The Packaging Market and COVID-19

Key Takeaways

  • Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many packaging companies have been able to maintain production levels for the time being.
  • While the current economic disruption differs from prior downturns, during the Great Recession of 2008-2009 packaging companies outperformed the broader market and benefited from a more rapid recovery with growth rates quickly returning to pre-recession levels.
  • We believe the packaging sector will continue to be ripe with attractive M&A opportunities once the markets stabilize.


The worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 is sending shockwaves through the global economy, taking a toll on governments, healthcare systems, financial markets, and citizens’ daily lives. While medical experts and health care companies focus on fighting the virus, the packaging industry also finds itself on the front lines, providing key products and services to critical global supply chains that deliver goods to those in need. In many cases, packaging companies are quickly adapting with evolving trends to further support the worldwide fight against COVID-19.

Harris Williams remains committed to serving as a thought partner to our clients and industry relationships through this time of crisis. Below is a summary of insights we’ve gathered from packaging experts around the globe.

Packaging Performance During the Great Recession of 2008-2009

Studying packaging companies’ performance through prior periods of disruption could provide helpful perspective for the current environment. As shown in Figure 1, packaging companies outperformed the broader market during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. The essential nature of packaging products to global supply chains supports sector resilience through economic turmoil.

As shown below, the overall revenue decline for the packaging index was muted relative to the decline of S&P 500 revenue throughout the 2008-2009 financial crisis, with both the packaging index and the S&P 500 experiencing revenue declines for a period of four consecutive quarters. However, packaging revenues declined only about 9%, while revenues for the S&P index declined about 16%. As markets recovered, however, packaging revenue growth rates returned to pre-recession levels roughly three quarters after bottoming out, while the S&P index did not return to pre-recession growth levels for seven quarters.

Figure 1hw-packagingmarketinsightsgraphs-0420_1-web_0.pngSource: S&P Capital IQ; HW Packaging Index Constituents: ASX, SEE, ATR, SON, HUH1V, GEF, WPK, AVY, CCL.B, IP, WRK, PKG, SMDS, GPK, GLT, BLL, OI, SLGN

The packaging index outperformed the S&P 500 from a profitability standpoint as well. As shown in Figure 2, when comparing EBITDA levels, the packaging index experienced a more moderate decline, dropping only 14% versus a 22% drop for the S&P 500. In addition to experiencing a smaller decline, the packaging index bounced back at a more rapid pace compared to the S&P 500. EBITDA levels bottomed out after three quarters while the S&P 500 EBITDA levels took four quarters to bottom out. Furthermore, packaging returned to positive EBITDA growth three quarters after reaching the bottom, at which point the S&P 500 was still experiencing contracting EBITDA.

Figure 2

hw-packagingmarketinsightsgraphs-0420_2-web_0.pngSource: S&P Capital IQ; HW Packaging Index Constituents: ASX, SEE, ATR, SON, HUH1V, GEF, WPK, AVY, CCL.B, IP, WRK, PKG, SMDS, GPK, GLT, BLL, OI, SLGN

C-Suite Commentary

Sentiment in the packaging markets remains strong, but the environment is evolving quickly. We may begin to see a change in tone from some companies as first-quarter earnings are released.

“Although many don’t realize the crucial role plastics play in infection prevention and protecting us from the spread of disease and contamination, we are proud to be a part of this fight and are privileged to support the growing need for many of our products as communities across the globe encounter this pandemic.”

Public Announcement, Berry Global

“Aptar’s technology provides a unique, simple, and effective way to help solve the critical problem of PPE shortages we’re currently facing. We are aiming to provide a solution that is not only fast, but that does not require special equipment or training, making it potentially accessible to the wider healthcare community. This could enable workers to retain and disinfect their own facemask, helping to maintain continued proper fit.”

Stephan Tanda, CEO, Aptar

​“In all affected jurisdictions, Winpak is classified as an essential provider of packaging material and machinery to the food and healthcare industries, and is being actively urged by its customers to provide an uninterrupted supply of quality packaging material and machinery to maintain their essential supply chains.”

 Bruce Berry, CEO, Winpak

“[Given heightened demand] we can make sure that we build efficiencies across the supply chain and make sure products are available.”

Mark Sutton, CEO, International Paper

“Despite continued uncertainty in this environment, our focus on pricing discipline, enhanced cost and efficiency programs and cash generation supports our expectation of further good progress this year.”

Miles Roberts, Executive Director, DS Smith

“To date, we have not seen any disruption, but this situation is evolving.”

Alan Walsh, CEO, IPL Plastics

“We have two priorities: to protect people by keeping people safe, both our own employees and those of our customers and other stakeholders, and to protect food by ensuring we help our customers maintain food supply for communities worldwide.”

Adolfo Orive, CEO, Tetra Pak

“As a Group, we are in a strong position to face the challenges caused by this pandemic and are focused on our role in mitigating its impact.”

Andrew King, Group CEO, Mondi

“Our plants continue to operate thanks to the dedication of thousands of Amcor colleagues around the world […] Amcor’s global footprint and strong financial profile mean we remain ready to support customers through this event.”

Public Announcement, Amcor

“We have engaged with our fellow glass producers around the globe to see how we can use what material is available to best serve the market. If one firm has more than they can use, they allocate or sell some of that to a competitor to keep the supply chain running.”

Scott DeFife, President, Glass Packaging Institute


“Overall, packaging is one of the more resilient parts of the economy, and supports a wide range of industry sectors,” says Brad Morrison, managing director in the Harris Williams Industrials group.

Patrick McNulty, managing director in the Harris Williams Industrials Group, agrees. “Our analysis of the packaging industry through the Great Recession of 2008-2009 suggests that it likely will outperform the general economy through the COVID-19 crisis. Once the global economy achieves its ‘new normal,’ we expect the packaging industry to yield a host of M&A opportunities.”

Harris Williams will publish additional updates as the situation develops within the packaging sector. Please contact our team in the interim to discuss.

Published April 2020

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