Sales: $154 MILLION
Description: Key Personnel
David Cottrell, non-executive chairman; D.A. Campbell, CEO; J.J. Van Beijeren, director responsible for nonwovens.
Plants: Belgium, France, Sweden, U.K., U.S.
Drylaid, chemically bonded, drylaid thermally bonded, needlefelt, impregnation
2003 was described as a difficult year for British Vita’s nonwovens division. The Manchester, U.K.-based company reported its sales were flat at £94 million but ran its operation at a loss of £1 million, compared to a £8.7 million profit in 2002. The loss includes the impact of adjusting for profits previously overstated in the U.S. business unit.
Sales demand across Continental Europe, Scandinavia and the U.K. in traditional fiberfill markets for comfort applications were impacted by a progressive movement of these markets toward Central and Eastern Europe, according to executives. While volumes in bedding and apparel were able to stabilize, market overcapacity of European production impacted margins. Driving increased efficiency is the primary goal for this business area.
Meanwhile, European sales in hygiene and engineered products were strong, even though they were affected, to some degree, by a decline in exports to dollar-based countries. New product development brought new applications in hygiene, automotive and filtration while orthopedic cast padding sales in the medical segment were also strong.
Performance in the specialty yarn business remained good despite some movement of customers to India and Sri Lanka.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in British Vita’s Nonwovens division was the realization that its U.S. operation was operating at a loss, a situation that was hidden by an incorrect accounting practice last year.
Since acquiring a large nonwovens operation from Prelude in High Point, NC in 2001 and renaming it Vita Nonwovens, British Vita has added to its North American production capacity through the construction of greenfield sites in Texas and Indiana. While these sites have come onstream as planned, offering customers valued-added products, the company is currently reevaluating cost rationalization and product line review. As they have in Europe, executives expect that these measures will help restore profitability in the U.S. in the near term.
In addition to the U.S. site, British Vita owns several facilities throughout France, Belgium and Sweden that were originally a part of Libeltex, the Belgium-based nonwovens producer. This division, the largest producer of nonwovens within British Vita, largely targets non-commodity products within hygiene, automotive, filtration, geotextiles and acoustics. Future growth, executives said, will be generated through technical markets, which currently comprise about 70% of total sales.