There are a number of corrugated packaging goods company markets that had begun utilizing microflute very successfully several decades ago. Way back in July 2002, our own AICC expert Ralph Young and Vann Parker published an article in the Board Converting News white sheet, “Fiber Use Can Be Reduced on Small Flute Packaging,” indicating that they have “discovered that small-flute corrugated manufacturers and laminators have not entirely availed themselves of more recent and more value-oriented components. With paper and board prices rising, they would do well to assess buyers’ needs and test some different board combinations to offer differentiated packaging solutions.”
Image quality has long been used as a reason for not providing clients with microflute options. However, in recent years print quality on such substrates has significantly improved. Young and Parker provided the following list of potential end users who may find benefit in additional packaging options. This list has not substantially changed in over 20 years, which just shows the staying power of what was then a relative newcomer microflute alternative to the tried and true heavyweight paperboard packaging.
Recent History of Microflute Corrugated
Microflute, or miniflute, refers to a subsection of corrugate that uses a high number of small flutes per inch to produce a flat surface. A printed top sheet is applied to give a corrugated box the look and feel of a folding carton. Microflute minimizes the “washboard” look of wider flutes, which allows it to have the appearance of a traditional paperboard folding carton but still provide excellent protection to the product housed inside. The top sheet gives a smooth surface with great printability. The print, die cutting, and gluing technologies of 2022 within litho, flexo, and digital all provide a wonderfully robust platform for successful conversions of many microfluted products that were previously out of reach either through capital constraints, material specs, and lastly print-to-print/print-to-cut registration standards.
Microflute is utilized in many applications, including primary packaging, POS display, shelf-ready, multipack, Bag-in-Box, barrier treated, and premium packaging. Given that the top sheet on microflute provides high-quality printing, it can be seen as an emerging and continued threat to folding cartons. In fact, microflute has been helping corrugated packaging to gain significant market share from traditional paperboard and folding carton packaging. This advanced printing on top of corrugated packaging has strengthened its presence in several major CPG Club Store categories.
Over the past decade or so, microfluted corrugated packing has gained favor from key customers, particularly big-box retailers and warehouse clubs. Given their outsized influence on the overall market, this has led many manufacturers to consider options other than traditional paperboard packaging. Additionally, the closure of a number of mills, combined with consolidations in the industry, has necessitated that both customers and smaller manufactures seek alternatives to traditional paperboard options. At the aforementioned AICC 2018 Spring Meeting, Al Hoodwin, the AICC Chair at that time and CEO of Michigan City Paper Box, a rigid box manufacturer, noted that mergers, acquisitions, and mill closures were significantly reducing their supply of uncoated recycled board, and alternative substrates were needed.
Conclusions and Forward-Looking Questions
Through technology, converting equipment improvements, and design innovations, microfluted packaging offers the warehouse club markets and major retail channels a cost-effective and 100% recyclable replacement for traditional paperboard and plastic structures. At the same time, the use of microflute is reducing the overall environmental footprint through a variety of source-reduction practices already in place. It is a winning material combination and must be explored further as an increasing solution by our clients.
To continue our efforts, Young and I have already begun compiling a list of questions for yet another webinar series or roundtable event in 2023 (possibly):
How is the North American microflute market evolving by segment and region in 2022 and beyond? Is it still double-digit growth annually?
What will the market size be in 2023, and at what rate will it grow in the next 10 years?
What trends, challenges, and supply chain barriers are influencing the market growth?
What opportunities or will the market face going forward?
How will this market shape up to serve various food and nonfood end-use sectors?
How will the market shape up for various other applications?
Who are the key integrated and nonintegrated producers in the market, and what are their long-term strategies?
What strategies can and should our AICC member microflute producers adopt to remain competitive?
We look forward to continuing this discussion in the coming year(s). Please feel free to reach out to Ralph or myself in the meantime with any questions or concerns.
Tom Weberis president of WeberSource LLC and is AICC’s folding carton and rigid box technical advisor. Contact Tom directly email@example.com.