Regional Report: The Chinese Wipes Market

By Sandra Levy, Associate Editor | September 15, 2009

As the rest of the world moves toward penetration, will China be the next big market for wipes?

While still in its infancy by global standards, the China wipes market is increasingly showing signs that it is healthy and maturing at a quick pace. Industry observers as well as Chinese company executives predict that the wipes market will continue to swell. In the meantime, China is busy addressing similar concerns that are affecting U.S. wipes suppliers and manufacturers, including the push to produce cost-effective, ecofriendly products and the desire to increase the number of applications for wipes.

Just how large is China’s wipes market? According to market tracker Euromonitor International, in 2008 retail sales of facial cleansing wipes tallied $6.2 million in China, growing at an average rate of 10% annually since 2003 with a total percentage growth of 61.5% from 2003 to 2008. The biggest boost in sales came from the disposable paper products industry where personal wipes reached $155.9 million in retail sales in 2008, rising 129.4% since 2003. According to a Euromonitor spokesman, “This shows a large increase in Chinese consumers purchasing personal wipes such as Johnson & Johnson’s or Hearttex wipes.”

Euromonitor International predicts this segment of the wipes industry to continue its sales climb with forecasted sales reaching $226.9 million in 2013. The personal wipes sector comprises 98.7% of the disposable wipes industry. The wipes market for disposable paper products reached $157.8 million in 2008, rising $89.4 million since 2003, with an increase of 130.7% from 2003 to 2008, at an annual average percentage increase of 18.2%. Euromonitor is predicting value sales to increase to $230.2 million in 2013.

Eugene Dai, president and general manager of consultancy Eugene Dai Co., Ltd., Shanghai, China, agreed that there is rapid growth in the Chinese wipes market. He attributed growth to the fact that the population is getting wealthier, and people are seeking “a better living environment.”

Mr. Dai said that spunlace is the latest technology for wipes being used in China, mirroring a similar development in the U.S. Another trend in China, parallel to the U.S., is a push toward environmentally friendly. Many products are using recycled fiber. Many research and development institutes arehelping the industry find out about and to create these kinds of environment friendly materials from easily dissolved fibers. Cellulose fibers and even vegetable fibers are under study for the disposable wipes products,” he said.

While it is easy to identify the top players in the U.S. wipes market, Dai said that is not the case in China. The main producers of wipes in China are located in the provinces ofGuang-Dong, Fu-Jian, ZheJiang, Jiang-Su and Hubei.

“There are so many producers that it is difficult to say who is the top player. Since the market is huge and the applications are different, some producers are good in some markets but not so strong in another market. There are many middle (size) and small factories too. There is not yet a really big size manufacturer leading the market. There appears to be no shortage of trends in China’s wipes industry.

“The use of finer fiber in this field will be possible, but due to micro-fiber production in China it is not yet mature. The imported fiber costs are too high,” Mr. Dai continued.

Acknowledging that spunlace nonwovens are beneficial for producing wipes products only when the technology is up to snuff, Mr. Dai said from a cost savings perspective, locally made spunlace equipment has many problems. He predicted that the wipes market will enjoy better growth in the future, after spunlace technology becomes “more stable on quality,” thanks to the construction of more sophisticated spunlace equipment in the country.

Finally, Dai said the wipes market and applications for wipes are poised for growth. “Many people are forecasting the future expansion of this market. It will be bigger, possibly 10 times larger than its present size. Applications for wipes are growing fast in the following areas: electronic appliance production, filtration and cleaning, laboratory, restaurant, hotel, medical, household, auto, precision instruments and furniture. New market studies are underway. Environ­mental protection is a future area and dissolving ability after usage is also a main concern,” said Mr. Dai.

One company which is poised for growth, despite several obstacles, in the wipes market is Feixiang Nonwoven Products Co. According to Zhao Yunxiang, general manager, the past decade has culminated in the opening of four workshops. The firm employs 300 workers and has posted $30 million in annual sales. Despite this past success,orders have declined 20% in recent months. Still, Mr. Yunxiang is optimistic and he hasn’t trimmed his roster of employees. “We are confident about the nonwovens industry,” he explained.

Wipes manufacturer PowerTex Nonwovens Co. Ltd., located in Hangzhou, China, has set its sights on carving out a profitable niche in the nonwovens market with an ecofriendly product. PowerTex’s wiping cloth, Eco-Wipe, is a spunlace wiping cloth that is manufactured using 100% recycled fibers that have been harvested from the garment industries’ cast-offs and nonwoven fabric trim waste.

“The blending of these materials gives the fabric unique properties of strength, softness, and absorbency achieved through the combination of polyfiber, cotton, and viscose,” said Yu Fuchao, PowerTex Nonwovens’ president and senior engineer.

PowerTex Nonwovens, which exports all of its wipes to the western market has two needlepunch lines, two spunlace lines and a converting operation.Mr. Fuchao explained that the company developed a specially designed spunlace process system that has a newly developed fiber recycle web-forming water entanglement filtration system. “When we developed the new generation of wipe products, the wipes’ cost dropped more than 15% while maintaining the same performance as regular products,” said Mr. Fuchao.

It seems the next several years will be crucial to China’s development into a major nonwovens market. With major spunlace investment—including new lines from Rieter Perfojet and Fleissner ongoing, surely wipes makers—like Mr. Yunxiang—have a reason to be bullish about the future.

“It is a growing industry and will be one of the most profitable in the near future,” he said.
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