2014 Nonwovens Sales: $400 million
Poul Mikkelsen, chairman; Martin Mikkelsen, CEO; Finn Schoning, group vice president, Finance; Andy Uhl, COO Jacob Holm, Paul Marold, COO, Sontara
Asheville, NC; Soultz, France; Old Hickory, TN; Asturias, Spain
Sontara, Hydroentanglement/spunlace, composites
Sontara Softesse, JetSpun, Softlite, SoftFlush, a.o.
Personal care, home care, hygiene, medical, specialty, technical, industrial
With a big, new U.S. line coming onstream and an acquisition in the spunlace market, Jacob Holm is one nonwovens producer poised for significant growth in the future. In 2014, the company’s pro forma full year sales, including the Sontara business, which was acquired from DuPont, early in the year, were reported at $400 million.
With a significant portion of its pre-Sontara capacity targeting the global wipes market, Jacob Holm has recently introduced new technology targeting the flushable wipes market, which is a new category for the company. According to CEO Martin Mikkelsen this technology, being marketed under the SoftFlush brand name, was six years in the making. In fact, several years into development, the company realized a completely new asset base would be needed to best serve this market, and the company committed to adding a second proprietary technology line at its North Carolina site.
“We had to completely rethink our technology approach after working on this application for a couple of years,” he says.
However, these efforts were well worth it. Softflush exhibits higher wet strength and faster dispersibility than other commercially available offerings and is finding strong acceptance in the moist toilet tissue, personal care, adult incontinence, medical and bathroom cleaning wipes markets.
“Better dispersibility with a softer feel is where we feel our proprietary technology has significant advantages versus existing substrates to meet dispersibility guidelines in consumer testing,” Mikkelsen says. “In the tests conducted, it exceeds the current standards.”
With custom-designed fiber blends from sustainable natural resources, SoftFlush is also biodegradable.
Mikkelsen says that the material has the potential to displace a portion of the large volume toilet tissue paper market, providing consumers with the opportunity to trade up for a certain performance attribute.
“Most of our customers have a presence in wipes and they are looking to grow in dispersible tissue,” he says. “They are looking for suppliers who can help them differentiate their offering to the premium segments.”
Representing a $60 million-plus investment, the line that makes SoftFlush came onstream in spring 2015, nine years after the first line began operation at the site, and features technology that is proprietary to Jacob Holm.
Meanwhile, Jacob Holm’s existing asset base continues to focus largely on the wipes market and it has benefitted from efforts to focus on lighter weights and alternative raw materials. While Holm continues to successfully diversify outside of the wipes market, it is wipes that is the company’s main business.
“Our existing asset base speaks well to wipes applications. We remain committed to wipes but we are selective in which specific categories we participate in,” Mikkelsen says.
Beyond wipes, Jacob Holm’s development team has developed certain products that add value in a number of applications like a lightweight range for hygiene applications.
“As these markets grow and change, we are committed to grow and change with them,” Mikkelsen says. “One of these areas is our lightweight range within hygiene. It has seen growth for us, but the product has also evolved to be very different than it was in the beginning.”
The acquisition of Sontara from DuPont, which was complete in third quarter 2014, provided Jacob Holm not only with access to new markets like medical and critical performance wipes, but also with new manufacturing assets in Old Hickory, TN and Asturias, Spain. Its sales prior to the acquisition were about $190 million or 5% of DuPont Protection Technologies’ sales.
Mikkelsen says that the Sontara business is now benefiting from a new product development team put in place by Paul Marold, a former Ahlstrom executive, who now serves as COO for the Sontara Business Unit. This business operates independently from Jacob Holm but there are certain synergies that exist between the two businesses.
“Sontara has a significant legacy presence in medical applications and we are looking to refresh this with a next generation offering,” Mikkelsen says. “Selected areas of this market benefit significantly from our combined product offering and we remain committed to grow our presence.”
The strong, science-based development work conducted by DuPont has earned Sontara a spot in a number of regulated industries like aerospace and automotive painting and provides Jacob Holm access to significant new markets.
“With Jacob Holm’s existing technology platform, our new Softflush product and the Sontara capabilities, our customers have the unique benefit of working with the only company spanning the full breadth of web forming technologies with a common denominator in hydroentanglement.”