global demand for frozen foods – often sold in paperboard cartons – reached $244 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow at a 5.0% CAGR to top $312 billion by 2025. Consumers worldwide crave the time-saving convenience of frozen foods to accommodate busy lifestyles.

Conversely, there is also a growing preference for fresh, natural, non-processed foods that are believed to be healthier and more environmentally sustainable. This counter-trend may ultimately soften demand for folding carton packaging. Time will tell.

Takeout and delivery vs. eating in restaurants

Interestingly, it isn’t merely pre-packaged foods that are affecting demand for folding cartons. Consumers are gravitating toward home delivery services and takeout orders in lieu of eating in restaurants. Food no longer served on plates in restaurants must be packaged for transportation to the home. Very often, this packaging takes the form of a paperboard carton.

Even here, however, there are competitive forces at work. Paperboard has relatively poor barrier properties compared to plastic and cartons tend to be less leak-resistant than single-use plastic containers. While consumers overwhelmingly view paperboard as more recyclable and biodegradable than plastic, are they willing to sacrifice the no-mess convenience and freshness of a plastic container?


As noted above, paperboard is widely perceived to be more ecologically sound than plastic. For this reason, many consumer goods manufacturers are seeking ways to substitute paperboard cartons for plastic. The recent introduction of paperboard collars for beverage six-packs is just one example.

Then again, plastic packaging has an environmental story to tell as well. Alternatives such as flexible packaging are often lighter in weight and occupy less space than a rigid paperboard equivalent. This, in turn, reduces the carbon footprint created in shipping the product to market. As more manufacturers begin to see alternatives like flexible packaging in a new light, it may lead to softening demand for folding cartons in certain categories.


The “graying of America” has been well documented. Statisticians now predict that 20% of the entire U.S. population will be over the age of 65 years by 2030. Older populations, by definition, tend to consume more medication. Prescription pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs are very often sold in paperboard cartons as “secondary packaging,” which will likely drive heightened demand in the future for this packaging solution.

There is also the emerging cannabis/CBD category to consider. Edibles, concentrates, vape cartridges and more are commonly sold through dispensaries in folding cartons complete with embossing, foil and other eye-catching special finishes. As cannabis goes mainstream, manufacturers of paperboard packaging will likely have another lucrative source of business to consider.

Taylor: Folding Cartons and Much More

Taylor is a leading source of labeling and packaging solutions for the product categories noted above and paperboard cartons are among our specialties. We produce custom folding cartons of every conceivable size and shape to suit nearly any application including:

  •   Straight tuck
  •   Reverse tuck
  •   Rollover trays
  •   Autobottom “crash lock”
  •   1-2-3 bottom “snap lock,” and more

We are also unique in our ability to handle package development from start to finish:

  •   Design, prototyping and prepress services
  •   Printing and finishing with embossing, foil, gloss and soft-touch UV
  •   Die cutting and digital CNC cutting
  •   Folding and gluing
  •   Hand bindery and kitting

Literally every aspect of the carton creation process can be sourced through a single partner. If you’re looking to explore the many possibilities of paperboard, we should talk. Contact a Taylor representative to learn more about our expertise with folding cartons.

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