It's forecast that this summer, here in the U.S., gas prices will hit the $5 mark across the board, not just in the notoriously expensive areas such as California. With a gallon of gas already hovering in the $4 range and prices of many other consumer staples (milk, bread) rising along with them, consumers have had to tighten their belt loops and make some serious decisions when it comes to spending their (dwindling) discretionary dollars.
During the past decade or so, a buoyant economy—combined with consumers' fascination with flashy, new products—has created a boon for nonwovens. Not only has the wipes market seen unprecedented growth, sales of many other nonwoven-based products like facial masks, disposable towels and blankets and premium diapers have also grown. Nonwovens producers and their customers had their new product development teams working overtime to create new blockbusters that would make consumers' lives easier while increasing sales and earnings for the companies that created them.
Now, however, with gloomier economic times on the radar, consumer products companies are being much more prudent when it comes to new product introductions. Dubious over whether or not a cash-strapped consumer—who has seen fuel, food and housing costs skyrocket in recent months—is as likely to try a new wipe or other gimmicky product, consumer product giants have had to look closely at lifestyle trends to discern where those precious extra dollars will be spent.
According to some industry experts, the modern consumers' need for convenience will be enough to keep the wipes market—and its relatives—growing throughout the next decade as long as manufacturers are able to bring them products that are worth the extra cost. This month, associate editor Ellen Wuagneux looks at what consumer goods companies are focusing on in one important nonwovens segment, personal care wipes (see page 26). Surely, the trends going on in this key area are mirrored in other important nonwovens segments, presenting key challenges moving forward. Let's hope the industry can rise to these challenges.