For one, although some have slowed, GDP growth continues in most countries, ranging from 3% in Thailand to 7% in Vietnam, giving consumers more disposable incomes to buy things like baby diapers and feminine hygiene products. Additionally, as economies grow, more people, namely women, are entering the workforce, meaning they need the convenience that many nonwoven products offer. Where disposable baby diapers were once used just at night in many countries, usage has become more common during the day, increasing the number of diapers babies wear during their lifetime.
On the feminine hygiene side, extremely low penetration rates—as little as 12% in India, according to Euromonitor, and similarly low in other SEA countries, have led to untapped customer bases for sanitary napkins and tampon. Furthermore educational programs, funded both by the government and private corporations, are providing more women and girls in these countries with access to feminine hygiene products.
All of these factors were the impetus behind a period of investment and expansion in the region during the past five years. Denmark’s Fibertex Personal Care has invested heavily in Malaysia, Korea-based Toray has added lines in India, Indonesia and China, Japanese companies Asahi Kasei and Mitsui have added lines in Thailand and Brazil’s Fitesa purchased a Thai-based company and is already in expansion mode there. While investment has leveled off and no new lines are expected to be complete this year or next, an additional 45,000 tons of spunbond capacity (from Fitesa and Asahi) should come onstream in 2022. (For more on the region’s capacity levels, see page 14.)
New capacity in the region, as well as new lines in India and China, will face challenges ahead of them. Not only is there a general slowdown in global economic growth, which will impact consumer spending, global trade tensions will continue to impact the entire Asian economy. Time will only tell if the Southeast Asian consumers’ taste for disposables will be strong enough to outweigh these challenges.