Sunday 28 December 2014

Lidl: Will consumers pay for environmental benefits?

Jan Bock, Senior Management, Purchasing International of Lidl Stiftung and Co. KG (Germany) reviewed customer surveys from around the world and noted the following interesting, but sometimes conflicting conclusions regarding consumers willingness to pay more for environmental benefits:
  • 81% of Chinese will pay more for energy-saving products. (Greendex 2010)
  • 60% of consumers will pay a premium - on average 18% - for goods with a social or environmental benefit. (Prof. Winer, 2013)
  • 50% of global consumers will pay more to companies with programs that benefit their society.  (Only 36% of consumers in the EU but 75% of those in India - Neilsen, 2013)
On the other hand…
  • While 83% of global customers feel its important to improve the environment, only 22% would pay more for eco-friendly products. (Neilsen, 2011)
  • Consumers have no interest in reducing climate change by paying more for low-impact products (Canada, 2004)
  • 73% of consumers  don’t buy products with environmental benefits (IGD, 2008)
Mr Bock thought consumer surveys will generally overestimate the willingness to pay for sustainability.  Premiums are more likely for products with tangible benefits which directly affect the purchaser, and so marketing should be specific rather than general: global warming benefits and C-footprint are hard to sell.  They’re also more likely to pay extra for non-durable, frequently purchased items than durables, and for “egotistical” rather than “altruistic” products.  

Nevertheless, developing sustainable products does make sense because they are good for the environment and do build goodwill for your company and brands.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Viscose for Flushable Nonwovens

Sebastian Basel, the Speciality Papers Business Manager of Kelheim Fibres GmbH (Germany) provided an update on their continuing developments with short-cut viscose fibres for wet-laid nonwovens.  He noted the need for more convenience and felt this could be provided by having a single wet-wipe substrate which could be used for baby, toddler, cleaning and moisturising wipes, all of which could be disposed of into the sewerage system.

Unfortunately the flushing of non-flushable wipes has caused problems in sewage systems around the world and the requirements of these waste systems has to be respected by adherence to the lastest, 3rd edition of the INDA/EDANA Flushability Guidlines. Products which fail any one of the sequence of 7 tests for flushability and biodegradability must now be labelled as Non-Flushable.

Wet-wipes have to do the seemingly impossible, i.e. be strong in use and weak in the toilets and sewers while maintaining attractive softness, purity, absorbency and bulk.  The key to success is maintaining adequate strength in the controlled wetness of the wipe pack while achieving rapid dispersion in an excess of turbulent water in the toilet.  Mr Basel argued that wipes made from short fibres dispersed in water had a better chance of meeting these requirements than wipes made of longer fibres using carding.  Hydroentanglement bonding of these wet-laid short fibres enabled production of strong products with just the right amount of “hydro-disentanglement” potential required in flushing. Furthermore certain cross-sectional shapes achievable with the viscose process improve strength in use while simultaneously improving the dispersibility in the sewage system.  Finally, only substrates with a majority of biodegradable fibres such as viscose would meet the guidelines.

In summary, hydroentangled wet-laid nonwovens made with Kelheim’s flat-section Viloft viscose fibre provided the best bet for meeting the current flushability requirements.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Breakthrough Innovation

Dr Bryan Haynes, Director of Global Enterprise Research and Engineering, Global Nonwovens, Kimberly-Clark (USA) made the case for increasing the rate of innovation in general and in nonwovens in particular. Times were a changing, and it was not, to paraphrase Charles Darwin, the strongest that survive, it was those most responsive to change: 
  • By 2022 China will be spending more on R&D than the USA. 
  • R&D has to become more efficient: more profitable innovations without budget increases. 
  • Breakthrough innovation is the key, and Open Innovation is the way forward. 
  • Academia can contribute more and is searching for future R&D role. 
  • Nonwovens technical institutes can bridge the gap between academic and industrial research. 
K-C have led product differentiation with unique features such as loop fasteners, stretch ears and breathable backsheets for diapers while reducing costs by pioneering the use of new materials such as spunbond and SMS nonwovens. New fabrics will require new raw materials, new processes and new after-treatments, but the returns make such investments worthwhile. Considering Reicofil with 300 beam installations for diapers in the last 10 years there is clearly a case for more investment in process technology.

All companies will benefit from global population growth and the ageing of the population, but to be really successful you have to expand into new “adjacent” territories and remain open to “transformational” innovation - inventing for markets that don’t yet exist. For K-C their development of spunbond housewrap was a good example of moving into adjacent territory.

What would be transformational in the nonwoven industry? With raw materials being the major source of costs and benefits, Dr Haynes thought improving the sustainability (reduce, reuse, recycle) of those materials would be the key. Basis weights of nonwovens and diaper weights could be further reduced by moving from melt-blowns to nanofibre nonwovens, and ultra-absorbents for example. However the problem of diaper waste, with 1.4 billion diapers a day being used globally, was not going to go away and the recycling of disposables or the use of biodegradable materials would be needed. Once again there appeared to be a need for “new to the world” process development and rapid progress from prototypes to commercial reality. With only 10% of R&D projects going commercial there was a need for many new programs and as a consequence many more failures. Failing faster, more cheaply and more often was the key!

Our industry must now think big, focus on open innovation and transformational technology, and minimise the costs of development by partnerships, including those with global academia and technical institutes. Large markets for nonwovens could emerge from the demand for cleaner water, air and energy.