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Reflections 1991: the year that was.


The Year That Was

the year that was meant a lot of different things to different companies; changes rocked the industry in a year that ended with as many questions as answers

We started the year expressing concern over acquisitions in the nonwovens industry. We were interrupted by a war, suffered through a recession, picked up a bit with ITMA '91 and, finally, ended with concern over acquisitions.

In other words, 1991 was a typical year in the worldwide nonwovens industry, a year in which steady, if not spectacular, growth was experienced in the established North American and European markets and in which the promise of the Asian, Latin American and Third World markets continued to bloom. Nonwovens expansion into Eastern Europe began, like most other industries, with a tentative trickle that may soon turn into a flood of personal care and industrial products.

The incredible diversity of the nonwovens industry allowed it to survive tough economic and political times in 1991. While companies that relied heavily on industries such as construction, automotives and apparel were hard hit by the recession, most nonwovens suppliers that have made diversity the cornerstone of their marketing plans for the past decade were able to turn to markets such as diaper coverstock, filtration, oil sorbents and composites to keep production lines running and turnover steady. Profitability, however, may be a different subject altogether.

The specter of the environment remained everywhere a nonwovens company turned in 1991, from early misguided legislative attempts to ban anything with the word disposable attached to it to the more recent governmental efforts to somehow set guidelines for environmental advertising. Concerns over the environment benefitted nonwovens suppliers who were able to supply products that helped clean the air, protect our waterways and mop up after environmental disasters.

Yes, 1991 was a typical year for the nonwovens industry. It was unpredictable, timely, both financially precarious and economically rewarding and, most of all, very, very much alive.

1991: Buy, Buy

One of the consistently top stories of the late 1980s and now the early 1990s has been the acquisition fever that has struck the nonwovens industry in every corner of the world. It seems to have started with the International Paper purchase of the Kendall nonwovens unit in the late 1980s, a move that forever changed the face of industry if for no other reason than that it showed others that two big nonwovens producers could successfully combine forces to become a single leading player.

The year 1991 began with the culmination of one of 1990's leading dramas when Corovin, Peine, Germany, finally announced it had found a buyer in the German Stohr Group. No sooner did that news sink in than Scott Paper, Philadelphia, PA, essentially told everyone it needed the cash so it was putting its highly successful Scott Nonwovens unit on the trading block. Apparently Scott Paper's expectations and the industry's unwillingness to pay top dollar in a tough economy have kept seller and potential buyer far enough apart that as of press time there was still no answer to the question of who will be signing Scott Nonwovens' paychecks in 1992.

And just when everyone thought it was safe to go back in the nonwovens waters, news came in early September that Lantor, Veenendaal, The Netherlands, was being put up for sale by its new parent company Coats Viyella, U.K., because the highly capital intensive nature of nonwovens did not fit in with Coats' traditional textile businesses. All sides want a resolution to that sale by the end of the year, although judging by past sales efforts (such as Scott and Corovin), it is likely to stretch on much longer than that.

Most of 1991 was also spent waiting for the European Commission's ruling on the huge Procter & Gamble merger with the Finaf Group in Italy. This was resolved this fall and P&G will be able to use the established Finaf companies as joint ventures throughout Europe, except in the U.K. (see complete story on page 50 of this issue).

Because it seemed that everyone and his nonwovens brother company was up for sale, rumors ran rampant for most of the year that anyone was available for the right price. The strangest non-story occurred early in the year when a non-descript Italian merchant bank said it was empowered to sell the Holzstoff Group, whose Fiberweb Group is the sixth largest producer of nonwovens in the world. That rumor, however, died as quickly as it was born.

Hot melt adhesives supplier Century Adhesives, Columbus, OH, was also compelled a few months ago to issue an official statement that, despite rumors to the contrary, its business was certainly not for sale.

On the other hand, plenty of others were available to the highest or earliest bidder. While suppliers such as Unocal, Schaumburg, IL, still wait to announce deals they had anticipated earlier in the year, plenty of others were consummated in 1991:

* Foss Manufacturing, Hampton, NH, continued to set the pace in the needlepunch sector with the purchase of former manufacturing partner S.H. Kunin Felt, Worcester, MA. Kunin joins the Foss stable that also includes the former Waterbury Nonwovens operations, which have been totally assimilated into Foss facilities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

* Less than a year after its primary hydroentanglement equipment competitor (Honeycomb Systems, Biddeford, ME) was acquired by a large European corporation, Perfojet, Grenoble, France, was itself purchased by the French ICBT textile equipment conglomerate.

* Hosposable Products, Bound Brook, NJ, solidified its hold in the wipes segment of the business by acquiring IFC Nonwovens' Industrial Wipes Div., Jackson, TN, in February.

* Keying its long desired move into Europe, Lydall, Manchester, CT, acquired Axohm Industries, a nonwovens manufacturer located in Saint-Rivalain en Melrand, France, in June. Axohm adds another $13 million in annual sales to Lydall's nonwovens stable.

* A change in ownership in the private label diaper area occurred in June with a management buyout of the Private Label Diaper Div. of Chicopee by an inside group. The name of the company, now headed by John Rinaldi, was changed to Arquest and it is located in Cranbury, NJ.

* The remaining 50% share of U.K. cotton supplier Edward Hall was sold last summer by its parent company Robinsons & Sons to Whitecroft, also of the U.K. Robinsons, which had already sold its dry laid operation to EGL-Homecare, U.K., retains the thermal bond operation at its Walthamstowe facility.

* White Knight Healthcare was sold by parent company WorkWear Corp. to an investment group headed by new president Andrew Strauss. It remains in Asheville, NC.

* Nicolon, Norcross, GA, a principal subsidiary of Royal Ten Cate (U.S.), bought the assets of geotextiles distributor Mirafi, Charlotte, NC, from Dominion Textile, Montreal, Canada.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

Not all of the corporate boardroom activity involved acquisitions, however. In increasing numbers, companies are looking for partners rather than purchases as a means of either expanding their reach into new geographic or technical areas or expanding their own product portfolios.

The two most important such occurrences to the nonwovens industry involved four of its largest producers. In February, the Dutch Lantor Group and Ergon Nonwovens, Jackson, MS, established a joint venture whereby Lantor will serve as the exclusive European distributor for Ergon's melt blown microfiber nonwovens; the big news is that (pending the outcome of the Lantor sale) the two companies plan to build a jointly-owned melt blown manufacturing plant in the Netherlands by 1995.

The second such agreement brought together Reemay, Old Hickory, TN, and Exxon Chemical, Houston, TX, in a marketing alliance that gives Exxon worldwide marketing responsibility for Reemay spunbond geotextiles. This move fits both parties well because Reemay is very active in expanding its worldwide position and Exxon gets a very attractive addition to its geotextile product line.

Even the machinery suppliers are getting into the game by forming cooperative ventures aimed at offering the best from each of the partners. Such dealings were very apparent at ITMA '91 in Germany in September as companies frequently teamed various components to offer complete lines. The most prevalent was a machinery cooperative between German equipment manufacturers Autefa, Oskar Dilo, Spinnbau and Temafa, whose partnership extends well beyond ITMA to offer complete nonwovens manufacturing plants as a single source resource.

Procter & Gamble has used this joint venture arrangement successfully around the world, especially in Europe with such agreements in Spain, Portugal and Italy and in Eastern Europe in Poland and Hungary. In addition to the huge Finaf agreement, P&G formed a joint venture in Argentina with Eguimad to market disposable diapers and feminine pads in that country.

And in the raw material area, Du Pont, Wilmington, DE, and Hercules, also located in Wilmington, were both able to overcome the marketing and technical obstacles surrounding superabsorbent fibers through a recent licensing agreement. Hercules, which had basically given up the marketing of its "Pulpex" synthetic pulp operation, now has an outlet for the novel technology and Du Pont, which already has "Pulplus" and "Pulpex" polyethylene pulps, adds a different twist to its existing technical base.

It seems that everywhere in the industry companies were expanding capacity despite some difficult business situations. A big difference these days is that these same companies that wouldn't tell a soul about the smallest piece of new equipment are now heralding their new arrivals with press releases and plant tours. Here's just a sampling:

* The most significant was Hoechst Celanese's announcement in July that it was adding 25-30% capacity to its "Trevira" spunbond plant in Spartanburg, SC. The line will have both traditional needlepunched heavyweight and newer lightweight capabilities.

* The Specialty Chemicals Div. of Hoechst Celanese, Portsmouth, VA, early this year competed a long-awaited superabsorbent expansion that brought its capacity up to 40,000 metric tons a year.

* Kimberly-Clark, Dallas, TX, is in the midst of spunbond expansions at its Lexington and Balfour plants and just last month revealed plans for a major expansion of its Lakeview manufacturing facilities in Neenah, WI. A press release from the historically very quiet company said the $90 million feminine care products plant will be designed to accommodate future expansions as well. This comes on top of previously announced plans to quadruple the size of its "Huggies" baby wipes plant in Maumelle, AR.

* In addition to its acquisitions, Foss Manufacturing expanded geographically this year with the founding of a wholly-owned European marketing subsidiary in Carros, France and a distribution center in Singapore to service footwear markets in the region.

* A significant roll goods expansion is also being undertaken by BASF Fibers, Williamsburg, VA, at its Asheville, NC "Colback" spunbond (based on an Akzo license) plant. The expansion will add between 50-100% to current capacity. A 1993 start-up has been set.

* The Japanese have certainly been active in their capacity expansions as they attempt to expand their reach beyond their domestic borders. Among them in the past year have been Honshu Paper's new 3000 ton annual capacity glass fiber wet laid nonwovens plant; expansions at Asahi Chemical for its "Luxer" flashspun nonwoven and "Coldon" spunlaced; completion of a seventh spunbond line (10 tons a day capacity) at Unitika; a tripling of microfiber nonwoven capacity at Daiwabo; completion of "Bemliese" cupra spunbond capacity, again at Asahi; plans at Mitsubishi Rayon to expand its "Jetbond" spunlaced capacity; and Japan Vilene's plans to expand both its Tokyo and Shiga nonwovens plants.

* A move from research to a commercial scale by Freudenberg, Weinheim, Germany, of its spunlaced nonwovens capabilities spelled a significant technology addition for the world's leading producer of nonwovens.

* Lohmann, Neuwied, Germany, while saying it is deemphasizing its coverstock business in favor of more industrial businesses, announced plans for a new plant in Andernach, Germany for its Lohmann Transdermal Systems subsidiary.

* Another German manufacturer C.H. Sandler, Schwarzenbach/Saale, has installed a new thermal bond production line that was to have been up and running by the end of the year. The expansion raises the company's capacity from 18,000 to 22,000 tons annually.

* Italian producer Orlandi, Gallarate, brought on-stream a spunlace facility in nearby Cressa.

* The U.S. spunbond segment was surprised in mid-year by plans by Brazilian spunbonder Petropar to expand into the U.S. through its Novotex unit and its Atlas Corp. subsidiary in Mooresville, NC. The nine million pound annual capacity plant is scheduled for start-up by February.

* In the active of melt blowing, Conwed Plastics, Riverside, NJ, expected to be commercial late this year with a melt blown line targeted at polypropylene sorbents.

* Amoco Nisseki Claf, a joint venture between Amoco Fabrics and Fibers, Atlanta, GA, and Nippon Petrochemicals, Japan, broke ground in July for its "Claf" manufacturing facility in Roanoke, AL. The new facility should be operational by the end of 1991.

* The first polypropylene plant to be built in the northeast U.S. in 29 years was brought on-stream by Epsilon Products, Marcus Hook, PA in October. The 260 million pound annual capacity plant will produce fibers for nonwovens, among other markets.

* Courtaulds continues construction of a plant in Axis, AL to produce its "Tencel" fiber. Completion is expected sometime in mid-1992.

* Textilgruppe Hof expanded into the U.S. with the formation of a U.S. subsidiary and the planned opening early next year of its first North American plant in western North Carolina.

The Other Side of the Coin

Of course, on the other side of all these optimistic capacity and plant expansions is the cold truth of companies, products and technologies unable to compete. Unfortunately, the nonwovens industry was not immune to these in 1991.

An early 1991 product shut down came back to haunt the business late in the year. Arco Chemical, Newtown Square, PA, decided in January to discontinue production and development of its "Fibersorb" superabsorbent fiber, saying at the time that market development was taking much longer than expected. But in October Arco, along with National problems associated with Fibersorb. That matter is still in litigation.

The National Felt saga has fascinated and concerned the industry for much of the latter half of the year. With rumors swirling of its anticipated demise due to financial pressures and an over ambitious capacity expansion early in 1991, National Felt replaced previous management and brought in a consulting firm to set its financial house in order. The jury is still out on the results of the mid-summer move.

The troubled financial history of Canadian private label diaper producer Dafoe & Dafoe ended in March when 50% owner Tembec acquired the remaining half of the business. Dafoe & Dafoe had banked its future on a number of diaper trends, including biodegradability, that in the end proved unable to rescue it from itself.

The economy and the presence of giant Procter & Gamble in the U.K. nappy market took its toll on a number of smaller private label and branded producers in the U.K., with the fall and decline of Blue Ridge Care, formerly one of the two largest private label diaper producers in the country, clear evidence of these dual impacts. The nappy price war initiated by P&G effectively prevented Blue Ridge, and a number of other financially strapped competitors, from competing. The news that P&G will not be able to buy the Swaddlers diaper operations in the U.K. comes a little too late to save some companies.

Grandiose plans to make its mark in the nonwovens business fell by the wayside at cotton supplier Alpha Cellulose, Lumberton, NC, whose continuous bleached cotton line has stopped producing for the nonwovens industry. The company's departure leaves only Veratec's Natural Fibers Group, Walpole, MA, and Barnhardt Manufacturing, Charlotte, NC, as U.S. cotton suppliers to nonwovens at a time when more, not less, capacity and competition is needed.

The flip side of the Freudenberg Nonwovens' opening of a new dry laid plant in Durham, NC was the closing of its smaller plant in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, scheduled to be completely shut by February, 1992. The move was made to concentrate production in North America at three plants. Freudenberg remains in Canada with its sales offices in Montreal.

Du Pont is certainly not getting out of the nonwovens business or shutting any plants, but a corporate restructuring and cost reduction program has members of its Fibers Div. concerned. Despite these cutbacks, however, Du Pont plans to go ahead with "Tyvek" and "Sontara" expansions in the mid-1990s.

Oh Yes, The Environment

No look at the nonwovens industry at any time in the past few years would be complete without a look at the impact the environment has had on every aspect of the business. Every company has departments to address the issue, researchers dedicated to finding solutions and publicity and marketing people to redirect criticism of disposables towards praise over environmental efforts.

As expected, Procter & Gamble has continued to lead the industry fight against the forces that would ban all disposable diapers. Having discounted the potential first of biodegradability and then of recycling, it has spent millions of dollars working on a compostable solution. P&G is currently testing a compostable version of "Pampers" in two sites in the U.S. and is actively promoting composting alternatives around the world. P&G this year also began packaging Pampers and "Luvs" in flexible film that contained a minimum of 25% post-consumer recycled plastic.

Despite these laudable efforts, P&G has been attacked all year by various government agencies concerning its advertising claims of compostability. The diaper giant responded by making even stronger claims in the latest series of television advertising that debuted in September touting composting as an emerging solid waste disposal alternative. P&G felt it finally had to react to the impact of a highly organized campaign by reusable diaper manufacturers to discredit disposables.

The public was taking notice. A survey by Advertising Age published early this year found that consumers (to the tune of 6% of those surveyed) believed P&G was the most environmentally responsible company; that result was tempered somewhat, however, by the realization that 66% said they didn't know of any companies that fell into this category. In that same survey, Pampers rated near the bottom among "environmentally conscious" products, only slightly above K-C's "Huggies." Combining comfort with environmental claims was a new curved cardboard applicator finally available from Tambrands, Lake Success, NY. Its "Tampax Comfort Shaped Flushable Applicator Tampons" became available in April with its "biodegradable" applicator falling right behind the comfort factor in advertising and promotion. Not to be outdone, Playtex rapidly followed its rival's move with a cardboard applicator tampon called "Ultimates" in mid-summer. Johnson & Johnson's "o.b." tampons, which use no applicator, have long been promoted as environmentally safe.

Protecting its rather large stake in the disposables industry, Du Pont Canada this year provided a $250,000 grant to Knowaste Technologies, Ontario, Canada, to support research into recycling techniques for disposable personal care products. The grant was designated to help with the start-up of a pilot plant by the end of the year.

On the home front, Rodman Publishing, Ramsey, NJ, publishers of NONWOVENS INDUSTRY, entered into a dedicated effort to recycle its leftover trade magazines. The company now brings its excess copies to a recycling center run by Marcal Paper, Elmwood Park, NJ. Marcal, in turn, uses the recycled material to produce its paper products.

Beware of Politicians Bearing Gifts

With the extreme grass roots concern over the environment, it was only natural that 1991 saw politicians on all levels putting their two cents (or pfennigs) into the debate. Unfortunately, as political solutions so frequently are, there were no immediate solutions offered. Those remedies that were forwarded often muddied rather than cleared the waters.

Despite all of its well intentioned efforts to find a solution to the disposable diaper dilemma, P&G continued to be attacked by legislators looking for a big target. After resolving a government challenge to the claims made by its adult incontinence products early in the year, in April P&G was forced to respond to charges by the Consumer Affairs Dept. of New York City that its diaper composting ads were "deceptive" because composting facilities were not readily available to New York consumers. P&G responded in typical P&G fashion: "The allegation is patently absurd. The ad is accurate, truthful and helpful."

Other governmental efforts were less easy to dismiss, if for no other reason than because they were so widespread at the beginning of the year. In the first month of 1991 seven separate measures were introduced that would have restricted, further regulated or completely prohibited the sale of disposable diapers. Some bills would have required labeling to warn consumers about the environmental "burdens" posed by disposables. To date, none of these has even come close to becoming law, but they are still out there and, if passed, could have a severe negative impact on the disposables business.

Last spring a coalition of state forces issued a Green Report II that suggested, among other things, that the federal government develop guidelines for environmental advertising. Following that lead, in September both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to develop "green" advertising guidelines. Both are currently in the "comment" stage. EPA has indicated that it will defer the job to the FTC if that agency decides to pursue it further.

The nonwovens industry is still awaiting an EPA ruling that would require all agricultural workers to wear personal protective garments when handling certain types of pesticides. Although a proposal was published early in 1991, legislative inertia has taken over and no official ruling has been announced yet.

Disposing Of The Iron Curtain

The nonwovens and disposables industries were certainly not blind to the opportunities presented by the opening of Eastern Europe, but very few moved rapidly to what many feel is destined to be extraordinary demand for the products the industry offers.

One that did move almost immediately was, of course, Procter & Gamble, which in January formed a new Eastern European Div. in charge of moving the company's consumer products, including disposable diapers and feminine hygiene products, into the new market. In rapid succession through the year P&G announced business ventures with partners in Poland (a 50/50 joint venture to market imported products); Hungary (a joint venture called Hyginett to manufacture and market paper products); and in Czechoslovakia, where it acquired a detergents and cleaning products company.

Then in September P&G took the big step into the Soviet Union with an agreement with Leningrad State University to learn how to market, sell and distribute consumer products in that vast country. Sources indicated that diapers and feminine care products were high on the list of products to be brought into the Soviet Union.

Wary of letting others know too much about a potential huge new market, machinery manufactures all year spoke quietly about the orders they are receiving from Eastern Europe. One that spoke officially was Reifenhauser, which is in the midst of sending a second hand "Reicofil" line to Poland, the first spunbond unit in that country.

See You In Court

No look back at a year in any industry would be complete without a review of the legal interruptions inherent in any business. While the major Kimberly-Clark/Reifenhauser lawsuit was finally settled before 1990 turned into 1991, there were plenty of other major and minor suits entered into or resolved during the past year. It was only natural, too, that K-C was involved in many of these.

In October K-C filed suit once again to protect its spunbond patent position. This time the unwilling recipient of all the attention was Amoco Fabrics and Fibers, whose "RFX" technology was deemed by K-C to be too similar to K-C's SMS composite technology. Amoco has promised to defend itself vigorously and K-C has a stated policy of doing everything in its legal power to defend its patents, so this one may be with us for awhile.

There was no clear cut winner in the K-C/P&G diaper flap dispute. In September, after almost three years of legal wrangling, the court ruled that the patented flaps inside the leg openings of P&G's Pampers don't infringe on K-C's patent. The judge ruled that P&G uses a different method for making the flaps. Observers believe this two-sided ruling will enable smaller branded and private label competitors to begin using the cuffs concept without fear of legal retribution.

On the machinery side again, in September a patent infringement suit between French supplier Asselin and Autefa, Friedberg, Germany, was settled. Under terms of the agreement, Autefa agreed to pay renumeration to Asselin but can continue manufacturing and selling the cross-lapper in question.

Even as it attempts to get its financial house in order, National Felt found itself embroiled in two major lawsuits in the space of one month. The first is its involvement in the previously mentioned RMED suit against Arco over Arco's Fibersorb superabsorbent fiber; National Felt was the supplier of the needled superabsorbent pad for RMED's diaper, although Arco is apparently the principal target of the legal action. The second was a suit filed by former chief executive Donald Rubin charging he was forced out by National Felt's owners when they brought in an outside firm to manage the company. Mr. Rubin is seeking a return of his $300,000 investment and his $200,000 salary through the end of his contract in 1993.

Top Story #1 New Motto: Go East, Young Nonwovens Company

The lure of the Orient apparently was too much for many nonwovens companies to avoid this year, although the reasons were far less romantic and far more pragmatic as a global business continued to seek new markets.

In the past 12 months alone, leading nonwovens producers such as Du Pont (announced new plant in Japan), Freudenberg (finished plant in Taiwan), Dominion Textile (announced new plant in Malaysia), Akzo (joint venture with Mitsubishi Rayon to produce "Colback" in Japan), Fiberweb (joint venture with Mitsui Petrochemical to produce spunbonds in the Far East), and Corovin (an as yet unofficial jv in Japan) took their nonwovens knowledge and capital in search of greener pastures in the Far East.

Top Story #2 Who Will Buy This Wonderful Company?

Scott Nonwovens did everything right at the outset when it sent official notices to the trade in early January announcing it was for sale. In this manner it squelched any rumors immediately and portrayed itself as an organized company conducting an organized bidding.

By all appearances that remains the case 11 months later, but the rumors started swirling about mid-year when nothing official was made known other than that the process was proceeding. Plant tours and discrete inquiries were made by a dozen or so interested suitors, but we won't report names here until something is confirmed. Everywhere in the nonwovens industry this year the question of "who is going to buy Scott Nonwovens" was asked and speculated upon.

All indications out of the Philadelphia offices as of last month are that there remains at least two interested parties, but parent company Scott Paper has been unable to hike the price high enough to put any sort of dent in its dreary fiscal position. Reports continue that the deal may be finalized any day now.

Top Story #3 IDEA + INDEX + ENA = Every Three Years

The industry took advantage of a rare year without a major nonwovens trade show to take steps to assure there will be one and only one every year for the rest of the century. The two major associations--INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, and EDANA, European Disposables and Nonwovens Association--were forced into action by their constituents tired of overlapping trade shows.

After much hemming and hawing and international discussion, INDA and EDANA, sponsors of IDEA in the U.S. and INDEX in Europe, respectively, agreed on an every-third-year cycle, bringing the fledgling Expo Nonwovens Asia (ENA) show into the triumvirate of "official" nonwovens trade shows. The sequence starts with INDEX '93 in Geneva, Switzerland in April, 1993 and continues with ENA in the spring of 1994 and IDEA '95 a year later; the previously scheduled IDEA '92 in Washington, D.C. will still take place in late November, 1992.

Top Story #4 P&G Gets What It Wants...Almost

After more than a year of legal Euro-discussions and compromises on all sides, the merger of Procter & Gamble with the Italian Finaf Group was finally approved by the European Commission in Brussels last month. While the negotiated settlement allows P&G to set up the joint ventures it had desired in Spain, Portugal and Italy, it restricts the corporate control of these ventures so as to avoid a virtual P&G monopoly in those parts of Europe. P&G was also rebuffed in its attempts to include Swaddlers, the U.K. diaper producer also owned by Finaf. The EEC ruled that the U.S. marketer could not buy into a U.K. market in which it already controls more than 60%.

Top Story #5 Just A Phase We Go Through

One of the leading stories in 1990 was the acceptance of gender specific baby diapers. Even while retailers were still finding space on their shelves for those additional items and mothers just about had the concept figured out, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark kept the ever changing world of disposable diapers in a state of flux with the introduction of what is called the "phases" concept.

No sooner did P&G go national in September (after about six months of market tests) with its "Pampers Phases," a line of four variations, than K-C immediately went national with its five item line called "Huggies Baby Steps." Then P&G went national with "Luvs Phases." All three "phases" or "baby step" brands are replacing existing lines. P&G has already expanded the concept to Europe.

Top Story #6 What Will Happen To National Felt?

In the September issue of NONWOVENS INDUSTRY a glowing story of the future prospects for needlepuncher National Felt said the company was "poised for growth." Shortly after that article was published it appeared as if nothing could be further from the truth.

Even as it was getting the bugs out of an ambitious and impressive new needlepunch line, the organizational underpinnings of a previously solid company were coming loose. After running into very serious financial problems in the midway point of 1991, the company brought in an outside management firm to save it from financial ruin. A purge of former top management (which has resulted in at least one lawsuit), a loss of image within the nonwovens industry and a loss of confidence among its suppliers and customers resulted as rumors swirled concerning its impending demise. So far National Felt and Argus have held on and have taken steps to solidify its future.

Top Story #7 What? Another Company For Sale?

In what has become an almost annual event (James River in 1989, Corovin in 1990, Scott Nonwovens in 1991), another major nonwovens producer has been put on the sales block by a parent company unwilling to make the investment in a non-core business.

This time the vulnerable party is the Dutch Lantor Group, whose parent company, Coats Viyella in England, would rather have the cash now than the promise of a nonwovens future. This acquisition saga has just begun and is expected to drag on into 1992 as interested buyers try to figure out whether they want the whole of Lantor or just some of its extremely diverse parts.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on the seven top stories of 1991; nonwovens industry
Author:Jacobsen, Michael
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:1991/92 legislative wrap-up: environmental bills, tariffs take center stage.
Next Article:Review & forecast of the nonwovens industry.

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