Sales: $84.5 Million
Description: Key Personnel
Suominen Corporation: Kalle Tanhuanpää, president and CEO, Suominen; Nonwovens: Sakari Santa-Paavola, vice president and general manager Margareta Huldén, product and process development director, Henri Laitervo, sales director
ISO 9001, 14001 environmental certification
Hydroentangled, thermal bonded
Fibrella, Biolace, Novelin
Sales remained flat at €67.3 million for Finnish nonwovens manufacturer Suominen Nonwovens in 2006. The maker of spunlaced and thermal bonded nonwovens reported sluggish sales during the first half of the year followed by increased demand during the third and fourth quarters. This trend has continued into 2007 with first quarter sales clocking in 6% higher than the first quarter of 2006, according to Sakari Santa-Paavola, vice president and general manager. “We have made a lot of efforts to be successful and grow our sales and we have been successful,” he said.
While Suominen’s spunlace business has been growing steadily on wipes demand, the other portion of its business, thermal bonded has been marked by slow growth and slackened demand in recent years but this situation is changing, said Mr. Santa-Paavola. “It seems that there is a demand for thermal bond in the higher end of the feminine hygiene market, and it has been easy for us to create a product that meets the denier requirements and other demands of this market.”
Suominen is constantly making improvements on the quality and production levels of its equipment to make sure that it gives customers the ability to differentiate products.
Meanwhile, Suominen’s spunlace business continues to grow thanks to increased wipes demand. In this technology area, Suominen operates four lines, all in Nakkila, giving it the flexibility to manufacture a variety of different products using a number of finishing techniques and raw material types. This year, Suominen will add the ability to hydroentangle cotton through the addition of a more sophisticated water filtration and recycling system. This move responds to increased interest among marketers and consumers of wipes in cotton.
Flexibility with raw materials has also helped ease the burden of volatile raw material costs for Suominen. While industry watchdogs predict that viscose pricing levels have plateaued, at least for the time being, few expect costs will drop, meaning that companies throughout the spunlace supply chain have had to accept new pricing structures. “Pricing has become more accepted,” Mr. Santa-Paavola said. “Customers are now valuing things like strong research and development and service and not considering price as the first thing.”
Raw material innovation, in fact, has led to the creation of a new wipe substrate—called Biolace —made from natural or renewable fibers such has viscose, cotton, pulp and PLA, which is produced from corn starch during a fermentation process. Biolace represents a first step toward a new single-use and disposability mentality, according to the company. By combining raw materials from renewable resources with Suominen’s unique energy-saving production processes and providing nonwovens able to biodegrade 100% in available municipal compost facilities, Suominen is offering a new alternative to the wipes market.
Biolace is just one part of Suominen’s corporate-wide environmental consciousness. In its Flexible Packaging division, a stylish matte film that includes lime as filler and enables users to write on the surface with a normal ballpoint pen is available, while in the Wipes division, a wet wipe lotion using more environmentally friendly ingredients is offered.
Speaking of Wet Wipes, this portion of its business—acquired from Codi International in 2003—continues to perform well despite severe price competition in the European wet wipes market. Suominen Nonwovens’ contribution to this business continues to grow as well and collaboration between the two divisions has enhanced the company’s ability to meet its customers’ demands.
“Our company structure is different from that of our competitors,” Mr. Santa-Paavola said. “We are a one-stop shop to our customers with our Flexible Packaging division and our wipes converting business. This gives us a benefit in the speed we can complete all of the steps because everything is coming from one place.”