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Changes In Paper And Packaging Pricing

A box of chocolates with the pricing labeled "buy 4 takes on it".

The world of packaging has experienced a drastic change as more and more companies and brands have shifted to eco-friendly packaging systems.

Due to environmentally-friendly policies around the globe, many brands – especially in eCommerce – now use paper packaging.

Over time, paper mills’ demand for raw paper materials has reached the point where order exceeds supply. This has led to the unexpected rise in the price of paper…the cost of shipping a paper container has risen from an average of $1700 to an average of over $6000!

Many factors are causing this rise, including raw material price increases, transportation costs increase, freight increases, and more. As a brand owner, it is essential to know the reasons for this increase in detail and the steps you can take to cushion these extra production costs.

Reasons for the Changes in Paper and Packaging Pricing

The continuous rise in the price changes in packaging can is attributed to many things, some of which include:

1. Increase in the Price of Paper and Raw Materials

The rise in the price of raw materials like pulp has made it difficult to access paper for packaging purposes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the PPI and pulp cost, allied products, and raw materials for corrugated boxes have increased by over 25% in the previous 12 months.

The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt played a part in restricting availability and distribution as fewer people can scout and retrieve these materials. Therefore, the boomerang effect is paper-producing companies going the extra mile to access their raw materials, inevitably reflecting it in their supply costs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states in its Producer Price Index for Corrugated and Solid Fibre Box Manufacturing that the index measuring cardboard costs increased from 342.1 in May 2020 to 369.4 in May 2021.

You can use Paper and Cardboard materials can before packaging in the following forms:

  • Folder boxes
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Tubes and spirals
  • Bags and cases
  • Fiber barrels

2. Supply and Demand

The increased demand for paper and corrugated packaging results from the thriving eCommerce sector. The surge in demand is directly correlated to the pandemic as we find many customers stuck at home while making online orders. Consequently, businesses need to start selling online and thus increasing the demand for paper or cardboard boxes to ship their orders. The pressure to increase supply by paper manufacturers often meets difficulties caused by the unavailability of raw materials and finished inventory. The unexpected changes also led to businesses stockpiling their orders and supplies. Due to the delay in supply by these paper-producing companies, many eCommerce brands have tripled their demand for bulk orders to ensure a continued supply of products.

3. Cost of Transportation

Transportation is another major factor causing the increase in packaging costs. Crude oil has risen to 40% since the year’s commencement, and its prices are expected to rise to $80 per barrel. As the nation gradually emerges from the lockdown, more people who have resumed driving and flying are bound to feel its effect. The fuel increase adversely affects distribution costs as many brands strive to keep up with constant production.

Also, with the heavier workload facing transportation workers due to incense in-home deliveries, packaging costs take the high road.

4. The Workforce

One of the most overlooked causes of the rise in packaging prices is the labor cost effect. In 2021, we saw many businesses booming but with constant complaints of insufficient workers to fill up vacant job openings. Workers are fearful of resuming work and contracting the Coronavirus. Additionally, elder care people avoid nursing homes due to the virus and child care due to home-schooling.

5. Manufacturers' Inefficiencies

Though it might not be linked directly to inflation, how your packaging manufacturer operates can affect the cost of your packaging. It is more adverse if your supplier’s costs and general overheads keep rising. Many packaging suppliers run inefficiently due to pressure to meet increased demand and erratic supply. Some of these suppliers joggle customer requirements, thereby influencing how tasks are prioritized rather than efficiently performing jobs. We can also consider the cost of running a machine (power and labor increases). Suppose your packaging goes through two or three passes – e.g., folding, secondary scoring, printing, or stitching – then a little increase may multiply by three-fold.

The best thing to do while dealing with high labor costs is to confirm that your packaging is done efficiently and remedy it if not.

6. Aging Equipment / Machinery

The equipment used to manufacture your packages could be a significant price factor. With the pandemic and economic fluctuations, some packaging manufacturers have difficulty upgrading their machinery. The consequence of this lack of investment on the manufacturer’s part is the inefficient production of your packages. You can checkmate this by verifying if the manufacturers can simplify the manufacturing processes. At the same time, you need to ensure that the manufacturing company is digitally advanced and is using new-age tools like cloud MRP software to enhance their efficiency.

7. Wrong Packaging

An utterly avoidable issue that most brands face is using over-specified packaging unsuited for particular markets or products. Just so you know, if you cannot reduce your packaging cost, you can use less of the packages.

You may not realize it sooner, but it could be possible that your business is using excessive packaging, known as secondary packaging. For instance, if a brand switches from tape packaging to self-locking cartons, the cost of package supply instantly doubles. You could consider changing your box sizes to reduce the number of empty spaces needed and additional charges. It could also reduce the voluminous shipping costs and let you acquire more items per pallet while saving costs.

In short, consider if your brand products need to be more balanced and see if you can combine and eliminate certain elements.

8. Sub-Contractor or Reselling Costs

The packaging business sector, just like many other businesses, has experienced a significant rise in orders and inquiries. If your brand uses packaging merchants, a company reselling commodities manufactured by third parties, they are likely experiencing cost challenges. In this scenario, the price increases get passed on to customers. You can avoid this cost transfer by going directly to the manufacturers, eliminating the intermediary, and attaining favorable pricing.

Just to let you know, the possibility of this option largely depends on your packaging type, volume, and the adaptability of the packaging.

How Brands Can Manage Production Amidst Packaging Price Changes

To effectively manage your production despite the skyrocketing prices. Here are some recommendations to consider:

1. Flexibility

It is essential to be flexible when making packaging choices. You should know how to work around certain unavailable materials and still get an efficient packaging result.

2. Budgeting

There have been apparent changes in paper pricing within the past few years. In 2021 alone, there has been a significant rise in paper and packaging prices, hence the need to make workable budgets at the beginning of each working year.

3. Packaging Size Adjustment

As much as more giant boxes allow for more items, some cases only require a few volumes. In this period of price changes, brand owners should analyze and cut down on packaging excesses to avoid unnecessary production costs.

4. Prior Planning

Brand owners must communicate with their packaging vendors and discuss plans for the remaining quarters of the year. By working early to secure the materials required for reproduction in advance, you will better understand its impact on your budget and production costs.

Types of Paper Packaging Materials

The significant types of paper packaging materials include:

1. Corrugated Boxes

Brands can use corrugated boxes to carry heavy products like electronic goods, appliances, fruit and vegetables, and wine. These can be used chiefly as bulk shippers delivering similar products in the same box. Different layers of paper fiber give the corrugated box the sturdy properties it requires. They include a top and down layer called the liner board and a middle layer called corrugating medium. The ripple-like, wavy shape of the medium gives the box its firmness and is made out of fiber boxes. Beyond shipping products, you can use corrugated boxes to create partitions, bulk bins, pallets, furniture, gypsum wallboard, etc. They are recyclable and compostable, making them eco-friendly as well.

2. Paperboard Cartons and Boxboards

These thin, light-weight cartons carry items like shoes, breakfast cereal, crackers, and toys. It doesn’t include the wavy middle layer or corrugating medium toad to the box's strength. You can also use boxboards as tubes and cores, partitions, graphic boards, and displays. Its other non-packaging uses include top and bottom layers of gypsum wallboard products and children’s art and craft projects.

Most paper boxes are 100% recycled content, made from corrugated boxes obtained from factories or supermarkets. Manufacturers also create them from used writing and printing paper, old boxboards, or old newspapers. Some mills use virgin materials like sawmill residues and woodchips, while others blend them with recycled fiber to make new ones. This paper manufacturing industry relies on acquiring used boxes for further recycling into new boxes.

3. Paper Bags and Sacks

This type of paper packaging material can come in two forms:

  • The paper bags for retail and grocery items
  • Multiwall sacks that carry flour and cement content and collect yard waste, leaf, and organics

Paper bags are made from either kraft pulp, recycled pulp, or a combination. Some Kraft pulp mills use sawmill residues and wood chips as their primary raw material, while others use recycled fibers collected from homes, factories, or supermarkets. Often pulp made from sawmill residues and wood chips is added to the recycled pulp to improve the bag’s strength.


The most adaptable and established packaging materials brands can access in today’s business sector are paper packaging materials. Due to their environment-friendly attributes and high recyclable rates, they have become the most sought-after packaging method.

But prices are surging, which can hurt your bottom line.

Once you become aware of the reason behind the price surges in this industry, you’ll be better equipped to plan better for your business success. Discuss your specifications with your packaging suppliers to cushion your overall cost.

This is a guest blog from our partner Arka. With over a decade of industry experience, the Arka team knows the ins and outs of custom packaging, from box materials to dielines to fast prototyping and all the printing tools. You can learn more about Arka here.


Special thanks to our friends at HawkeMedia for their insights on this topic.
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