The Amsterdam PLMA Show continues to be one of the best value-for-money exhibitions for any European involved with nonwovens for retail because unlike other nonwoven exhibitions, it is well attended by retailers. Admittedly, taken as a whole, it is very much biased towards food products, but the non-food halls attract a wide range of exhibitors, and many stands display products using nonwovens that are never seen at INDEX, IDEA or ANEX. You can see most of them easily in a day, but it can be rewarding to go round a second time in the last afternoon, because by then the exhibitors know exactly what the retail buyers are looking for.
This year most exhibitors said the retailers at the show were “going crazy” for products with supportable sustainable or environmental claims. The “Natural” theme was more evident than ever before and wipes producers (wet and dry) were cashing in with new “Biodegradable”, “Organic”, “Eco-Cert”, “Fair Trade” and similar labelling.
Two new diapers (from Valor/Mabe and Arquest) featured “more sustainable” claims based on relatively minor increases in biodegradable materials including PLA spunbond. Flushable materials were less popular, some arguing that their development was being held up by the continuing lack of a suitable test method, others that flushability was emerging as only relevant to wet toilet tissue and toilet wipes. Kimberly-Clark, Tyco and SCA who had a major presence at previous Amsterdam shows, did not take part this time.
Numerous cleaning mitts and gloves, both knitted and nonwoven, were on display, including microwavable bathing gloves based on heavily embossed hydroentangled fabric and intended for patient care in hospitals and nursing homes. Opinions differed on whether the new pulp/spunbond wipe substrates were going to be soft enough to replace the carded viscose-containing products but most agreed its success will depend on being sufficiently cheaper and more available than the current HE viscose staple products.
Unlike the traditional nonwoven exhibitions, PLMA stand personnel are rarely nonwoven experts, and could not always describe the nonwovens used, so in the following summary of conversations, some speculation will be evident.
Albaad/FHW ( Israel )…
…were displaying both insect repellent wipes, and insect-bite soothing wipes the latter presumably for use when the former ran out. Also newly available on this stand: wet cosmetic pads, barbecue-cleaning wipes, self-tanning wipes, tie-cleaning wipes and shoe-cleaning wipes. Most were carded/hydroentangled products.
…were featuring an eco-friendly diaper, the only change from standard diapers being the PLA backsheet. They said Tesco was demanding a change to more sustainable, eco-friendly products and this was the first and easiest move they could make. Progressive moves to increase the percentage of sustainable materials in the disposable diaper formulation would inevitably follow, and some consumers were expressing the hope that diapers would achieve full sustainability, biodegradability, and even flushability in the next 5 to 10 years.
…were showing “Bio-Spunlace” wipes said to be flushable and biodegradable being made from 100% viscose - probably flat section, seeming somewhat bulkier for their basis weight than normal viscose. Compared with wet-laid and airlaid flushables, this nonwoven had the advantage of being binder-free. Binder-containing products were said to be finding it hard to get eco-certification.
…were showing their usual comprehensive range of wet wipes including a new fabric softner wet wipe for use in tumble driers. Their “Bio-Care” range of products was based on viscose and woodpulp, both made from certified forest wood. As this certification proved rather restrictive, non-certified wood products were used in the standard range. Codi divided their family of Bio products into “Lakes” and “Mountains”. “Lakes” were made from hydroentangled viscose, PLA and cotton, organic cotton versions being considered. The “Mountains” range contained woodpulp in blend with viscose and/or cotton and were generally hydro-embossed as well as entangled.
Tencel was used, but despite its environmental credentials, it's presence remained undeclared in marketing and labelling. J W Suominen, owners of Codi and makers of the nonwovens, regarded Tencel as just another type of viscose and used the two fibres interchangeably depending on price and availability. JWS still make thermal-bonded nonwovens, but here they concentrate on the creative development of niches, using polypropylene in blend with viscose and cotton. Asked if JWS was likely to move into spunbond/pulp to get away from the over-competitive card/HE route to wipes, a spokesperson said not yet. Spunbond/HE processes with or without pulp were expensive and were not yet proven, and it seemed compromises on softness (compared with pulp-free products) were still necessary. Maybe the level of hydroentanglement needed to get the softness right removed too much pulp and gave filtration problems.
…had an Ahlstrom-type rotating tube flushability tester rotating continuously on the stand, containing water and an incompletely dispersed wipe. This was intended to promote their new “Bio-Spunlace” wipes which were biodegradable and flushable by virtue of rapid dispersibility. The target market was “moist hygiene paper for toddlers”, baby-wipes and “luxury moist toilet paper”
…were featuring their Simply Organic natural biodegradable range of wipes. These were available as baby-wipes with chamomile, aloe and calendula extracts, as eye-make up remover wipes and as Beauty wipes for normal skin (with cucumber and calendula extracts), for sensitive skin (with aloe and chamomile) and for mature skin (with organic grape seed extract). They also displayed Kimberly-Clark's “Sammy” impregnated wash mitts for kids alongside “Watch Me”, their own version apparently made of through-air bonded high loft nonwovens. Their adult-size 2-sided mitts with a PE film liner were hydroentangled dry-laid, one face being overprinted with an abrasive latex. It was unclear whether these were positioned for human or pet cleaning.
…were displaying a full range of disposables including what looked like simple rectangles of a coverstock-weight thermal-bonded PP staple as impregnated dust wipes for attaching to a Swiffer®-like mop. The impregnant could not be perceived. They also had a roll-wipe dispenser for what looked like a polyester/cotton needlepunched nonwoven at about 100 gsm. This tough fabric was perforated to allow a strong man to tear squares from the roll.
…had none on display, but claimed to be developing organic cotton disposables under pressure from the retailers. They would be 50% more expensive than normal production and would sell to the wealthy who cared for the planet. If the price could be reduced to a 10% premium these could have mass-market appeal, but then there would not be enough organic cotton to make the required volume.
…were promoting “Bo-Coton” pads and wipes said to use a bio-equitable, organic, fair-trade, long-fibre, new (as opposed to reclaimed), peroxide-bleached cotton from South Africa . The packaging was also organic, biodegradable and chemical-free. These were launched a year ago and were now selling at a premium in French supermarkets, Leclerc, System U, Casino being mentioned, and also in Morrisons in the UK , and in Austria . The products were slightly yellower than the non-organic varieties, and there were specks of leaf or seed visible. This material was reminiscent of the old J&J ( South Africa ) nonwoven made by hydroentangling raw cotton and then bleaching the fabric – the logic being that raw cotton was very easy to card and entangle compared with bleached cotton.
They were also promoting a large version of an organic make-up removal pad as a baby wipe intended for use on sensitive skins where lotions caused problems. The three-layer product had HE cotton skins pressure bonded through a loose cotton wadding core.
Melchior van Haren (Managing Director) described their three new offerings at this show:
• “Fast and Fresh” microwavable bathing mitts for patient care in nursing homes and hospitals. These are being sold to start with into the US market under their own AMcare label, where they are cheaper than the other microwavable bathing towels. The glove is preferred by nurses, and while there are currently eight in a pack to clean the whole body, Innovate feel a 4-pack would be acceptable to do the same job because each side of the mitt can be used separately. The fabric is a very strong heavyweight hydroentangled viscose/PET blend with a pronounced “knobbly” hydro-embossed surface which helps cleaning. The 2 halves of the mit are sewn together.
• Computer screen wet-wipes made for Rogge who market the wipes with approval from the main computer makers
• Nanotec surface coatings, one of which was designed to coat windscreen glass with a hydrophobic layer which makes it easier to wipe and easier to see through at night. This is applied by a microfibre cloth. Single sachets are available now, and a multipack is being developed.
They were also developing a new facial treatment mask based on a spunbond/pulp hydroentangled fabric which was quite attractive. Mr van Haren was aware that the substrate had probably been made for baby wipes and commented that the baby-wipes market was now impossible to make money in. These wipes were certainly slightly harsher than the non-pulp versions, but he felt the consumers going for the cheaper products would not worry about this. Innovate claim to have developed the first embossed baby-wipe for Aldi and now everyone wants embossed products.
…attracted attention with their “100% Natural Viscose” display on what turned out to be a nicely made and finished mitt of knitted heavy-denier viscose continuous filament yarn. This was a coarse yarn made of fine filaments very like a tyre-reinforcement yarn. The mitt was made by folding and stitching a single piece of knit. It was said to be brilliant for cleaning shiny surfaces such as glass.
Their “Supermicrofibre dust eating glove” was knitted from a 100% nylon microfibre texturised chenille yarn the whole being elasticised for a “one size fits all” claim. They appeared to be seamfree and knitted in one piece. A rectangular pad of the same material was “suitable for use with all types of floor polishers”.
The “Spongecloth for absorbing and deep cleaning” appeared to be a double-jersey knit of an untexturised version of the polyamide microfibre yarn on one face (White) and a 50/50 cotton/acrylic yarn on the other (Yellow). This material was also produced as a floor cloth (“pannobello”) with a chequerboard pattern of the absorbent/non-absorbent yarns on each face.
These were very nice products just waiting to be reproduced at a lower price in a real nonwoven.
…said the supermarkets were going crazy for anything with environmental/fair-trade/organic/renewable/sustainable/biodegradable claims. The problem was that they also needed the claims to be certified by some reliable independent body. Certified organic cotton for instance is hardly available for nonwovens: maybe what little there is is all going into textiles. This time the demand for eco-friendly materials was real. It was not a fad. The consumers are now prepared to pay, and these environment-related themes will drive the nonwovens industry for decades. In Nice-Pak's view, the spunbond/pulp hydroentangled wipes now emerging were comparable to the viscose/PP HE baby-wipes they were designed to replace and it would be up to the consumers to decide which was better value.
…is producing polyester microfibre and showed wipes made from these fibres by a development partner. Their new microfibre yarn plant will start up later this year and produce 20,000 tonnes of a variety of unique microfibre products. The “Unic Sani-Pro” range of cleaning cloths were mainly woven and knitted yarns including chenilles, but they also promoted nonwovens in the form of chamois substitutes, microfibre spunlace and textured, electrostatic disposable dusters with various patterns and apertures. A window cleaning system appeared to be a lightweight derivative of Wet-Jet Swiffer®. It had a water tank and spray which could be activated from the end of a telescopic handle, and one face was fitted with a microfibre pad for washing the glass, the other having a rubber squeegee for scraping the glass dry. Also of interest:
• a kiddies cleaning kit comprising apron, kneepads, cleaning mitts, cleaning slippers (removable microfibre soles) and a cleaning cloth.
• A toilet cleaning system with impregnated nonwoven pad which was gripped in a plastic handle and could be ejected and flushed after use.
Orlandi ( Italy )
… having recently sold their nonwovens production to Ahlstrom had a large stand featuring converted products only. Spunlace nonwovens had been slit and twisted into yarns to make mop-heads and had also been woven into bulky 650 gsm fabric for wipes.
…was celebrating 25 years in business and the fact that they were now the leading private label tampon producer supplying the US market. They make the Wal-Mart tampons and have done for 7 years despite their production plant being in Israel . They have a US warehouse which, along with tampons in transit from Israel , allows 12 weeks of inventory in or on the way to the USA . They import the cotton from the USA and claim it's simply the low labour costs in Israel that give them the edge over US-based tampon-makers. They displayed open- and round-ended cardboard applicators (biodegradable, in biodegradable wrapper), pearlised plastic applicators in standard and compact versions, and 8-groove digital tampons.
…expressed the view that flushable wipes would be no more than a niche outside kids wet-toilet tissue and toilet cleaning wipes. However they had made such flushable wipes from Kelheim's flat viscose fibre which passed one of the tests currently in use. With regard to spunbond/pulp HE wipes, they thought these were good when a thick wipe was needed, but there were aesthetic issues related to the thinner varieties. Viscose-based HE wipes were getting too expensive so maybe some compromise on softness would be acceptable in a cheaper construction.
…was showing the “Travel John” portable unisex urinal. This was simply an opaque polythene bag containing a bag of superabsorbent granules, said to be “Liqsorb” biodegradable SAP, with a funnel at the top. They claimed the bag, which looked just like a spunbond PP topsheet, was biodegradable and contained cotton. Maybe it was a PLA spunbond. Nevertheless the product was attracting attention and was selling in supermarkets. The pack indicated it had been designed and engineered in the USA .
…was showing a hydroentangled Viloft/PLA (70/30) flushable fabric, but said the flushables development was held up by the lack of a suitable test method. They also showed a 100% bamboo HE nonwoven which they agreed could be made from viscose obtained from a supplier who used bamboo woodpulp.
The wet wipe business was still difficult, and getting more so as viscose became expensive and scarce. Pulp could not be used to replace viscose without most wipes substrate lines having a major refit. Even adding tissue, or air-laid webs would give filtration and logistical problems. Furthermore it was not yet clear in the marketplace that the way forward in wipes involved using more pulp.
…was promoting “Bio-cotton”, a new range of organic disposable wipes which sold at a 20% premium over their standard cotton range. This was a 1 day a month production for them, and they had to clean the machines thoroughly before feeding the organic cotton. One Italian supermarket chain was buying it, but they were getting interest from Northern Europe and the USA . The high price would prevent it from growing much.
…showed both digital and compact applicator tampons. The “Viriana” digital tampons featured a “Feel-Satin” surface coating described as a thin fibre layer (presumably the overwrap). The “system Compac” applicator tampons were described as digital tampons in a plastic applicator.
…presented a new eco-friendly disposable “Bio-Baby” diaper, the eco-friendly claim being based on this diaper having reduced fossil-fuel content compared with conventional diapers. How so? By replacing 20% of the SAP with a corn-starch based superabsorbent, and by using a PLA film backsheet covered with a PLA nonwoven. They also claimed the topsheet – a fairly normal-looking and feeling spunbond – contained cotton. Overall the product was said to contain over 50% of sustainable materials and would biodegrade in 2 years.