From rags to riches? Rags, paper wipes and rental towels may dominate the wiping industry, but nonwoven wipes are working hard to gain recognition in the market.
Due to the inability of rags, paper and rented shop towels to adapt to the ever-changing demands of their customers, disposable nonwoven wipes have recently begun to gain greater recognition in the wiping industry. Offering end users greater absorbency, versatility, uniformity and durability, these disposable products - divided among the food service, wet wipe, industrial, household, medical and cosmetic industries - have seen improvements not only in the U.S., but across the world as well.
With greater visibility comes greater competition, however, both in the form of other nonwovens technologies as well as from rags or paper products. "In the wipes market, you have to be faster than your competitors," said Doug Reid, marketing manager for Dexter Nonwovens, Windsor Locks, CT. "The ability to innovate quickly with our customers becomes increasingly important."
Nancy Dilworth, senior product manager of Fort James Corporation, Green Bay, WI, concurred. "We have to react to the needs of the marketplace to make sure we have a comprehensive line," she said.
"You have to provide the customer with something that is different," added David Yalenti, vice president of sales and marketing for PGI/Chicopee Branded Products, Dayton, NJ. To separate itself from other nonwoven roll goods manufacturers supplying the wipes market, Mr. Yalenti said his company signed an agreement with Microban Products, Huntersville, NC, allowing PGI to incorporate "Microban" antibacterial chemicals into its spunlaced antimicrobial wipes.
Most nonwovens manufacturers, however, say the greatest competition is not among themselves, but rather from laundered towels, rags and paper wipes. "We are not competing with our nonwovens compatriots; we really see ourselves competing with the alternatives," said John Brett, marketing/communications/public relations at DuPont Nonwovens, Wilmington, DE, adding that nonwovens manufacturers represent a substitute to these products, one that offers many growing advantages.
Antibacterial And Impregnated Wipes
One of the major advantages of nonwoven wipes over rags is their ability to be impregnated with various antibacterial chemicals, inhibiting the growth and transfer of fungi, mold, mildew and other living microorganisms that can cause numerous illnesses. A growing trend in food service and household wipe product industries, antibacterial and antimicrobial wipes and towels have increased in food service usage from 0-20% in the past 30 years, according to Peter Donnelly, president of wipe producer Atlantic Mills, Lakewood, NJ. Mr. Donnelly said this percentage will only increase in the future due to rising reports of salmonella, E. Coli (escherichia coli) - a dangerous bacteria found in cattle - and food poisoning cases reported every year from the transfer of dangerous bacteria from surface to surface.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), up to 81 million cases of foodborne diseases occur in the U.S. each year, 6.5 million of which are serious enough to be reported to the CDC. "Dirty towels or rags have been identified as a major cause of spreading bacteria from the food preparation area to the dining area," said Mr. Donnelly, which led his company to introduce "Kerri Klean Microbe Guard" with the "AE GIS Microbe Shield" to prevent the growth and transfer of microorganisms in the life of the towel and "Simple Solutions," a pretreated water activated all-surface sanitizing wiper for food preparation surfaces.
PGI/Chicopee's "Microban" spunlaced antimicrobial wipes also inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria. Mr. Yalenti said the new addition to the wipe will greatly benefit the food service industry. "If you wipe with less contaminants, then you will not be coating other surfaces as severely," said Mr. Yalenti. "A rag itself left unprotected can permit the growth of bacteria." PGI/Chicopee also plans to incorporate "Microban" into its janitorial wipe products by mid-year.
Roll goods producer U.S. Nonwovens, Brentwood, NY, which manufactures carded, chemical bonded roll goods for the food, medical, institutional and industrial service wiping markets, also recently introduced a new antibacterial wipe, as well as a sponge cloth and detergent-impregnated wipe.
In addition to the sanitary advantages of disposable antibacterial wipes over rags and laundered towels, these nonwovens are also very cost effective when compared to the high price of laundry service for rented towels. "The average cost per week for linen rental towels is about $40 per week," said Mr. Donnelly, adding that disposable wipes can represent an approximate $1300 or 62% savings per unit, per year, for food service operators. Additional fees for rented shop towels, including replacement and handling charges, as well as environmental fees for waste management and disposal, can cause an additional 50-80% increase in the contracted cleaning cost.
Uniformity, Versatility, Durability, Absorbency
In the race for quality in the wiping market, their uniformity, versatility, durability and absorbency give nonwoven wipes an advantage. In terms of uniformity, "every time you pull a nonwoven wipe out of a box, you know it's going to work," said Mr. Brett, adding that rags can sometimes have zippers, elastic or buttons still on them and can be made of different non-absorbing materials - such as denim - which are difficult to work with. "You have to fish through the barrel to find a useable rag," he said.
Shervin Zade, vice president of U.S. Nonwovens, added that nonwoven wipes are extremely consistent in their size, color and amount, unlike rags, which are not custom cut and are sold per pound rather than by the number of wipes.
Nonwoven wipes also offer greater strength and durability and are resistant to abrasion and solvents - qualities that are continually improved upon by nonwoven wipe manufacturers. Jorg Janich, founder of Innovatec, Troisdorf, Germany, a producer of melt blown nonwovens for wiping applications, said the top demands from customers are quality, tensile strength, abrasion resistance and absorbency. As a result, the company has developed a new wipe with greater tensile strength and abrasion resistance while maintaining a high water intake. To keep up with growing demands, Mr. Janich said Innovatec plans to add another line later this year as well.
The industrial and food service wipe division of Fort James also improved the strength and absorbency of wipes with the recent introduction of "TuffMate" Extra Strength Shop Rags made from nonwovens and "TaskMate" All-Purpose Wipers. Made from Dexter's "Hydraspun" fabric and pulp fibers, TuffMate resists tears, offers cloth-like absorbency, is contaminant-free for streak-free cleaning and can be rinsed and reused, while TaskMate is constructed of double recrepe fabric to deliver exceptional absorbency, wipe dry capabilities, durability and softness and can be used for a variety of cleaning and wiping tasks.
Also in the industrial area, DuPont continues to market its durable, low linting "Sontara EC" spunlaced industrial wipes, which are resistant to abrasion and solvents, contain no binders or glues and are highly absorbent.
On the topic of wipes versus rental shop towels in the industrial market, Ms. Dilworth of Fort James said nonwoven disposables maintain an advantage over the competition. "Shop towels have poor wiping capabilities and can include loose threads and metal shavings, which can present a multitude of safety hazards," she said, adding that the metal shavings can harm workers as well as the equipment and machinery the wipes are targeted to clean. Further," she said, "laundering of towels does not completely remove odors and residual chemicals and oils; these residuals can diminish the wiper's performance and cause a skin rash to those who use them."
Trends In Packaging
As constant improvements and advancements continue in the wiping market, continual upgrades must also be made in what some manufacturers say is one of the most important aspects of selling the product - the packaging. "Packaging is a critical part of the offering. The way you choose to package your product can give you a competitive advantage," said Mr. Brett of DuPont. As a result, the encasing of a wipe must be developed around the changing needs and demands of the end user.
In the baby wipes market, the trend has moved toward convenient pop-up or flip-top cartons and away from canisters. "The pop-up carton idea is now showing up in industrial and baby wipes because its convenience is an important value," said Mr. Brett.
Mr. Zade of U.S. Nonwovens agreed. "The industry has moved away from canisters to flip-open tubs," he said, adding that canisters are difficult to use while changing a baby diaper. "To pull a wipe from a canister, you need two hands, one to hold the canister and another to pull the wipe," said Mr. Zade. A flip-top carton, which requires only one hand, allows the user a free hand to attend to the baby.
In the food service industry, Mr. Donnelly said the trend is toward a smaller amount of wipes per package, the main reason once again - convenience. Restaurants today are overstocked with various bulk supplies, cluttering a significant amount of storage space, he explained. As a result, packaging has made a turn toward smaller boxes and less wipes, providing restaurants with more working space. Mr. Donnelly said because the life of a nonwoven wipe has improved, users will not have to use as many wipes and therefore will not suffer from a shorter supply.
Mr. Yalenti said he has also seen a trend in reducing the number of counts per box. Rather than buying ten boxes of 100 count wipes, end users can now purchase boxes with 300 count wipes, said Mr. Yalenti. As a result, wipe manufacturers use less cardboard in their packaging, causing less waste.
Mr. Yalenti said another trend in packaging is utilizing shipping containers that also serve as dispensing units. "You want to try and make a package that serves not only as a delivery piece, but also as a dispenser," he said. One example is food service wipe delivery boxes that contain a cut-out door for easy dispensing.
Although nonwoven disposable wipes have many advantages over rags and rented shop towels, the latter still dominate the market. But why? According to Mr. Zade, one of the reasons is disposal costs. In Europe, he said, where limited-use nonwoven wipes have become a popular household cleaning method, disposal costs are extremely high due to a lack of landfill space. Here in the U.S. disposal costs are much lower. "Here we have so much more landfill space that some people don't care about how much they waste," said Mr. Zade. As a result, products such as paper towels are a popular choice in U.S. households.
Another reason for the slow progression of nonwoven wipes reflects the U.S. lifestyle of dining out. "The mentality of Europeans is very family-oriented. They enjoy eating in together as a family. In the U.S. people eat out a lot more," said Mr. Zade. As a result, Europeans have a greater amount of household chores, such as washing dishes and cleaning kitchen counter tops, resulting in the need for a more durable cleaning material.
Resistance to change is an additional drawback for the nonwovens wiping market, especially in the industrial and food service areas. "Many people continue to use rental towels because their parents and grandparents used them," said Mr. Donnelly. "We have to overcome the 'well we've always done it this way' routine," added Mr. Brett.
But the main reason for the slow progression of disposable nonwoven wipes can be summed up in one word - cost. Yet while nonwoven wipes may be slightly higher in price, manufacturers say the overall advantages outweigh the cost. "Sure, nonwovens may cost more, but the total cost and use analysis will prove otherwise," said Mr. Yalenti, adding, "we want end users to see that nonwovens will provide them an opportunity to control their cost and provide consistent quality and performance."
So how can nonwoven wipe manufacturers overcome these drawbacks? Ms. Dilworth said stronger support from the industry and improved public relations with customers can go a long way. "You have to educate the public and this includes distributors as well as end users," she said.
Mr. Brett concurred, adding that DuPont frequently visits various company facilities to explain the benefits of nonwoven disposable wipes over the alternatives. He said the company even provides samples for companies to try the product and determine the advantages for themselves.
And the advantages are beginning to be observed worldwide. Influenced by the baby wipes market, Mr. Brett said Europe has seen the greatest increase in nonwoven wipes. "Europe is being driven by the baby wipe business that Proctor & Gamble is moving into," he said, adding that Asia and South America have also experienced an increase, but from a small base.
Mr. Yalenti said nonwovens have slightly grown, but only in "critical wiping areas," which were sparked by improved technology. "Where the rag and shop towel were once utilized as a function when wiping was not significant, improved technology has caused this function to become more critical and nonwovens have taken a larger share of that business," he said. "However," he added, "while nonwoven wipes have gained market share, it would be difficult to say that they have made any particular inroads," he said.
Ms. Dilworth agreed that nonwoven disposable wipes have not gained a significant marketshare against their alternatives. "The growth has been relatively flat," she said.
But nonetheless, the potential for the future appears bright. "We're very encouraged and there are a whole lot more opportunities to become involved with," said Mr. Brett.
Health and hygiene markets are one area where there are openings for nonwoven wipes, suppliers said. According to Mr. Reid of Dexter Nonwovens, "An increasing emphasis on health and hygiene continues to open new applications where nonwovens can deliver unique advantages," he said.
Niche markets show some promise as well. Susanne Schadlich, marketing and sales manager for Pantex srl, Agliana, Italy, which will introduce a technologically advanced hydroentanglement line in September, said, "Niche applications for wipes will increase, especially in the cosmetic and cleaning field." Pantex manufactures spunlaced, thermal bonded and chemically bonded roll goods for the baby, adult, industrial and cleaning wipes businesses.
Finally, M. Cassani, business manager for Orlandi, Varese, Italy, predicts a strong growth in general purpose wipes and mops, which in the last year have gained significant marketshare over traditional cotton mops. Orlandi is involved in the industrial and household wipe markets.
RELATED ARTICLE: Private Label Wipes
value-added features and marketing know-how drive growth
A fortuitous combination of product quality improvements and effective in-store merchandising have increased sales in the private label baby wipes sector, where 9.2% unit growth and 6.9% overall growth was achieved during 1997. In terms of venues, private label products grew more than 12% in supermarkets, 0.9% in drug stores and nearly 9% in the mass merchandise arena. Product updates include the addition by leading private label suppliers of a hydroentangled composition as well as interleaving (interlocking dispensing like facial tissues), which could possibly become the industry standard. This new format, which is not yet available from branded suppliers, would offer one-handed dispensing of products.
In terms of package size, larger package counts and refill packs are becoming more popular and some private label manufacturers are considering the possibility of offering a range of refill sizes. Club packs, value packs and similar items are also being offered by retailers at discount prices.
The private label wipes segment recently received a blow from Cincinnati, OH-based baby diaper giant Procter & Gamble's launch of "Luvs" baby wipes. Similar to its strategy in diapers, the brand is designed as a price-competitive product to challenge private labels. The anticipated counteroffensive by PL wipe manufacturers will be to keep prices below those of "Luvs."
Outside of the baby wipe category, a new private label wipe was recently introduced in the post-meal moist towelette market. The new product is expected to be marketed as a picnic or barbecue tie-in.
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|Date:||Apr 1, 1998|
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