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Storage enters disposable age

Published February 21, 2007


MILWAUKEE - Gone are the days of putting your name on food storage containers or chasing down recipients of holiday cookies who have yet to return them.

Consumers now buy into the idea that it doesn't matter what happens to containers that cost only about $1 each.

And they buy in big.

Americans spend about $1.4-billion a year on disposable food storage items, which are dominated by plastic bags and include plastic wrap, aluminum foil and wax paper.

While sales in the overall segment have flattened slightly, says research firm Mintel International, the disposable plastic container market has grown, with receipts at about $130-million in 2003, the last year figures were available.

Manufacturers are racing to create more specialized products to further grow the market, crafting containers with tighter seals or seasonal colors, or adding interlocking lids so kitchen cabinets won't be so cluttered.

Consumers like the containers, analysts say, because they're sturdier than plastic bags and can hold liquids. They also cost less than offerings such as Tupperware, which originated the food storage craze with its trademark purchasing parties in the 1950s.

The modern disposable containers were first introduced nationally by GladWare, a division Clorox Co. of Oakland, Calif., in 1998. Sales at the time were about $56-million, compared with $777-million for plastic food bags, according to Mintel.

Ed Tucker, an associate research fellow with Glad, came up with the idea for a disposable plastic container in the early 1990s. The secret to its success, he said, was in the way it was produced, through a process called thermoforming. Large sheets of plastic are heated and formed over molds, which create a lighter product faster than injecting plastic into molds.

Add to that the convenience the containers provide to busy householders, and consumers are sold.

Container makers are differentiating themselves by creating more specialized products, such as Ziploc containers' new way of locking while twisting, said Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior research analyst with Mintel.

"Whatever they can do to make it a more useful container, that's where the competition lies - in making it more useful, inexpensive and disposable," she said.

[Last modified February 21, 2007, 01:47:41]

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