Demand for wipes in the U.S. is forecast to rise 5.1% per year to $2.5 billion in 2016. Sales of wipes will be aided by ongoing improvements in the economy. Wipes will continue to benefit from features such as ease of use, disposability, portability and reduced risk of cross-contamination. While disposability has been a primary advantage in the growth of wipes, it also has the potential to restrain sales as more consumers become attuned to environmental concerns. The 2007-2009 recession appears to have had an ongoing impact on buying habits in the consumer wipes segment. During this time, consumers economized by using private label wipes (limiting value sales at the retail level), by shifting away from task-specific wipes to general purpose products or by returning to traditional cleaning methods.
Going forward, convenience, consumer acceptance and innovation will remain driving forces in the consumer market, with personal hygiene and general purpose household cleaning wipes projected to register the fastest gains. Personal hygiene wipes will enjoy increased market penetration; the concept of wet bathroom tissue as part of a standard bathroom routine is gaining acceptance especially since the industry has become diligent in developing not only flushable but also dispersible products. Growth in general purpose disinfectant wipes will be propelled by the appeal of one-step cleaning. The large and more established baby wipes category will primarily be driven by gains in the infant population. Further growth will be slowed as many consumers who used less expensive baby wipes for non-diaper applications during the recession return to task-specific wipes as conditions improve.
The industrial wipes market will continue to improve from its lackluster performance during the 2007-2009 recession, benefiting from an acceleration in manufacturing activity through 2016. As such, wipes geared toward the manufacturing market are projected to achieve above average gains through the forecast period. In addition, demand for industrial wipes will benefit from product innovations and expanding applications. Among industrial wipes, manufacturing and health care types will remain the two largest segments.
In 2011, the amount of raw materials consumed in the production of wipes in the U.S. totaled 552 million pounds, valued at $1.3 billion. Raw materials used in wipes production can be roughly divided into two main categories: substrates and chemicals. In both categories, producers are engaging in a number of measures that are deemed natural, sustainable or environmentally friendly in order to address the growing “green” trend among wipes converters and consumers of wipes.
Trade is relatively low in the U.S. wipes industry, primarily due to the higher transportation costs of wet wipes, the product category that accounted for roughly two-thirds of total wipes volume demand in 2011. As such, wipes production in the U.S. is projected to grow relatively in line with demand. Based on 2.6% annual gains in wipes volume demand, consumption of raw materials is forecast to rise 2.9% per year to 637 million pounds in 2016. The difference is due to several factors, including consumer interest in heavier duty wipes and a shift in the product mix to more wet wipes, which use more chemicals than their dry counterparts.
Demand for substrates used in wipes is projected to increase 6% per year to $1.4 billion in 2016. Gains will decelerate from rates achieved during the 2006-2011 period, as pricing is expected to moderate. In addition, a rebound in the U.S. manufacturing sector—a large user of economical paper-based wipers—will further limit growth. Nevertheless, wipes producers will continue to use higher cost nonwoven substrates, in an effort to provide more advanced performance properties, such as dual-sided textures, enhanced strength and extra absorbency.
Substrates used in the production of wipes include paper-based and nonwoven types. Selection of a substrate is dependent on cost/performance issues. In general, paper-based substrates are economical, and are primarily used for light-to-medium duty industrial applications. Nonwovens typically maintain a higher pricing structure than paper products and can be engineered for various degrees of strength and other performance characteristics. Over the 2001-2011 period, nonwoven substrates steadily increased their share of the wipes market.
Nonwoven substrates used in wipes are typically produced using spunlaced and airlaid technologies. To a lesser extent, composite and needlepunched technologies are used to produce nonwoven wipes. Prior to the early 2000s, airlaid dominated substrate demand. However, airlaid consistently lost marketshare to other technologies, primarily spunlaced, over the early 2000s. In addition to outright substitution, airlaid lost market share due to repressed pricing during the 2002-2006 period after posting record highs in 2001. As a result of these factors, spunlaced overtook airlaid as the leading substrate in 2006, and in 2011 accounted for 27% of the total substrate market.
Performance characteristics vary depending on the technology and the fibers used in wipes substrate production. Paper-based wipers are derived from wood pulp. Historically, synthetic, petrochemical-based fibers such as polyester and polypropylene dominated production of nonwoven substrates designed for wipes use.
While these fibers will continue to maintain a significant share of use in nonwovens wipes, the industry is continuously moving toward greener ingredients. As such, nonwoven roll goods manufacturers catering to the wipes market are increasingly incorporating natural (e.g., cotton) and man-made (e.g., viscose) cellulosic fibers in fabrics designated for the wipes market.
Cotton fibers are soft, hypoallergenic, and naturally absorbent; and have greater strength when wet than dry. Virgin or recycled cotton can be used to produce wipes. Nonwovens using cotton fibers are primarily produced via spunlaced or needlepunch technologies. Cotton fibers are heavily used in personal care wipes, such as baby wipes, facial cleansing wipes and bathroom hygiene wipes.
During the 2006-2011 period, prices for polyester and cotton fibers rose. A shortage of cotton raised prices of this material. During the shortage, polyester was the alternative to cotton in many applications outside of wipes, significantly raising demand (and prices) for polyester fiber for all end use markets, including wipes. Pricing for both fibers is expected to moderate through 2016.