Record purchases of new packaging machinery by food and beverage processors in 2002 rescued U.S. equipment suppliers from a second consecutive annual decline in shipments and enabled them to keep pace with 2001's $4.8 billion sales pace.

The food and beverage industry's $2.9 billion in new equipment purchases was a record and reversed declines in 2000 and 2001. Processors accounted for 60.2 percent of all machinery purchases.

When imported machinery is included, the overall U.S. domestic market for packaging equipment was $5.4 billion last year. The figure excludes used equipment sales, believed to be "a robust market," according to PMMI (Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute), sponsor of the 9th Annual Shipments and Outlook Study. The study projects a 1.8 percent increase in machinery orders this year and 5 percent in 2004, when shipments should top $5 billion for the first time since 2000. Sales plunged 4.1 percent in 2001 and were flat last year.

Thank-you notes should be forthcoming to beverage companies, which boosted their new-equipment purchases above $1 billion for the first time, a $183 million increase over 2001. "The beverage products market was especially active," the report notes, "as reflected in the growth of bottling-line, capping and liquid-filling machinery." New-age drinks, refrigerated and frozen meals, dietary supplements and other booming segments produced orders for advanced technology machines.