2018 Nonwovens Sales: $509 million
Petri Helsky, CEO; Toni Tamminen, CFO; Ernesto Levy, senior vice president, the Americas: Markku Koivisto, senior vice president, Europe and CTO; Lynda Kelly, senior vice president, Business Development
Bethune, SC; Green Bay, WI; Windsor Locks, CT; Paulínia, Brazil; Cressa, Italy; Mozzate, Italy; Nakkila, Finland; Alicante, Spain
Spunlace, wetlaid, thermal bonded, carded, hydroentangled, SPC
Wipes, medical, hygiene
Suominen continues to focus on fiber-based value added products within its wipes business and in other applications. The Helsinki, Finland-based company reported sales of €431.1 million ($509 million) in 2018, which was a essentially flat.
Earnings, meanwhile, were significantly lower at €4.6 million, compared to €15 million the prior year.
Describing results as disappointing, CEO Petri Helsky blamed the results on steep raw material prices as well as challenges associated with ramping up its latest line in Bethune, SC.
“I think even if the outcome of last year was somewhat disappointing, at Suominen we are doing a lot of great things that will pay off in the future,” he says. “We have worked out some pricing issues and we have progressed with ramping up our new line. We are on targets with our plans.”
Helsky assumed the role of president and CEO of the company in January after its recently appointed CEO Pekka Ojanpää died in an aviation accident in late November. He had been set to start his role at Suominen on December 1.
Helsky previously served as president of Metsä Tissue Corporation and prior to that as president of Pulp and Paper segment and the Asia-Pacific region and member of management board at Kemira Oyj and has extensive experience in international management positions.
In other organizational news, in July, the company reorganized its business structure into two new business areas, Americas and Europe in a move to be more efficient, focused and agile. As part of the reorganization, Suominen appointed Toni Tamminen as CFO and changed the responsibilities of some current members of its Executive Team. Ernesto Levy was named senior vice president of Americas, Markku Koivisto was named senior vice president of Europe; and Lynda Kelly was named senior vice president, Business Development. Meanwhile, senior vice president, Operational Excellence, Larry Kinn has announced his retirement.
Suominen has previously operated through a market-focused organization with two divisions, Convenience, which encompassed its wipes-related businesses, and Care, containing activities outside of wipes.
In 2018, the company’s Convenience business area accounted for 92% of its sales, and Suominen held onto its position as a global market leader in nonwovens for wipes with a marketshare of about 20%. Within this area, Suominen supplied the baby care, personal care, household wipes and workplace wipes markets and its customers include global consumer brands, private label manufacturers, retail chains and regional nonwovens converters.
Suominen’s latest investment, a new wetlaid line in Bethune, SC, was able to turn a positive gross profit in late 2018—after some problems relating to start up—and is allowing Suominen to develop new products serving value-added markets like flushable substrates and hard surface cleaning.
“We have stabilized the new line and we can run our main product with quality and good outcome while we further broaden the product line coming off of it,” Helsky says. “The idea is we can produce different products and technologies on the nonwovens line.”
In other investment news, Suominen announced in February 2018 it was going to add carding technologies on an existing spunlace line at its plant in Green Bay, WI, an investment that will improve its ability to supply high added value nonwovens for household, personal care, medical and workplace wipes. The new machinery is expected to be fully operational by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, the business area formerly known as Care reported sales of €35 million last year, largely to the hygiene and medical markets. Like the wipes business, Care was impacted by steep price increases. While Suominen did not launch any new products in its medical business in 2018, it did extend manufacturing of its colored Fibrella Zorb+ —previously made only in the U.S.—to Alicante, Spain. In hygiene, Suominen made three significant products launches in October 2018. Fibrella Cozy is a topsheet material for absorbent hygiene products such as panty liners that is superior in softness and excellent in fluid management. It is bonded with water and without any binders, making it an attractive choice for hygiene brands and converters. The other launches centered around extending Suominen’s more than decade old Biolace products line. Biolace Move for acquisition and distribution layers and Biolace Cozy for topsheets can both be used a components in absorbent hygiene products.
While the Care businesses no longer have their own business unit, growth outside of wipes continues to be important focus to Suominen’s business. “We have put a lot of effort into developing the ranges and the products in that market segment and we will continue to have some interesting opportunities here going forward. The business operating structure will not impact our efforts in this area,” Helsky says.
In 2018, Suominen launched a sustainable product portfolio to better highlight its environmentally sound products. While the company already has a large portfolio of products made out of renewable and biodegradable raw materials, it is continuously looking for alternatives to replace plastics.
“Suominen has extended its current offering by launching new products and is continuously developing new products for this portfolio which consists of products made of renewable, recycled, compostable and plastic-free raw materials,” he adds.
In 2019, Suominen launched Biolace Sensation, a 100% renewable material option made from plant derived cellulose that is chemically modified. Bio-based products like this provide an alternative to conventional oil-based plastics and have certain benefits such as lower carbon footprint, compostability and the ability to biodegrade in certain environments. For the hygiene segment, Suominen’s Biolace Cozy is designed to be the softest and driest topsheet made from fully renewable fibers to address the natural needs of female consumers.
In other new launches, in September 2018, Suominen introduced the Suominen Intelligent Nonwovens concept to the market. First of its kind in the world of nonwovens, the concept makes it possible to embed digital features into Suominen nonwovens. For example, with Suominen Intelligent Nonwovens, product traceability and product safety can be taken to a new level. It also provides brands with a new kind of sophisticated marketing tool. These are only some examples of opportunities the concept offers.
The concept stems from Suominen’s research and development projects that have already led to the launch of High Definition Design Series, a revolutionary pattern selection for nonwovens. The Suominen Intelligent Nonwovens concept adds a unique technical capability into the mix and combines artificial intelligence with extremely high definition patterning. With Suominen Intelligent Nonwovens, all kinds of digital features can be embedded into the substrate without deteriorating other functionalities or aesthetic appearance of nonwovens.
“Innovation is a key focus area. There are plenty of reasons to innovate. One of them is all of the discussion around plastic use and single use plastic products and the other is offering new and exciting products for our customers,” Helsky adds.