If the mood seemed upbeat to visitors and exhibitors at November’s PACK EXPO show in Chicago, it was for good reason: Nine in 10 end-users of packaging machinery report their purchases of additional equipment increased or remained the same in 2010’s third quarter, compared to a year earlier, with food and beverage packagers leading the way.

Based on interviews with 147 manufacturers and multiple demand forecasts, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) predicts slower growth in 2011, “but we do not expect the economy to slip into a double-dip recession,” the Arlington, VA machine-builder association reports. Food manufacturers in particular enjoyed robust production growth in 2010. PMMI estimates food production was up 4.7 percent in 2010, with sugar and confectionery production enjoying 18.6 percent growth over 2009. Expected overall growth in 2011 is 2.1 percent, with 2012 projected to see 3.2 percent growth.

The growth forecast for beverages, coffee and tea production was 5.4 percent for 2010, with slower growth of 1.8 percent in 2011 and 0.4 percent in 2012.

Machinery investments by makers of food, beverage and pharmaceutical/medical devices consistently outpace other industrial sectors in PMMI’s forecasts. Assuming favorable economic trends continue, 32 percent of manufacturers polled expect to increase machinery spending in 2011, 55.1 percent expect investments to remain the same, and 12.9 percent anticipate canceling or delaying packaging projects.