The cartonboard and folding carton market is currently characterised by a very tense situation, as the German Folding Carton Association (FFI Fachverband Faltschachtel-Industrie) states. Delivery times for cartonboard and folding cartons have recently extended to an unprecedented extent. The price structure has moved markedly upwards in the same way. Forward planning of future demands and sufficient lead time for new projects by customers of the cartonboard and folding carton industry is therefore even more than usual the order of the day.
SUPPLY CHAIN FLUCTUATIONS: INCREASED DEMAND MEETS SCARCE RAW MATERIALS WITH SIMULTANEOUS LOGISTICS PROBLEMS
According to industry experts, there are several reasons why the otherwise stable supply chain for cartonboard packaging for consumer goods is currently suffering from fluctuations. On the one hand, the internal demand for virgin fibre cartonboard in Asia and North America as well as the disruptions in international logistics and the exorbitantly increased freight costs in global goods traffic are responsible for the estimated shortage of 300,000 t of virgin fibre cartonboard in the European converting market. These could not be compensated for in the short term. On the other hand, on the recycled board side, a Covid-related lower volume of recovered paper, which has already been widely covered in the media, met with increased demand for many types of recovered paper-based packaging.
With the recovery of the European economy at the beginning of the second quarter, order patterns picked up, particularly in markets impacted by Covid such as food service, premium drinks and cosmetics, complementing already stable to increasing demand in many food segments due to the temporary restaurant lockdown.
As a result, folding carton production for numerous customer segments is running at high capacity, and supply chains are filling up to the point of building up safety stocks. For the latter, security of supply with packaging materials and packaging supplies is seen as the dominant driver. This results in particular in orders being brought forward and higher order volumes the further forward one moves in the supply chain.
As a result, the order backlog at the cartonboard mills is growing, which leads to a significant increase in delivery times. While the lead time for orders was at an average and usual level of 4-8 weeks in 2020, depending on the cartonboard grade, it increased to 10-20 weeks over the summer - and even more for special grades.
The first forecasts for the European cartonboard and folding carton market in 2021 were recently provided by the British consultant NOA Prism, which presented the "European Carton Prospects Report 2021" on behalf of the European Folding Carton Association ECMA. According to this report, the consultancy estimates an exorbitant increase in the order volume of cartonboard of 10.9% for the European markets in 2021 compared to the previous year, with a simultaneous forecast increase in the volume of folding cartons of "only" 3.7%. Even though these are only momentary estimates, they feed the warnings of industry observers about supply chain disruptions.
MASSIVE COST BURDEN ON THE FOLDING CARTON INDUSTRY
The aforementioned extended delivery times find their analogy in several realised price increases for cartonboard. The same applies to other raw materials and supplies for folding carton production as well as, for example, for pallets or transport packaging, which have a massive impact on the cost situation of folding carton manufacturers.
FORECASTS OF THE CUSTOMERS IMPORTANT
In the current situation, Andreas Helbig, Spokesman of the FFI Board and Managing Director of SEDA Germany GmbH, believes that realistic forecasts by customers are very important: "In the current market situation, good, forward-looking planning is essential. Panic and safety buying lead to additional shortages and are counter- productive. Customers are therefore well advised to plan with sufficient lead time, especially for new projects, in order to avoid new distortions."