Developing innovative products that exceed consumer demand is critical for an industry that continues to suffer from eroding margins, both at the supplier and end-product level. Last year ended on a sour note for many surfactant suppliers, with price erosion, war jitters and weak economies spooking the market. How will 2003 end?
“Do you have a coin?,” joked David Ford, Dow’s global business director, surfactants business. “What we’re hearing from our customers is skeptical optimism. Everyone is a little nervous right now and not overly optimistic. But we’re hoping the second half of 2003 is better.”
It better be. As Mr. Ford noted, if markets don’t improve, some surfactant suppliers may find themselves squeezed out of business by eroding margins and higher feedstock costs. Dow Chemical, however, keeps moving forward, opening up a new commodity surfactant plan in Malaysia that’s geared to serve the fast-growing markets in the region. North America currently accounts for 70-75% of the company’s sales, but Mr. Ford said the company’s long-term goal is to get sales in other parts of the world up to 50%.