Improving quality and performance characteristics of plastic containers will help make plastic the packaging material of choice for an increasing number of food manufacturers, particularly in the burgeoning sauces and condiments segment.

This is among the conclusions in Food Containers, a recently completed research study by the Freedonia Group Inc., a Cleveland-based market research firm. The report is based on both primary and secondary research, including interviews with individual manufacturers.

Freedonia has tracked food packaging developments in a series of reports stretching back more than a decade. While overall spending for food containers is expected to increase 3.3 percent annually to $14 billion by 2003, spending on plastic will increase 5.5 percent to $3.8 billion, or 27 percent of total expenditures, the study predicts. Driving that growth will be "advantages over other materials in cost, performance and manufacturing efficiencies, as well as continued resin and processing improvements and growing recycling infrastructure," the study notes.

Other factors range from "improved graphic design techniques to better moisture and gas barriers." In analyzing container demand by food category, the study finds dynamic growth since 1989 for sauces and condiments.

Only the third-ranked segment in terms of packaging dollars in 1989, sauces and condiments now lead all other categories and will increase their lead to $3.4 billion in annual spending by 2008, more than triple the expenditures 19 years earlier. By contrast, overall spending on food containers is expected to increase only 82 percent in the same time period.

For more information on the $3,600 food container study, contact the Freedonia Group Inc., (440) 684-9600.