Some have predicted that paper and pulp would go the way of the dinosaur in the age of digital technology. That simply isn't true. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
That doesn't mean the market isn't changing and new technology is, in fact, creating a shift in paper and pulp products. However, the shift opens more doors than it closes and the industry has done well in maintaining the pace in adjusting to changing markets.
Changing Paper Markets
While traditional markets like commercial print companies and newspapers have declined some in recent years because of laser printing and online media, individuals are using more paper products. New computer applications allowing them to print their on invitations, scrapbooks, recipes and small business brochures means they will buy paper directly either from an office supply store or online.
Another change is merging paper with new technology to create products than can do more than just wrap packages. Tis includes "smart packaging" containing built in digital sensors. These products are grouped into two types: active packaging and intelligence packaging. Active packaging controls the environment of the product shipped, such as temperature. This could be important in shipping things like food products. Intelligent packaging tells the consumer things about the product, like status or possible upgrades.
This digital packaging is becoming more important in two ways. First, more of various products are being shipped across the globe. Everything from cupcakes to fragile antiques are shipped. Being able to control the safe travel of these products and ensure their condition is becoming more important.
Numbers back this up. U.S. demand for intelligent packaging is expected to grow 8 percent annually. The market was forecast to top $3.5 billion in 2017. The two largest markets for this type of packaging are food and beverages, due to new online food ordering and delivery, and pharmaceuticals that are increasing in demand by aging baby boomers.
The second way digital packaging is becoming more crucial is in overall safety. The threat of terrorism is a concern for government and corporation offices receiving packages daily. Having a digital way to identify contents and ensure safety would be of high value.
Pulp Market Set to Increase
We are rapidly becoming an online ordering society. That is apparent as retail stories struggle for shoppers. This is a positive for the pulp industry because online ordering results in more use of paperboard and tissue packaging. Predictions are there will be dramatic increases to the global chemical pulp industry.
Another boost is expected in emerging economies where end-use industries will require more pulp product. Specifically, the need for more packaging is becoming evident as these populations grow. There are also more hygiene and specialty products being produced as the population grows older and more health conscious, adding another boom to the industry.
Opening New Markets
The industry is active in aggressively marketing pulp and paper worldwide. The most opportunity appears in be in the Asia Pacific region as that is an emerging market with significant populations. Companies in seven countries, including the U.S., are seeking after that market.
Growing Niche Markets
Most think of niche markets as small. That is true to some degree as they account for only 5 percent to 7 percent of production. The real story is in the grown of specialty paper chemicals. That market was around half the volume of the paper chemical market in 2013.
Those chemicals have other uses in other industries, such as automotive and textiles, but specialty paper manufacturing saw a significant portion of the chemicals used. This, no doubt, indicates this niche market is prime for growth.
Niche markets include printing digital pictures, social books and other types of keepsakes. While many individuals print these things, there are growing businesses who specialize in it. Growth in these businesses mean more paper will be needed to accommodate their needs and also for packaging their products to send to customers. People have discovered they like the personal touch of such items as well as digital technology, which sometime fails and causes the loss of sentimental items.
Paper and pulp products will always be important to the global economy, even in the digital age. It is certain those products that will always be needed for packaging and desired by individuals who combine traditional marketing with online exposure. Even with digital, paperless systems, people still want things they can hold like scrapbooks, pictures and printed invitations.
The industry, no doubt, will keep up with all changes to ensure it stays on the cutting edge of global markets. The future of pulp and paper is bright.