Consumer Wipes Continue Boom

June 1, 2005

new growth opportunities eyed for future

There’s no doubt about it. The consumer wipes market continues to thrive. Despite mass entry, extreme product proliferation and not a few skeptics over the market’s long-term viability, new products continue to emerge and consumers seem eager to buy them.

When the first non-baby wipes began emerging about five years ago, the nonwovens industry watched with bated breath. Similar introductions a decade ago were not met with success and subsequently taken quietly off the market. This time, however, the string of disinfectant all-purpose household cleaning wipes introduced by Clorox and Procter & Gamble caused an explosion in the consumer market. They were followed not only by a string of use-specific wipes—glass cleaners, floor mops and auto care products—but also heralded a string of wipes for personal care applications, pet care products and a large range of other wipe products. According to market tracker Euromonitor, the global market for disposable consumer-oriented wipes is valued at about $4.5 billion and has seen double-digit growth every year since 1997.

Consumer Wipes Sales By Retail Outlet
(U.S.$ millions)
source: INDA

While baby wipes, the segment that started it all, continues to represent the largest portion of sales with $1.9 billion, new applications like facial cleansing, deodorant wipes and electrostatic wipes are growing the most rapidly as consumers who once used baby wipes for a range of non-baby cleansing needs now use these new styles of wipes to wash their faces, freshen up or whatever the task may be.

“Consumer wipes are still growing at a significantly more rapid pace than industrial wiping products; however, in each case, it’s the niche areas that comprise most of the growth,” explained Susan Stansbury of the Arketype Group, Green Bay, WI, “In consumer wipes products, cosmetics and household cleaning, wet wipes are still growing at a pace beyond 4%.”

Many credit consumers’ active lifestyles with the recent success of the wipes category. The combinations of job pressures, increased children activities and overall, have left many pressed for time and these products allow them to perform daily tasks in substantially less time. This saved time makes up for the extra cost per application of an impregnated wipe in the eyes of many consumers and industry sources are claiming that more consumers will make the switch to wipes. That said, growth in consumer wipes is expected to continue as manufacturers look to fill new niches in both the consumer goods market.

Let’s Talk Numbers

Globally, the wipes market has enjoyed unprecedented growth in the past six years with sales increasing from $1.8 billion in 1997 to $4.5 billion in 2002. According to figures supplied by Euromonitor, Western Europe consumes a large amount of wipes with sales to this region, reaching $1.8 billion in 2002, compared to $578 million in 1997. Euromonitor put North American wipes sales slightly below Western Europe at $1.7 billion in 2002, while INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, Cary, NC, estimates the size of the North American market at $2.2 billion (see figure 2), making it uncertain which region is actually consuming the most wipes. Either way, these two developed regions are still posting strong growth in wipes, which is a different story than other nonwovens market areas like diapers and feminine hygiene items where maturity has meant slow growth.

The North American Household Wipes Market
source: INDA

Meanwhile, developing regions have been slower to embrace wipes—largely due to limited disposable incomes for such products—but in recent years, these world regions have begun buying them too. After hovering in the $13-15 million range in the late 1990s, the wipes market of Eastern Europe took off in 2000 and is now valued around $24 million. A similar story can be told in the Asia-Pacific where sales started their upward climb in 1999 and are now at about $694 million. Even Africa and the Middle East and Australasia, while smaller regions, are estimating their wipes sales at $75 million a piece. Only Latin America seems to be having trouble in the wipes segment. Sales, typically in the $130 million range peaked at $155 million in 2001 and then experienced a drop to $136 million in 2002, thanks to economic problems in this region.

By category, the past six years have seen a tremendous shift in wipe products. In 1997, the largest segment by far was baby wipes, which comprised more than 80% of global wipes sales at $1.3 billion. Over the years, while the size of this market has tripled, baby wipe sales, while still robust by most industries’ standards, have been more modest, making it a somewhat smaller portion of the market. While still the wipes market’s largest segment, baby wipes now represent only about one-third of the market. This shift can be attributed to the aforementioned explosion in new product introductions in the past six years. The market for household cleaning wipes has growing from a paltry $220 million in 1997 to nearly $1.5 billion in 2002. If this growth continues, certainly household wipes have a good chance of unseating baby wipes as the largest segment of the wipes category. Notable increases within household wipes include electrostatic wipes, which have grown from $111 million to $709 million during the six-year period, and antibacterial wipes, which have increased from $26 million to $334 million.

The nonwovens industry has welcomed the growth of this segment. Not only has it increased sales, it has brought nonwovens closer to the end user. Trade associations in both North America and Europe have dedicated annual conferences to the role of nonwovens in consumer products, and this awareness has led to new product introductions outside of the wipes category.

A Word About Baby
Still the largest market for wipes worldwide, baby wipes are also the most well-known application for the substrates. While growth in this segment has slowed, thanks largely to maturity as well as market proliferation, sales in this market continue to climb in the slow single digits each year. Much of this growth is underway in developed regions where consumer spending is rising in general. In developed regions, sales are declining as consumers who once used baby wipes for non-baby tasks, are switching to new products like deodorant and personal cleansing cloths and moist towelettes. In the U.S., baby wipes sales dropped 5% to $412 million last year in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, according to market tracker Information Resources Inc., Chicago, IL.

Recent wipe introduction have focused on niche areas, according to industry observers.

To offset some of these declines, baby care marketers are specializing their wipes lines by offering added benefits to wow mothers. Procter & Gamble, for example, introduced Pampers Sensitive Touch Baby Wipes two years ago. This product, designed for sensitive baby skin, is hypoallergenic and alcohol free, and these features were well received by caregivers. The product has already achieved estimated sales of $16 million, according to industry sources.

Not to be outdone, P&G rival Kimberly-Clark now offers Newborn Ultra-Gentle baby wipes as well as a natural-based and an original wipe product under its Huggies brand. Additionally, K-C has recently entered the burgeoning baby bath business with the launch of disposable wash cloths and baby wash. The dry, disposable cloths are available in a lavender and chamomile-scented version as well as in a no-soap version that can be used with Huggies baby wash. These products use the same proprietary Co-form Technology used in K-C’s wipes business.

Despite these efforts by the branded manufacturers, the largest segment of the baby wipes market is private label with a 28% marketshare, according to IRI. This shows that mothers are not as brand loyal when it comes to wipes as they with diapers. In fact, some executives have pointed to a trend where mothers are filling branded tubs with private label products. Therefore brands have had to rely on promotional spending, couponing and other discounting efforts to grab marketshare.

The threat of private label products extends beyond baby care in the wipes market. Looking to cash in on the explosive growth of this segment, private label manufactures have been one step behind brands when it comes to offering new wipe products in virtually any consumer category. “Private label gives consumers an incentive to try a type of product that could otherwise be cost prohibitive when offered by a national brand,” explained Carmen Baker, project manager for private label wipe manufacturer Rockline Industries, Sheboygan, WI. “This has allowed us to experience incredible growth in the past several years.”

Flush With Ideas
Now that wipe products are fully immersed into consumers’ lives, the next step for manufacturers is to continuously improve them. Research and development teams are trying to improve the overall quality of their wipes without raising costs. One area that has emerged as a hot topic is flushability and achieving this goal has been difficult as there is some debate over the definition of flushability on the consumer market.

Some believe that a wipe is flushable if it fits down the commode, not taking into consideration what happens to the wipe after it enters the septic system; others equate flushability with a product’s ability to disperse like toilet tissue and still others will only deem a product flushable if it completely biodegrades in water. Either way, many consumers are interested in the flushability or biodegradability of a wipe only if it doesn’t drive up the overall price of the product, according to wipes industry consultant Phil Mango. “Basically they are not willing to pay more for the product or sacrifice overall quality,” he said.

While there are several types of flushable wipes on the market—for toilet cleaning, kids care and personal hygiene—most wipe products are not fully dispersible. This has challenged wipes manufacturers to convey the risks associated with flushing unflushable wipes. While consumer ignorance regarding the failure of most wipes to biodegrade has not yet posed too much of a problem, as the use of wipes broaden so will the threat to municipal septic and sewer systems nationally. In fact, the city of Raleigh is already making it illegal to flush a wipe down the toilet, an action that can be punishable with up to a $25,000 fine. Additionally, wipe products (together with tree roots) have been blamed for clogging a section of a sewer system in Grand Rapids, MI.

Government officials are concerned that wipe manufacturers are not doing enough to warn consumers against flushing wipes. While some non-flushable disinfectant wipes, bear large warning insignias against flushing, others have this information in small type that the consumer is unlikely to read. This has led INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, Cary, NC, and the European Disposable and Nonwovens Association, Brussels, Belgium, to kick off efforts to increase education on this matter. The efforts are intended to fend off the threat of additional legislation that could diminish wipe popularity.

In addition to flushability, flexibility is also an interest among consumer products manufacturers. “All of the major companies are trying to develop a flexible, stronger wipe,” Mr. Mango said. “This is more of a defensive move than an offensive measure. They are all afraid that the competition will come up with some sort of superwipe before them.”

Spunlace Explosion
Nonwoven wipes, either dry or wet, have typically been made from two types of nonwovens technologies—airlaid or spunlace. Traditionally, the North American market has favored the thickness of airlaid, due largely to the fact that most baby wipes made in the region uses airlaid substrates. Meanwhile, Europeans have favored the slickness and tactile feel of spunlaced wipes, which dominate abroad.

This market dynamic has begun to shift in recent years and spunlace is becoming preferred over airlaid in many wipe applications. This has partly been caused by P&G’s rumored switch from airlaid to spunlaced materials in its U.S. baby wipes business. According to reports, P&G had been using spunlaced nonwovens in European applications for some time but has only recently incorporated the material into its North American business.

The rise of spunlace can also be attributed to advancements in manufacturing processes. Decorative options such as embossing as well as more consistent quality and varieties of weights have been developed by the many nonwovens producers looking to make a buck off of wipe manufacturers in search of variety. Also, unlike airlaid, spunlaced wipes can be offered in both canister or tub form whereas airlaid’s thickness makes packagingin pull-through canisters difficult.

“Manufacturers of airlaid just aren’t keeping up,” said Mr. Mango. “Overcapacity and other market conditions have really squeezed research and development efforts in airlaid and the market has felt the result.”

Despite these problems, airlaid has continued to be strong in special performance wipes where toughness is important. These include scrubbers for a variety of uses and automotive cleaners.

With so many potential areas for wipes to penetrate, certainly consumer goods manufacturers will continue to consider them important aspects of their business. Eager to save time through revolutionary new products, consumers will continue to enthusiastically choose wipe products for their daily activities.

Related Application:

Related Market:

Related Technology:

Related Other: