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Q: flexible packaging adhesives ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: flexible packaging adhesives
Category: Science > Chemistry
Asked by: febreze-ga
List Price: $150.00
Posted: 15 Sep 2003 12:41 PDT
Expires: 15 Oct 2003 12:41 PDT
Question ID: 257020
Flexible packaging has been experiencing robust growth as of late.  We
can simply see this by going to the grocery store and seeing cans of
tuna, pudding, drinks now being sold in pouches.  How big is the US
market for flexible packaging adhesives?  What are the key adhesive
technologies being utilized?  What are some of the key trends?

Request for Question Clarification by cath-ga on 16 Sep 2003 10:00 PDT
Dear febreze,

I'm beginning work on your question, and you've done a nice
clear job of stating the three areas you'd like addressed,
size of market, key adhesive technologies, trends. If you'd
like to tell me a little about your use for the info, I
could tailor it more specifically to you: i.e., are you thinking
of entering that industry? If not, I'm sure I can 
still get to the bottom of this for you. cath-ga

Clarification of Question by febreze-ga on 16 Sep 2003 13:58 PDT
A lot of research has been done on the size of the flexible packaging
industry; but not much has really been done in terms of the raw
materials that are being used.  I guess information as if I were an
existing player with limited technology; but wanted to capture some
growth of this growing flexible packaging market.

Request for Question Clarification by cath-ga on 16 Sep 2003 16:51 PDT

I have some calls out and will finish up on this tomorrow!

Clarification of Question by febreze-ga on 17 Sep 2003 10:28 PDT
Sounds good.  Thank you for your effort.
Subject: Re: flexible packaging adhesives
Answered By: cath-ga on 17 Sep 2003 15:06 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear febreze,

Thank you for your very challenging question!

The Adhesive and Sealant Council is the group that keeps track of the
kind of market information you are looking for. They just happened to
have put out a new report called the  2002-2004  ASC North American 
Market Study for Adhesives and Sealants with a Global Overview. This 
would normally cost you, as a non-member, $1,100.00, and won’t be 
available until next year. 

However, I spoke with Larry Sloan, the Director of Marketing and
Member Services for the ASCouncil, and he peeked within the pages of
the report
to gave me a preview for you.

First of all, market size for flexible packaging adhesives:

Flexible packaging adhesives are included in the study within the
umbrella group of Paperboard and Related Products. (It
also includes things like cases and cartons, bags, envelopes,
and polyethylene bags.) That total group has a market size in the 
U.S. of $3.6 Billion.
Sloan estimates that flexible packaging comprises some
30% of the group above. So optimistically, a ballpark figure
for the U.S flexible packaging adhesive market might be
$1.08 billion.

Adhesives Technologies:

(Please forgive my lack of technical savvy!)

Sloan groups the types of adhesives used in flexible packaging this

Hot-melts-  (like a glue-gun) 

The two above would be the two most commonly used in flexible 

Natural Polymers- that are based on fish and starch and corn and milk

These are also a significant  adhesive for  flexible packaging,
and Sloan thinks we will see more of these.

Solvent based- Sloan calls them “the nasties”. They  have high 
concentrations of volatile organic carbons.  These comprise a  
small percent of the total flexible packaging adhesives, and he 
believes will not be growing.

Lauren Johnson, Communications Manager of the Flexible Packaging 
Association, categorizes the most-used adhesives in flex packaging 
this way:

Solventless (100% solids)
Radiation Cure (UV/EB)
Cold Seal
Solvent Based

According to Adhesive and Sealant Industry  Magazine, 

“Water-based technology dominates in packaging, and a sluggish 1%
rate of growth is forecast. Growing substitution of plastic packaging,
which uses no adhesives, and the slight trend to hot melts, are 
negative growth factors for water-based adhesives.”

For the full article (Water-Based Adhesives Forecast to Match Industry
Growth) go to:,2101,11476,00.html

ASI  has a very technical article on its website titled, 
“Growth In Flexible Packaging Continues To Drive Adhesive 
Advancements.”  It confirms Sloan’s assessment that there is a 
“move from solvent to non-solvent waterborne and solventless 
technologies.” You can find this article at :,2103,1917,00.html

Radiation curing apparently is a very minor percentage of the flexible
packaging market now,according to another article in ASI, titled: 
“Radiation Curing:  A Specialized Adhesive Technology. “,2101,63825,00.html

However, this technology offers the opportunity to get away from 
solvents and effect a fast cure. The technology use is also growing 
at a whopping 12% a year!!

The two radiation cures are UV (Ultra Violet) and EB (Electron Beam)

Electron Beam  is under evaluation as one of the coming things in
flexible packaging, according to “Advances in EB-Curable Adhesives and
for Flexible Packaging”, re-printed on line at:,2103,97289,00.html

Lower-cost, lower-voltage EB units have sparked increased interest in
the process.

For a very technical comparison of the UV process adhesives with
the silicone (solventless)  go to

”Evaluating Compatibility of UV-Cure PSAs With Silicone-Release 


Going with your scenario of a “existing player with limited
I’m going to refer you to a similar question by a South African
packaging company to ASI magazine. The answer compared the
benefits and costs of the various laminating adhesives this way:

“Water-based laminating adhesives do require significant oven capacity
to remove the water at any reasonable product speeds. Solvent-based 
adhesives require less oven capacity, but need to be able to deal 
with the solvents via recovery or incineration. The newer, 
100%-solids systems do not require drying ovens, but generally take 
several days to cure. The two-part systems can be controlled as to 
how fast the cure will take place and do not require any drying

You can find the full question and answer at :,2101,24783,00.html

Key trends:

Among all the adhesive markets, Sloan says, flex packaging is “THE big
area. If you look at all the kinds of packaging, flex packaging is 
the highest growth.”

Overall the growth rate in the U.S. for packaging adhesives, 
according to the ASCouncil study, is 2.3%. Sloan estimates 
that the growth rate for flexible packaging will be much higher, 
probably 3%.

The Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) is even more optimistic.
They expect industry growth of 4.2% in 2003. After food, 
pet foods, health and beauty aids, lawn and garden supplies, 
pharmaceuticals, and medical devices are exerting the greatest
demand for flexible packaging. (All this according to the
FPA website), at:

Lauren Johnson, of the FPA, says these are the key trends within
flexible packaging to watch:

Pre-press and printing
Modified atmospheric packaging
New high-barrier structures
Interactive packaging
Stand-up pouches 
Retort pouches
Shrink sleeve labels

So those would apparently be key areas for someone selling adhesives 
for flexible packaging to watch.

I hope that this answer includes the information you were looking for.
If something is incomplete or unclear, please hit the “Clarify Answer”
button and let me follow up before you rate this answer.


search strategy:
flexible packaging + adhesive


If you can afford it, the Market Study for Adhesives and Sealants
can be ordered at:

You can contact the ASCouncil at the numbers below:
7979 Old Georgetown Road, Suite 500 | 
Bethesda, Maryland 20814 
Phone: (301) 986-9700 | Fax: (301) 986-9795 

Larry Sloan can be reached at ext. 111 of the above phone number.

Adhesives and Sealant Industry (ASI) website at :,2103,1917,00.html

The FPA communications manager can be reached at:

Lauren A. Johnson
Flexible Packaging Association
971 Corporate Boulevard, Suite 403
Linthicum, Maryland 21090

The website Packworld contains “every article ever written about
flexible packaging.” You can find it at:

Another resource for you might be Flexible Packaging Magazine, at:

and the Source Book on Adhesives and Sealants

Request for Answer Clarification by febreze-ga on 18 Sep 2003 12:26 PDT
You noted the most-used adhesives in flex packaging as: 
Solventless (100% solids) 
Radiation Cure (UV/EB) 
Cold Seal 
Solvent Based

How are the following technologies utilized in flexible packaging?
Barrier Coatings
Cold Seals
Top Coats
Heat Seal - solvent based
Heat Seal - water based
Tie Resins
Wet bonding

Are they utilized less frequently than the ones you mentioned above? 
And are certain adhesive technologies more suitable for certain
industries (i.e. medical vs. food vs. industrial vs. etc.)?

Clarification of Answer by cath-ga on 19 Sep 2003 14:21 PDT
Hi febreze,

I spoke with Bob Smith, an industry analyst who is a director of
ChemQuest in Columbus, Ohio. 

After running down the list of technologies you gave me, it
became clear that most if them are processes which are used
WITH the adhesives I had listed.

Smith pointed out that “within the flexible packaging industry the 
biggest single component for flexible packaging is for food.”  

There are a number of different types of adhesives used for
food, but one of the largest groups is the polyurethanes.
Now, polyurethanes can be divided among the types
I mentioned earlier, the waterborne, solvent borne,
and solventless (100% solids.)

Smith says that in flex packaging the water borne and solvent born 
are about equal to each other in market share to each other,
and much further down the list  but growing faster are the 100% 
solids (solventless). Those are much much smaller in terms of market 
share, but growing faster (a trend to watch.)

Hot Seal – is a very widely used technology using the above adhesives.
It usually applied to something that’s already been laminated with an
adhesive. The adhesive is applied, usually, in a very precise pattern,
then heat is applied.

An example would be:  the lid on a yogurt container. Peel it off
and there’s a circular print pattern of this heat seal. So it’s 
only in the area where the seal is going to be.  External heat 
is applied so that it softens the adhesives to it adheres to the 
yogurt container.Hot seals can be used with most food, even 
frozen foods, because it is applied to only a small portion of the 
package. Some foods, however, can’t tolerate any heat. Then a cold 
seal is used.

Cold Seals: are a smaller, specialty area. The process is used
for example, with chocolate bar wrappers. They place the
adhesive in a very precise place, and then only mechanical
pressure is applied. The problem is that virtually all cold seal
adhesives are made from natural rubber. Natural rubber is a 
problem because  about 7 % of the US population has a severe 
allergic reaction to natural rubber. They can can actually get 
anaphylactic shock and die. So cold seal is used only in
very limited cases and small amounts. 

Wet bonding is also a rather rare process. Smith says,
“ you put the adhesive down wet, it’s coated on one surface. 
Then you bring the other surface down on top of it while 
it’s still wet. it only really works in the solventless systems, 
otherwise, if it’s water based or solvent based, you have to get the
water out.” Since solventless adhesives are just a small
percent of the market, the wetbond process is not used
as much as dry bonding.

Dry bonding.  They coat the material on one substrate. 
They run it through the oven and dry off either the solvent 
or the water, then later through a  heated roller, they press 
the two stubstrates together and the adhesive re-flows and 
effects the bond.  

So say you want to manufacture an adhesive for the
largest possible flex packaging market: the hot seal
packaged foods.  Would you want to choose a water based ,
or solvent based, or solventless material?

Surprisingly, Smith said it wouldn’t matter. In his words
“There are FDA approved of both. The solvent is never an issue
(with food) because the solvent is gone. Already baked out
of the adhesive when it was manufactured, long gone.”

The FDA has regulations governing which products can be used 
in contact with food and drugs. They are classed as Direct
Contact and Indirect Contact, and flexible packaging falls
into the Indirect group. “Generally in flexible food 
packaging, the food only has incidental contact with the 

He says “All the technologies can be used for food. Same for 
medical. Industrial generally you can use more aggressive 
(adhesive) materials. Solvent based polyesters are very big in 
industrial lamination. They’re much, much stronger. An example 
would be tents, tarps, sailcloth.”

Now for your other terms:

Primers: are sometimes applied to a film to get better adhesion.
A polyethylene film, for example, is very difficult to get
something to stick to. Also primers can be used to get the ink to 
stick better when they print labels.

Topcoats – The topcoat is also used to increase printability and add a
high gloss to graphics.

Tie resins- Smith hasn’t heard that term. Sometimes people call the
adhesive a “tie coat.” It ties or connects two layers of the
laminate together. 

Barrier coatings- Smith says these are different. They’re not really 
adhesives, they’re put over or under one of the surfaces in a
It gives it oxygen barrier capability. It’s not an adhesive per se.
application equipment is similar, though. It’s a thin coating put on a
or a paper to give it oxygen barrier characteristics.

Smith says the technologies to watch are urethanes and acrylics.

He says pouches are the big end use. He says tuna fish soon may 
not be available in  cans any more because retailers can get more 
product on the shelf in more attractive containers with pouches.

Here’s a follow-up also, on the market size estimate I gave you
the other day. In an article I found today, the flexible packaging 
adhesive market is estimated at $130 million.  That’s according 
to Peter Voss in a piece titled, “Water Based Adhesives,”  
written in 2002. You can find it at:

There’s a ten-fold difference in those estimates, so
I guess you’re right when you said not a lot of research
has been done on this.

Another right-on resource for you would be 

Flexible Packaging - Adhesives, Coatings and Processes (Rapra Review
Report 122) by T.E. Rolando. You can find the book at

Hope this clarifies my answer to your satisfaction.
Good luck! cath-ga

Request for Answer Clarification by febreze-ga on 30 Sep 2003 11:06 PDT
Thank you for the effort.

One last clarification question: $130 M to $1.08 B represents a
significantly wide range.  Based on your discussions and searching;
would you say the market may be towards the lower or higher end of
your estimation?

Sorry it has taken so long to respond.

Clarification of Answer by cath-ga on 02 Oct 2003 12:07 PDT

My feeling is that the market is toward the lower end of that range.
I feel more comfortable with someone's educated estimate, than with
calculations I have done on someone else's figures. Without
my knowing it, all of the assumptions I made in those calculations may
not have been correct. Of course, the market will be greater than the
$130 million figure because it is a year and a half old, and it's
a fast-growing industry. cath-ga
febreze-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

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