Wiping Up Profits

June 14, 2005

outlook for home and commercial wipes sales remains strong

From baby’s bottom to mascara-streaked eyes, wipes for all kinds of cleaning are available in the market. From top: A Huggies Baby Wipe; Acuity Brand’s Zep commercial wipe; Neutrogena’s cleaning cloth; Clorox’s Ready Mop.
Like many young mothers, Liz Donohue often finds herself juggling myriad chores day in and day out. Always pressed for time, she considers any consumer product that can save her time a blessing. So it’s no surprise that when a friend introduced disposable wipes to her, she quickly incorporated them into her everyday routine.

“I was at a friend’s house, and she pulled out a wipe,” Mrs. Donohue recalled of her first experience with Swiffer, the well-known product from Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH. “I asked her ‘What is that,’ and she said ‘You can’t live without it.’”

And she hasn’t since. A mother of three small children, Mrs. Donohue has tried many household wipes to clean a variety of surfaces, including the floors, kitchen counter and almost anything around the house. She insists wipes not only save her time but also keep her home cleaner because they are easy to store and use. Even though she realizes wipes are more costly than cleaning chemicals and a rag, she said there’s no comparison. “My house stays cleaner,” she added. “The convenience is worth it.”

Mrs. Donohue and consumers like her are the reason why the wipes market continues to gain momentum. Whether it’s for convenience, space savings or sanitary reasons, home wipe use is at an all-time high. Driven by a deluge of new products in numerous categories, the market is increasingly segmented, with novel applications cropping up all the time. From leather cleaning to wood polishing to germ killing, the uses are numerous. More wipes are sure to be released this year as private label marketers try to cash in on the category dominated by the likes of P&G and Clorox.

Consumer products may be the tip of the iceberg as many nonwovens suppliers and converters predict an explosion of industrial wipes. Aided by the success of consumer wipes, industrial applications will surely follow the same acclivous path, some observers say. They point to a host of reasons for strong growth, many of those driving household wipe growth. The difference is with fewer products in the industrial market, there may be more room for new players.

Consumer or industrial—it’s all good for the nonwovens industry. According to Ian Butler, director of market research and statistics at INDA, Association of the Nonwovens Fabric Industry, Cary, NC, more than 40 new wipe products have been introduced since 1999. In 2001, the North American market produced 2.1 billion square meters of rolled goods (worth more than $400 million) for wipes production, an increase of more than 8% from the year before. Globally, Mr. Butler estimated the market at 6 billion meters, while Lynda Kelly, a senior consultant at John R. Starr, Inc., Naples, FL, estimates that the worldwide market will grow to 7.7 billion square meters by 2006.

The global retail value of wipes is more than $3.9 billion, according to market research firm Euromonitor. By 2006, it expects the market to reach $5.3 billion.

In the U.S., consumer purchases of non-baby wipes rose, but baby wipes sales fell, offsetting some of those gains. Information Resources Inc., a Chicago, IL-based marketing research firm, reported that moist towelette sales at supermarket, drug and mass merchandisers rose 16.6% in the 52 weeks ended August 11, 2002 (data do not include results at Wal-Mart stores or dry wipes). Unit sales were up 16%. At the same time, baby wipes sales fell 5.8%.

In the floor cleaning category, Clorox’s ReadyMop is the top seller, according to IRI, with $56 million in sales at supermarket and drugstores for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 1, 2002. Swiffer products, which include wet and dry versions, occupy the second, fourth and eight spots, with $98 million in combined sales. IRI’s data show two clear trends: wipes sales as a whole continue to climb and the market is becoming more segmented, with consumers switching from baby wipes to products targeted for task-specific products.

“I think what’s happened is that in some of the cases as (consumer product companies) have sensed the (baby wipes) business maturing; they’re now putting their guns around the other markets,” said Mr. Butler, who pointed out that approximately 70% of the market is consumer while the rest is industrial. In past years, baby wipes were the catch-all for all wiping needs; today, as more sophisticated products become available, consumers are opting for those, he said.

The Boom Continues
If the hype over wipes seems overblown, take a look at the number of products introduced in recent years. Although wipes have been in the market for more than a decade, it’s only during the past several years that growth has accelerated. Why? According to nonwovens manufacturers, much of the success can be credited to marketers such as P&G, Clorox and Kimberly-Clark. Products such as Swiffer, ReadyMop and Armor All wipes are household names that buyers associate with convenience. At a time when time is an important commodity for consumers, these marketers have tapped into an effective selling point. And with sizable marketing budgets, they’ve managed to win over many new customers.

“The consumer is much more looking for time savings. These nonwovens offer value and convenience,” said Ms. Kelly. “I think the current economic climate helps to foster the development and the continuing positive revenues.”

But consumers might not have realized the benefits of wipes if not for companies such as P&G, said Kelly. She noted that even though the first wipe was introduced by Tokyo, Japan-based Kao Corporation in 1989, it wasn’t until P&G made a major push into the category that it really blossomed. Since then, many other companies have devoted millions of dollars to educate their customers and develop the best cleaning tools to meet their needs.

The success of consumer wipes isn’t a surprise to Karl Ronn, research and development manager for home care products at Procter & Gamble. To Mr. Ronn, the proliferation of wipes is another step in evolution of disposable products, a trend he said started in the 1960s.

“Everybody today multitasks,” said Mr. Ronn. “For people with time scarcity, it (the wipe) is of high value.”

He pointed out that as the need for disposable items has evolved, so too have the products. Swiffer, for instance, first appeared as a dry cloth but was soon followed by a wet version. Now there is a Wet Jet version, in which a solution dispenser is added. He said it’s an example of how an entire cleaning tool can be built around a nonwoven.

If there is any doubt about the impact that nonwoven wipes have had on the household cleaning market, just look at IRI’s sales data for cleaning tools, mops and brooms. During the past year, the category has grown 15.7% to $486 million—a large part of that increase due to Clorox’s ReadyMop, which had $56 million in sales in the first year of its launch.

Similarly, the cleaning cloth category grew at a similar rate. For the same period, sales were up 17.5% to $124 million, with Clorox’s disinfectant wipes the leader at $72 million. Reckitt Benckiser and Armor All, at the second and third spots, respectively, grew 28.1% and 32.6%.

Household cleaning and personal care are two of the consumer segments that have been infiltrated by wipe introductions.

While household wipes seem to draw all the attention these days, a laundry list of other applications help fuel the market. Marketers of personal care products—from face cleansers to wet toilet papers to antiperspirants—are all looking to wipes to be the next big thing. Why? In two words: value added. Per-application costs for a wipe compared with the cost of using the personal care product itself are significantly higher, but consumers who value the convenience are willing to accept the premium. As long as they realize value, they’re likely to dole out more.

Hyo-Young Kim, marketing manager for Jacob Holm Industries, Jyderup, Denmark, said she expects the adult wipes segment to strengthen not only in the U.S. but globally. A number of cosmetics companies are in the early product development stages, and as more consumers catch on to the ease with which wipes remove cosmetics, clean and refresh, they’ll spur additional new uses.

Although Western Europe and the U.S. offer the greatest growth potential, other regions may embrace the wipe down the road. Asian countries with high disposable income such as Taiwan, Korea and Singapore could experience greater wipe usage. Even Eastern Europe could potentially offer new customers to wipes manufacturers as markets develop.

An Industrial Revolution?
Just as consumer markets open up in other regions, the U.S. industrial market appears ready to catch on to the wipes craze. Encouraged by improved products that are more competitively priced, many businesses today are evaluating wipes for their cleaning needs. Enhanced durability, cloth-like feel, easy disposal and no laundering are catalysts behind the move. Many nonwovens producers say it’s just a matter of time before large flocks of companies go from rags to wipes.

“As the consumer companies create these markets, we can then follow,” said Mark Arcaro, president of Phoenixville, PA-based Disposable Products, an industrial wipes converter. By getting more customers to use wipes, consumer product companies help change the mindset of business managers.

No one knows this better than Kimberly-Clark, Dallas, TX, the market leader in business wipes and the largest producer of premoistened wipes. Company officials said they believe consumer trends lead the business-to-business market by two to three years. Even when the household segment plateaus, the industrial side keeps expanding. Furthermore, many sectors within the industrial side are ripe for growth—supermarkets and healthcare and hospitality institutions, to name a few. For instance, the recent problem of cruise ship illnesses highlights opportunities for anti-bacterial wipes in the travel business.

Andy Clement, the category manager for business-to- business wipes at Kimberly-Clark, said the outlook is strong for dry wipes but uncertain for wet wipes. In many instances, the company’s dry wipes are replacing rental towels that are laundered after each use. It’s a growing business, he said, because customers find wipes convenient, consistent and cheaper.

To profit from this trend, the company is strongly pushing its Wipeall X80 premium dry wipes, which are manufactured with the company’s spunlace and pulp technology. Boasting the product’s strength and absorbency, K-C is guaranteeing customers who switch for 60 days a 10% savings. In 70-80% of the cases, those customers stick to the wipes, Mr. Clement said.

But when it comes to the future of wet wipes, he said the picture is muddied. The reason? Costs. While home wipe premiums are indeed hefty, at most they are a few dollars more at the checkout line. On the industrial side, where purchases are made in bulk, the difference is glaring. “People are more conscious (of price) when it comes to the B2B side just because the purchases are higher volume,” Mr. Clement noted.

However, premoistened wipes offer value perfect for settings such as hospitals and food service. Still, he said the growth potential of these wipes remains to be seen.

One converter betting heavily on commercial wet wipes is Tufco Technologies. It has gone as far as hiring an on-site microbiologist to work with customers. Michelle Corrigan, vice president of sales and marketing, said many companies are developing products that will be available in one or two years. Some new applications such as paint wipes are just starting to emerge.

Ms. Corrigan said one convenience of wet wipes is minimizing training. Learning the proper chemical dilution or cleaning methods isn’t required of workers who use wet wipes. Instead, they can spend more time cleaning. JohnsonDiversey, the industrial cleaning giant, estimated that labor accounts for 50% of the costs associated with cleaning a typical European hotel. As the single largest cost, labor could be reduced dramatically with greater use of wipes.

Still, Ms. Corrigan said she’s not sure how readily companies will accept the premium of wet wipes. “The convenience factor is there, but whether the price point is there remains to be seen.”

As the rate of product introductions continues, nonwovens suppliers are left asking: when will the boom slow and how can they make wipes a value-added product of their own? Like any immature market, wipes will expand with new products and sales. Even the most optimistic marketing manager will concede that a plateau is in sight. Some industry observers say consumer wipe growth may slow within a year, while others expect the current growth trend to last longer. In any event, there is consensus that to push sales along, nonwovens suppliers can help by offering unique roll goods—airlaid or spunlaced—that can be converted into unique household products.

P&G’s Mr. Ronn said the industry needs more innovation. Much in the way that some wipes have evolved from a single-material product to multi-constructed pads, roll goods will also have to push the envelope, he added. A pitfall to avoid, he cautioned, is investing in the wrong technology, which has caused some companies’ products to become “irrelevant” and forced them out of business.

“The question is what is the next big thing,” he posed, adding that much of the development work he oversees involves composites. Swiffer, for instance, is composed of three different materials. Composites give chemical manufacturers formulation flexibility, he added.

What’s the answer to Mr. Ronn’s question? What’s the next “big” thing? Don’t look for revolutionary changes; most likely, improvements will be incremental. Subtle shifts in market trends will drive new technology. After all, no one is willing to risk substantial investments on a hunch.

Many nonwovens executives are looking for spunlaced nonwovens to make a stronger push into the North American market. Although airlaid pricing remains low and is the dominant technology here, some wipes marketers believe hydroentangled products give them more flexibility design and manufacturing. For instance, the wide pattern choices of spunlaced substrates enable converters to achieve more bulk or a feel simulating cloth. Others may choose it for strength or softness. In any case, spunlaced nonwovens are likely to gain a better foothold in North America.

Tenotex’s marketing and sales manager Marina Nova said as the performance bar rises, wipes manufacturers will have no choice but turn to spunlace for its absorbency, stability and durability, especially when it comes to home cleaning needs. “Some added value is required,” she stressed. Tenotex began producing spunlaced nonwovens for the wipes market in early 2002.

That’s not to say airlaid will be replaced. With baby wipes the largest subsegment, airlaid will still be a significant portion of the wipes market for years to come. Furthermore, with advancements such as airlaced (hydroentangled airlaid) now available globally, the technology has the potential to surpass spunlaced nonwovens in value, according to Ms. Kelly. Although it costs more than airlaid, it also offers more strength, less linting and myriad other benefits.

While each of the three technologies may eventually find its own niche, spunlaced is clearly the technology of choice in Europe and Japan, also key wipes markets. In Europe, even baby wipes are manufactured with spunlace. In Japan—perhaps the most sophisticated wipes market in the world—spunlace wipes are used extensively throughout the home.

Which technology will wipes marketers favor in the near future? Many roll goods suppliers and converters say customers don’t care; they want the best performance for the lowest cost. A changing market has altered the relationship between wipes marketers and their suppliers.

“Today, consumer product companies are talking directly to the nonwovens producers, instead of the converters, to decide on what benefits a special tailor-made nonwoven can bring them,” said Katharina Rath, director of wipes for Europe, BBA Nonwovens. “A good partnership from the beginning of the development of a new product between the consumer product company, the nonwoven supplier and the converter will be beneficial to all.”

Figuring out how to sell value while ratcheting up margins will be a challenge for nonwovens suppliers in the expanding wipes market. But, with new applications still unearthed and many others just blossoming, roll goods producers will have ample room to explore. Despite the plethora of introductions, the market will eventually sift out the winners from the losers, cautioned Tom Marth, vice president of sales at Green Bay Nonwovens.

“Maybe not all of those are going to survive,” Mr. Marth said. “It’s going to take a while to see who the people are left standing.”

So even though the wipes market continues to be a bright spot for the nonwovens industry, consumer product companies and their suppliers can’t approach the market casually. It will take diligent research and development to come up with products that provide real value. At the same time, manufacturers have to invest heavily in marketing and consumer education to nurture fledgling applications. Nonwovens suppliers must do their part by constantly improving materials so their customers’ goods don’t become static. If executed correctly, the partnering will pay off in the form of a pipeline of successful new wipes

Wipes Introduced from 1999-2001
Consumer Wipes Consumer Household Wipes Industrial Wipes
Lever 2000 Soap Wipes Swiffer Wet (P&G) Healthcare Wipes (NicePak)
Cottonelle Fresh Rollwipes Swiffer Wet Jet (P&G)
Medical Wet Wipes (KC)
Charmin Freshmates (P&G) Pledge Grab-It (SC Johnson)
O-Cel-O Cleaning Wipes (3M)
Quilted Northern Fresh
and Moist Wipes (GP)
Pledge Dusting Mits
(SC Johnson)
Niagara Sponge Cloth Wipes (3M)
Charmin Fresh Kid (P&G) Scotchbrite High Medical Wipes (Treco
Always Feminine Wipes (P&G) Performance
Cleaning Cloths (3M)
OSHA Standard Pre-Wash Boom Wipe (American Polywater Corp.)
Daily Face Wash
(P&G — Oil of Olay)
Various Scented Electrostatic
Anti-Bacterial Wipes
Hot Stick Cleaner Wipe
Biore Face Wash (Biore)
Mr. Clean Wipes-Ups
in 3 Varieties (P&G)
Clean and Wax Wipes
Nice ’n Clean Baby Wipes
Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
Wiping Cloths and Reinforced Wipers (Tri-Kel)
Pudgies Baby Wipes (NicePak)
Armor All Leather Wipes
Klear Screen Computer Wipes
Huggies Supreme Care Baby Wipes (KC)
Armor All Protectant Wipes
Sontara Industrial Wipes
Huggies Natural Care Baby
Wipes (KC)
Cleaning Wipes (Clorox)
Sontara Print Clean Wipes (DuPont)
Bibster Disposable Bibs (P&G)
Armor all Glass Wipes
Sontara Pro Clean Wipes
Sontara Baby Wipes (DuPont)
Endust Electronic Wipes
(Sara Lee)
Sontara Car Clean Wipes
Moist Toilet Tissue (Rockline Industries)
  Micropure Cleanroom Wipes (DuPont)
Dove Facial Cleansing Cloths (Unilever)
  Institutional nonwovens Wipes (Gross Kubrick Corp.)
Ponds Facial Cleansing Cloths (Unilever)   Burnishing Industrial Wipes (HDK Industrial)
Preparation H Wipes    

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