Throughout the last few years, the nonwovens wipes industry has experienced booming demand that has challenged all stages of the supply chain. With the outbreak of Covid-19, disinfecting wipes have been supplied in record numbers, and demand for antibacterial wipes and healthcare wipes increased to extraordinary rates. Due to the ongoing and evolving risk of the virus, demand for these categories of nonwoven wipes will continue to be elevated, according to the new report from Smithers, The Future of Global Nonwoven Wipes to 2027
. Conversely, food service wipes and general purpose industrial wipes are forecast to lag behind historical levels through 2027 due to global economic issues.
Despite various challenges that are detailed by Smithers in this new market study, the global wipes market is forecast to consume 2.1 million tonnes or 41.6 billion square metres of nonwovens, valued at $29.0 billion in 2027. Forecast growth rates for 2022-27 are 7.4% (tonnes), 8.6% (square metres) and 6.8% (sales $).
Major nonwoven wipes categories
Nonwoven wipes can be broken down into two major types - consumer wipes and industrial wipes. Consumer wipes include baby wipes, personal care wipes and household or homecare wipes, while industrial wipes are broken down into general purpose, specialty, food service and healthcare wipes. In 2022, the consumer wipes market is valued at $17.26 billion, and the industrial wipes market will be valued at about $3.56 billion. This $20.8 billion market will use about 1.5 million tonnes or 27.5 billion square metres of nonwovens.
Impact of the ongoing pandemic
Initially, 2022 was forecast as a “rebound” or “return to normal” year for wipes, following the atypical, Covid-driven surges or downturns in wipes demand (surges for disinfectant, healthcare, moist toilet tissue; and downturns for food service, general purpose industrial). Covid has unfortunately been more resilient than forecast, with multiple new variants causing a much longer, albeit less deadly period of Covid-driven effects. In 2022, the latest variant of Covid is still generating significant numbers of infections and cases; China has re-instated lockdowns for some regions and its economy is again suffering.
Timing on a global recovery from Covid-19 is now a moving target, with forecasts repeatedly made obsolete by new Covid variants or longer than expected residual effects. The shape of the nonwovens wipes recovery curve is still a constant. Surges or decreases in demand due to Covid-19 will be followed by a period of market correction, where surpluses or shortages are made up.
Following the period of correction, consumption will return to a new normalcy approximating pre-Covid consumption and growth. This will not be uniform in either timing or market segment. For example, disinfecting wipes surged the most in 2020, requiring the largest correction in 2021-22. But other demand drivers will result in disinfecting wipes returning to a new normalcy with similar growth rates, but higher consumption levels than pre-Covid. Baby wipes were mostly unaffected and required the least correction.
Earlier forecasts based on an end to Covid-19 in 2020 predicted a “correction” year in 2021, where overproduced disinfecting wipes decreased in consumption and restarted industries restocked industrial wipes, restarted restaurants restocked food service wipes. Then 2022 would be the “return to normal” year. That scenario has occurred to a degree, just not as clearly as projected. In 2020, wipes sales grew by about 10% (up from 6% in 2019). In 2021, the forecast “correction” year, wipes sales did drop to about 5% growth rate, but 2022 is only growing at about 4% rather than the forecast 6%+. Now 2023 is forecast to be the “return to normal” year, growing sales at 6.6%.
Regional trade of nonwovens
With transportation supply and cost expected to continue to be issues through 2027, inter-regional trade of nonwovens will be more difficult and expensive. Spunlace and airlaid nonwoven supply is tight in some regions, especially airlaid. EAM (Domtar) is expected to start up a new 20,000 tonne multibond airlaid line in North America by early 2023, with wipes as one target market. A few additional lines are forecast globally by 2027, but supply and demand are expected to remain balanced to tight through 2027.