Tabletop Nonwovens

By Susan Stansbury, Contributing Writer | October 9, 2013

Delivering steady growth.

On a global basis, nonwovens are replacing linen and other materials for tabletop applications including napkins, tablecovers, cutlery wraps and other dining disposables. Slowly, but steadily in many regions, nonwovens are being recognized for convenience, serving efficiency and specific replacement properties.

Airlaid for Tabletop

In napkin categories, airlaid nonwovens are the linen replacement fabrics known for their textured patterns, printed decorations, and in some cases, fabric-dyed colors. As a step above tissue products and taking a premium position replacing linen napkins, airlaids are touted by producers like Duni as offering the weight and feel of fabric, but are more efficient to work with than linen.

Headquartered in Sweden, Duni offers the widest array of linen-replacement products including "Dunilin" and other brands. "Inducing customers away from the use of linen," is Duni's airlaid mission which has led to increased market share. In Europe where textiles and linens are still dominant, Duni leads in most of the nonwovens tabletop segments. Duni's white and machine dyed airlaid is exported into the U.S. as well.

European Linen Replacement

From Northern European countries where about 80% of restaurant napkins are linen and textiles, to greater use of linen replacements in the rest of Europe, airlaid is growing as the "premium" napkin choice. As less formal dining increases and more restaurant "chains" gain share in Europe, airlaid has more opportunities on tabletops.

Italy is a particular target for airlaid napkins and similar applications since linen materials have a lower share than in the rest of Europe. In Italy, paper towels are uniquely made of airlaid and disposable tissue products (rather than textiles) are strong on tabletops.  Additionally, airlaid napkins and tablecovers are a frequent restaurant item selection.  Spunlaced nonwovens are also seen in some tablecovers, especially table toppers placed over a textile layer.

Premium disposables are even more popular in Germany, Austria and Switzerland where airlaid napkins are common in fine dining settings. Airlaid napkins in northern and southern Germany often have a different presentation, with crisp standup folds seen in northern Germany and softer airlaid used in the south. Nonwovens producers have the ability to engineer stiff and soft airlaid variations through fiber choices, online control of loft and thickness and use of various resin binders.

Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East are increasing targets for exported nonwovens in the restaurant and food service industry. Napkins and nonwovens table materials are also coming out of China for sale by global internet marketers like Alibaba.

Strong Pace in U.S.

According to some U.S. producers, linen napkin replacement by airlaid nonwovens is occurring at a rate of at least 10% per year. Along with the growth are an increasing number of napkin items, cutlery wraps, basket liners--all seen on tabletops. Making it easier for marketers is the ability to target restaurant chains for national impact. Mid-level dining chains, for example, have much greater market penetration in the U.S. at about 50% versus around 20% in Europe.

Among the U.S. producers are two Wisconsin companies, Hoffmaster and Midwest Specialty Products. Hoffmaster and its Creative Converting Consumer Division produce the widest array of napkins and other tabletop disposables available. The range, from flat-shipped and folded dinner napkins, pre-wrapped cutlery, guest towels, table runners, and tablecovers, embossed and unembossed, white or in prints and colors--all support industry growth. Midwest Specialty Products offers its own full line of airlaid napkins in flat packs, 1/8-folded dinner napkins, 1/4-folded lunch napkins, cocktail napkins and 1/6-folded guest towels.

"Airlaid napkins are a middle-of-the-road choice against tissue where restaurants improve their presentation while maintaining cost per customer," says Dennis Reimer, Midwest Specialty's president.

"Airlaid has high absorbency characteristics which allow restaurants to use fewer napkins per customer." On the other hand, he points out, airlaid replaces linen at reduced costs while maintaining table presentation.

Producer Georgia-Pacific offers linen-like embossing to take advantage of this trend toward airlaid napkins, cutlery wrap, and basket liners for fried foods. Unembossed airlaid is also offered in various weights. To help buyers justify the change to linen replacement, providers like Hoffmaster show the calculations including costs of linen delivery, laundry bags and more. Added to the pleasing aesthetics, the trend is likely to continue at an eye-catching pace.

An industry consultant, the author can be reached at Susan@rightangleconcepts.com.

Related Technology: