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Region spotlight: Turkey and the Middle East: nonwovens producers, converters increase their roles in the global marketplace.

Despite its political and cultural problems, the Middle East and Turkey continue to grow their nonwovens industries at promising rates. Mainly achieved through internal investment, with local companies operating most of the lines there, growth in this region can be attributed to several factors: a long tradition of textile production, taxation laws and lower wage bases. Most of this capacity is currently targeting North America and Europe, converters of nonwoven products, particularly in disposable areas, are also increasing in numbers. These companies are attracted by the region's low penetration levels and strong prospects for the future.

While Turkey, which is further west than the countries comprising the Middle Eastern region, has received a great deal of interest from the industry with recent start-ups including Eruslu and General Tekstil, Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria have also become hotbeds of nonwovens activities in recent years. Producers in these regions claim that they can produce standard nonwovens more inexpensively than their western rivals. And, as these markets mature, they are broadening beyond commodity products into value-added areas.

According to research gathered by INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, the Middle East region produced about 170,000 tons of nonwoven materials per year in 2001. This figure, however, is increasing 15% a year, and is expected to double in size by 2006. Already, known new capacity has contributed a reported 87,000 additional tons to the region since 2001. Between 25,000 to 30,000 tons of this capacity is spunbond polypropyleue with one line in Saudi Arabia and two in Turkey either installed recently are set to come onstream by the end of the year. A reported 3000 tons of spunbond polyester has been installed in Turkey by Mogul Spunbond Nonwovens, a Gaziantep-based company. In spunlaced, Israel's Vaporjet added 4000 tons of capacity while Akinal Sentetik has added a line with uncertain capacity. On the airlaid side of the business, Gulf Poly Tex, a Kuwaiti company is reportedly adding a 50,000-ton-per-year line, a move that represents the first known airlaid capacity in the region.

Turkey's Textile Industry Expands Into Nonwovens

With a history rich in both textile production and manufacturing processes, Turkey has been an ideal place for the nonwovens industry's most recent expansion. As textile markets continue to sag, many companies have diversified their product ranges by installing nonwovens equipment. This output, produced at lower costs, is able to satisfy Turkey's needs while also supplementing nonwovens consumption in western regions.

The entry of new producers has led to increased competition in Turkey. This has been somewhat offset by increased consumption but times are still tough for many nonwovens producers. Within Turkey, major players include Mogul, Ritas Nonwovens, Vateks, Hassan Group, Akinal, Aslani, Gulsan, Kurt Nonwovens and Bayteks. Many of the these companies were traditionally textile producers and have only recently entered the nonwovens industry, in search of more technology-rich, larger volume products.

Like most markets new to nonwovens production, Turkey initially produced standard thermal bonded nonwovens but more recently spunbonded nonwovens have begun to dominate the market with the emergence of such producers as Mogul, Ritas and Kurt Nonwovens. These companies have mainly targeted hygiene and medical applications where they can offer attractive pricing levels for high quality products. Therefore, these Turkish companies have presented some stiff competition to Western producers.

Still, Turkey is not immune to problems. The astounding rate of capacity coming onstream during the past several years has posed a severe threat of overcapacity. To circumvent these problems, producers have had to lower their prices, thus squeezing their margins and negatively impacting their profits. In fact, some industry watchers estimate that some spunbond prices will drop as much as 30-40% in the near term. Certainly, this will be felt across the board by nonwovens producers looking to make a mark in Turkey.

Other problems facing Turkey include high inflation rates and interest rates. Additionally, political crises often have negative impacts on the economy by directly affecting loaning strategy at banks.

Mogul Nonwovens has defended itself against the problems by diversifying its product range. The company added polyester-based spunbonded nonwovens to its line, which formerly comprised only polypropylene-based products. This allowed the company to expand into new, non-commodity markets such as filtration, automotives, foam backing and glass scrim reinforcement. While polypropylene-based products continue to be important to Mogul's business, the polyester product, sold under the Mopet brand name, is expected to offset pricing problems in other markets. "We are trying to focus on niche markets and develop specific products to get away from the competition," said managing director Serkan Gogus. "We gave more importance to developing our polyester spunbond and meltblown businesses where we see less competition and better margins."

In recent years, strong growth has been seen in the hygiene market thanks to increasing population and growing birth rates. Another area strong for nonwovens is apparel. A key participant in the apparel market, Vateks, was one of the first nonwovens producers to set up shop in Turkey in 1976.

Key markets for this company, which dissolved a partnership with U.S.-based PGI Nonwovens earlier this year, include textiles, medical and hygiene, dry wipes and industrial and specialty. Based on his long observance of the Turkish market, business development manager Selim Tezman said the future looks bright for the industry. As more foreign companies invest in the country, which is seen as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East, this market will only continue to grow.

Nonwovens Makers Emerge in Middle East

While much of the news coverage given to the Middle East in recent years has centered around political strife, many of the countries comprising this region have become valuable nonwovens producing centers in their own right. The proximity to Far Eastern markets as well as attractive raw material prices, caused by the regions oil supply, has contributed to this success, and nonwovens producers in this region have attracted international interest.

For instance, Advanced Fabrics, Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, began producing spunmelt nonwovens for the hygiene and medical markets less than two years ago and its commitment to the nonwovens industry has already earned its an Entrepreneur Award at the 2004 IDEA Show. This award recognizes smaller nonwovens producers, established in the past three years that have a strong vision for the nonwovens industry.

Among the company's plans, announced last year, are producing high performance fabrics through state-of-the-art technology and becoming a leading manufacturer and global innovator of engineered materials within the nonwovens industry. The company operates a specifically engineered, five-beam Reifenhauser spunmelt line, capable of producing 14,000 tons of polypropylene-based SSMMS nonwovens annually. Executives predict that its specially designed technology and superior spunmelt fabric structures will bring a new level of innovation and excellence to the nonwovens industry.

While the majority of Advanced Fabrics' hygiene products are sold to international clients, much of the converting operations are located in Middle Eastern countries, reaffirming the importance of this market to multinational clients. It is no secret that markets in North America and Western Europe have little opportunities for growth. Therefore, large companies have looked to untapped markets, including the Middle East, for growth.

The attractiveness of nonwovens produced in the Middle East is probably most evident in the success of Israeli companies. Avgol, Holon, Israel, has become one of the largest nonwovens producers in the world since it began producing spunmelt nonwovens for hygiene applications in the 1990s. Last year, Avgol's sales surpassed $100 million and executives expect them to top $120 million this year. Nearly three quarters of these sales are conducted in the U.S., proving how important this Middle Eastern company is to the U.S. hygiene market. In fact, the company's manufacturing processes and product styles have become so popular with U.S. companies that the company was persuaded to set up shop in North America. Two years ago, Avgol bought a spunmelt operation from textile company Unifi and is reportedly in the process of adding a second line to the operation. Located in Mocksville, NC, this new line reportedly has helped Avgol meet the need for nonwovens from its North American customers.

And, Avgol is not the only Israeli company posting gains with North American consumers. Spunlaced producer Spuntech, Upper Tiberius, Israel, which already has a sales office in Connecticut, is reportedly setting up a spunlace operation in the southeast U.S. Other key players include Vaporjet, also a spunlaced producer, Bosmat and Shalag Shamir.

Experts say that trade agreements between the U.S. and Israel have been key to the countries' success in nonwovens. Because of its small size, Israel's consumer markets, on their own, are not large enough to consume all of the locally produced capacity. In fact, there is not even an Israel-based hygiene producer. The market is served mainly by Hogla Kimberly, U.S.-based Kimberly-Clark's Israeli subsidiary which sells products under its national brands, and Procter & Gamble, which sells products made in Europe.

In fact, Israel is well known for wipes manufacturing which has long been an interest in the country. This sub-industry emerged 25 years ago and mostly supplies private label markets in Europe. Additional interest in nonwovens-and paper-related technologies followed, eventually turning into the booming industry found in Israel today. Recent activities in this segment include the purchase of an absorbent products company by wipes manufacturer Disposable Product Limited. In October 2003, the company purchased Amir Products, a diaper and feminine hygiene product manufacturers, and changed its name to Products For People (P4P). The acquisition allows the two companies to benefit from synergies between them. Currently about 50% of sales are conducted within Israel while the remaining half is split around the world. Recent developments include wipes housed in a patented sliding-lid package, which marks DPL's first foray into full-sized wipes products after spending 10 years selling sachets.

A Global Goal

From an end use product stand-point, the markets in Turkey and the Middle East still have a great deal of room for growth. Not only are the populations in these areas weighted toward the younger side--nearly 60% of people are younger than 18--the use of disposable items is not widespread. This means that these regions are ripe for growth from both local companies and multinationals.

To date, global hygiene producers, with the exception of K-C's Israeli division, have shipped products from their plants in other parts of the world to feed the Middle East and Turkey. Not yet willing to invest significantly in this region, these manufacturers are still in a testing stage, judging how viable these markets will be to their overall businesses.

Likewise, local producers are still deciding how big the market for disposables will be. For instance, soap manufacturer Evyap entered the private label baby diaper and feminine hygiene markets just this year. This Turkish company is billing its products has national brand equivalents, particularly in the areas of stretchability and absorbency. Evyap currently is distributing its diapers, under the Evy Baby brand name, and its feminine hygiene products, under the Evy Lady name, in Turkey but will eventually target markets around the world. Another soap manufacturer turned diaper maker is Hayat, which has been making disposable diaper products for five years but in the past three months has introduced wet wipes for baby and household applications. Executives said that Hayat chose to enter the wipes market because of the huge opportunity it holds within Turkey, where the company already commands 25% of the diaper market with its Molfix brand. The success of this brand has largely been attributed to Hayat's ability to make a product that is as performing as competitive brands at a lower price point.

As these converters get their feet wet in the Turkish market, most have their sights set on other global territories. This could mean that these companies emerging throughout this country and the Middle East in general will increase their role in the global nonwovens industry in the future.
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Comment:Region spotlight: Turkey and the Middle East: nonwovens producers, converters increase their roles in the global marketplace.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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