Saturday 29 January 2005

Vision 2005 - New Orleans - 16th - 19th Jan 2005

Vision returned to a bitterly-cold and breezy New Orleans after a brief holiday in Las Vegas . Despite the cold, most of the ~350 delegates were glad to be back in what is rapidly becoming the spiritual home of this unique conference. Vision has evolved into a major networking opportunity built on a framework of thought-provoking oral and table-top presentations, the former dealing with the bigger issues affecting the global nonwovens industry. Vision is also the originator of the annual Visionary Awards which never fail to add a little controversy and Cajun spice to the occasion.

Live Longer, Work harder, Retire Later?

Richard Jackson of the Centre for Strategic International Studies gave a stark warning: population ageing will wreck the economy of any nation that fails to prepare for it.
• The developed world will comprise 26% over-65's by 2040, up from 16% in 2005.
• The developing world will have 12% over-65's by 2040, up from 6% now.
• Japan will feel the effects first, then Europe and then the USA .

The problem has two causes:
• Lower fertility rates are reducing the proportion of young people. While the USA 's birth-rate has fallen from 3.3 to 2.1 in the last 40 years, 2.1 is sufficient for replacement. Italy , Japan and Germany at the other end of the scale now suffer birth-rates of 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 respectively.
• Old people are living longer. Life expectancy at birth in the developed world has risen from 67 to 79 between 1955 and 2005, and from 41 to 63 in the developing world.

For the first time in history, the population distribution pyramid is inverting, as the old become the majority. Compared with 28.6 in 1950, the median age for the developed world had risen to 38.7 by 2005 and is confidently expected to reach 46.4 by 2050 if current fertility rates are maintained. In France for example, by 2025, 2/3rds of the population will be retired. This electoral majority will not allow pensions to be reduced and will insist on those in work paying more tax because by then defence spending will have been eliminated to pay pensions.

The challenges posed by this scenario are as follows:
Fiscal: how to contain rising retirement costs. The ratio of workers to retirees was around 3 on average in the developed world in 1995 (4.2 in the USA and 1.3 in Italy ) and will be around 1.8 in 2050 (2.3 in the USA and 0.7 in Italy ). The tax burden on those in work would have to double if nothing else changes.
Labour: how to cope with a shrinking, and ageing, workforce. The answer is cross-border outsourcing and encouraging immigration of the young from the developing world. Inevitable political problems at home and abroad will need addressing first.
Growth: when markets and populations are stagnant or declining. Long-term GDP growth will be zero or negative, savings and investments will decline as consumer spending and demand for infrastructure and capital goods declines.
Financial: the danger of a great depression when the baby-boomers are in retirement. Borrowing to fund pensions becomes unsustainable, regional economic entities like the European Monetary Union collapse under the strain, and countries like China and Mexico become creditors to Japan and Germany .
Geopolitical: power shifts as defence spending has to be cut. Global leadership passes from the First to the Third world.

The solutions are apparent but unpalatable. Third world “young” support the First world “old” (immigration and outsourcing) or we in the developed world must work harder and longer, retire later, reduce unemployment amongst the young, reward families for raising children, and reform the pension system so that each individual has to save to fund his/her retirement.

In response to questions, Mr Jackson said that the 30-year demographics are accurate and certain. (If we doubled fertility rates tomorrow, it would be twenty years before the effect on the economy would be felt.) China 's demographics have a huge destabiliser built in: the unusually high ratio of boys to girls (1.17 overall, but 1.5 for second children) resulting from the population control policy. This will create a “daughter-in-law shortage” and hence a shortage of the traditional carers for the elderly.

Groping Forward in the Dark: The ALDI way of retailing

Dieter Brandes, a former General Manager and current Board Member of the German ALDI chain of retailers gave a refreshingly informative “Keynote” introduction to the principles and strategy which led to its success in Europe and entrance into the US market. In the latter context he stressed at the outset that Aldi would not be a dangerous competitor to Wal-Mart but would provide many opportunities for suppliers by giving the public new reasons to buy their products.

Aldi turns over $51 billion/year in 10 countries, $45 bn of this in the EU, $5 bn in the USA and $1 bn in Australia . Their stores (7100 now, 800 being in the USA ) are characterised by the absence of shelves, the aisles being formed by stacks of boxed products on pallets. In Germany their concentration on what they describe as the bare essentials allows them to make 4.5% return on a 15% margin where their main competitors achieve no more than 1.5% on a 27.5% margin. This allows them to command a stockmarket value equal to Daimler-Chrysler and 10 times that of Lufthansa, and retain the “No1 Retailer” image in Germany . The acquisition of Trader Joe's/Albertsons is the basis of their US operation.

The corporate culture responsible for their phenomenal success is unusual to say the least:
• Simplicity is the keyword. (“Develop a clear concept, concentrate on it with consistency and attention to the detail”)
• Stick to 700 easily handled products which are essential to daily life (“competitors offer too much choice and confuse the customer”. Aldi have 6 SKU's of coffee compared to Wal-Mart's 125)
• Supply the highest possible quality at the lowest possible price, this only becoming possible when all the unnecessary aspects of doing business have been eliminated.

So what has been eliminated from the Aldi business model? There are no staff functions, the line managers handling all aspects of management. There is no “human resources” department, no marketing, no market research, no use of consultants or buying in of market studies, no budgeting, and the line managers do their own simple accounting. The whole company is run on just 5 reports. Mr Brandes clearly had the audiences attention when he observed that budgeting is the biggest waste of management capacity, and that computerisation has allowed data to multiply to a level of complexity which is unhelpful and which in fact hides costs. Aldi just compares sales between stores and between months and years. They don't know what their total market share is and never calculate sales/m 2 /store. Compared with total sales per store, these numbers are irrelevant. In their view their competitors are successful DESPITE their accumulation of data.
To be a successful supplier to Aldi, you don't have to pay entrance fees for shelf space, in fact offering this is a sure way to rejection. Aldi work purely on purchase price, net-net. They will not change later and even suggest a valued supplier should increase his prices if they feel he is not making a fair profit. They do not have annual bargaining sessions, but are uncompromising on quality, reliability and accountability. Their share of the German market is generally 30 to 40% (for the products they choose to sell) and they turnover 30-100 times more product than Wal-Mart in their chosen categories.

Each product category across the entire chain is the responsibility of one person working in one store who becomes the resident expert and leads purchasing in this category. They use trade magazines to keep in touch with trends outside their business rather than analyse endlessly. They develop new lines simply and quickly by trial and error. They test 2 or 3 versions of a new line in 3 stores “without fear”. If one sells better than a current line they adopt it across all stores, if not they drop it. Results are obtained quickly and any disasters are small. One notable success was their decision to sell desktop computers, for them an unusual line, but consumers trusted them to provide the necessary quality despite the amazing price, and they sold $120m-worth in 3 days. They're just “groping forward in the dark”, and if that seemed primitive, Mr Brandes reminded us that the words were Einstein's when asked to explain how he came up with Relativity.

Lessons from the Leaders: The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese

This panel discussion, more informative than most thanks to effective chairing by INDA's Peter Mayberry, dealt with written questions from the audience. Not unexpectedly, most questions were answered from the perspective of opportunities for US companies.

What is the next hot nonwoven market?

• Most of the panellists chose to answer geographically. Hassan Bodaghi (HB) of Nordson, presumably thinking of nonwovens machinery, said China , now producing 270,000 tonnes/annum of spunmelt nonwovens would continue expand rapidly for some time. Other markets to watch would be the Middle East, India , Eastern Europe, and Russia .
• Tom Cochran (TC) of Tredegar Film Products also rated China , now moving rapidly into converted products with obvious export possibilities. Turkey would be important as a gateway into Eastern and Central Europe and the Middle East . India had great potential but specially developed low-cost products would be needed to tap into this.
• David Ford (DF) of BBA Fiberweb accepted that China and Asia/Pacific were important but pointed out that the region now had overcapacity in roll-goods so he looked for steady growth in their production of consumer products. For him Latin America showed the greatest prospects for growth of both roll-goods and converted products.
• Jim Schaeffer (JS), CEO of PGI Nonwovens, regarded China , Latin America and Eastern Europe as equally attractive, but cautioned that despite their underdeveloped consumer markets they would only invest in state-of-the-art nonwovens technology.
• Lee Sullivan (LS), CEO of Freudenberg NA, took a longer range product oriented view and argued the case for microfiber and nanofiber nonwovens and filters.

Would further expansion in China be based on Chinese Copies?

• HB felt that protection of designs and intellectual property remained very difficult despite China 's 1995 entry into the World Trade Organisation. Any attempts to prosecute would be slow and difficult.
• TC argued that Western companies asked for trouble by entering the market with premium products which attracted local copying. He felt the need to develop stripped down versions of disposables at lower prices, and hence less attractive to copy.
• LS thought companies which “went native” right from the start would have the best protection. Design the plant to use Chinese machinery, develop contacts with Chinese Universities and ensure that ex-pat management is replaced with local talent at the earliest opportunity. >70% of the investment costs should be spent in China .
• TC felt copying was inevitable, and that we could learn a great deal from how the Chinese took out cost and tailored the product to local needs. (Ultimately the Chinese copy would be better than the original for their market)

What's the best way to deal with the fluctuating exchange rate?

• DF assumed the questioner was trying to get profits back to the US from foreign investments. “Hedging” against currency movements was the well established way of dealing with this. However the best strategy was to stay as local as possible and that meant buying equipment and raw materials in the local market, selling the product in the local market and reinvesting any profits locally until you had a dominant market share.
• LS would ignore exchange rates when planning investments.

What would be the next big enduse?

• DF saw air and water filtration, driven by the need to improve life in the third-world as being key to foreign investments. In the USA , products for the ageing population would become increasingly attractive.
• JS agreed with this, tipping barrier protection for surgery as the leading product in the latter category.
• LS admitted a corporate interest which would lead him to back the increasing replacement of woven and knitted materials by hydroentangled microfiber spunbonds.
• HB linked this to Nanotechnology and the support it was getting from the US government. Microfiber spunbonds had great potential, but we had yet to learn how to get more value from the microfibers in the finished spunbond. (Presumably referring to the problem of splitting multicomponent fibers fully before entangling them)
• TC thought that nonwovens would have to be more elastic to work as textile replacements in short-life garments.

Personnel issues when investing abroad?

• TC would hire locally and transfer management authority as quickly as possible.
• DF and JS concurred: the use of ex-pats should be kept to a minimum.
• LS thought there was a problem arising from the decline of textile schools due to the decline in domestic textile production. However these schools were attracting the best Chinese students who should be retained by US companies when they graduated. They would become the ideal managers for US operations in China .

How do we start up abroad?

• Classically by acquisition, joint venture or “going it alone” (TC)
• In the case of a joint venture, DF thought it essential to have a majority shareholding to ensure that US standards of operation could be applied. He also argued the need for good due-diligence in the case of acquisition.
• India would be difficult to penetrate. Any start-up here would have to produce especially low cost products.

Miscellaneous Wisdom

• Chinese exports to the US far exceed imports so freight-rates to China were particularly attractive at present. (LS)
• Low-cost labour is always a temporary phenomenon so the Chinese advantage here will diminish as their living standards improve. Chinese coastal regions were already getting richer so investments were moving into the more rural inland areas to achieve lower operating costs. (TC)
• PGI's new plant in Columbia is intended to feed all of Latin America not just the local market (JS)
• Investments in Africa – outside South Africa – would be difficult although all panellists had operations in SA and would like to move north when sensible to do so. Demand for nonwovens would remain low for a long time and even long-term investments need a short-term demand (TC)
• China 's 5-year plan to create a large “middle class” represented a big opportunity for expansion of hygienic disposables. TC observed there would be a risk of overcapitalization if everyone “piled in”, JS adding that the 1-child per family restriction linked to the ready availability of grandparents as childminders would reduce the attractiveness of the diaper market.
• Japan is becoming the “aspirational culture” of the region and taking over from US culture.
• The second mouse gets the cheese.

Woman to Women

Julie Plunkett (Consultant) observed that women make 82% of the consumer buying decisions so marketing more directly to women will improve any company's bottom line.
• Women are shoppers by instinct and like to appear smart, so they really will give you the time to present your case and listen to it carefully.
• While they have traditionally had fewer networking opportunities than men, they do cluster, and the internet is now providing a real “community center”.
• Women are always trying to improve themselves and welcome tips on how to get prettier, fitter and smarter. Conferences for women do work (e.g Avon , Heinz), and thought-provoking educational quotes or ideas printed on packaging are read and appreciated.
• Women respond to style and fashion, so packaging with good graphic design, colours that are in fashion, and the right overall style will encourage purchase. “Less copy, more style” works in advertising to women.
• Communicate comfort to attract women to your shop or office. The black leather and stainless-steel look preferred by men does not work. You need fashionable décor with plenty of cushions and table lamps.
• Women support businesses which are overtly involved with the community or charities. Not-for-profit activities should be part of marketing and promoted prominently. In fact the not-for-profit activity you support becomes your marketing arm so its logo should be used liberally! (Corporate giving counts less)
• Women like to share what they learn so they tell everyone when they like something. “Questionnaires are candy” to a woman, so long as she's comfortable she'll give you the time to answer them.
• They seek security, responding well to any promotion which promises to filter out any danger, which makes them feel safe, or feeds their desire to protect their family. They don't care how its made or what it's made of so long as it doesn't do any harm to anyone.
• Where men are simple linear creatures who know what they want and go and buy it, women enter a store prepared to be persuaded to buy anything if the ambience is right. They respond well to bundling or anything that makes them feel they're achieving more than they planned.
• Wellness and well-being are buzzwords that work. “Relaxing, Soothing, Serene, Vital” work a lot better than “it doesn't leak”.
• Life-style marketing which shows self-fulfilled and confident “real” women works best. The use of beautiful models can be counterproductive.

Asked if women really didn't care what a product was made of, Ms Plunkett admitted that if it used a branded ingredient which already connected powerfully with women then this was worth mentioning. Who are most successful at marketing to women? Avon , Home Depot, Lowes. Is “environmentally friendly” important? Yes. Women feel they're the caretakers of continuing life on earth, so products that look EF and claim biodegradability will succeed.

Understanding the Consumer.

Michael McCrary of MARTEC showed videos of November 2004 focus group sessions where housewives talked about wipes. Comments included:
• Ceiling fans were hard to clean…
• As were windows…
• And stairs…
• And baths and showers, though here the problem was many different surfaces which might each need a different wipe, whereas the other problems were related to access.
• Biodegradability was felt to be a good thing.

Current products were criticised for awkward packaging (Tubs), drying out (Flow packs), breaking in use (mops) and lack of environmental friendliness.

Asked if a man interviewing ladies in a formal “unfeminine” environment would get best results, Mr McCrary argued that the ladies thought him “uneducated” in matters of cleaning and therefore gave him fuller explanations. He agreed a woman would have obtained different results.

Store Brands Evolve

Gail Zielinski of AC Nielsen has been mining the database to find out who is driving private label sales growth, discovering that upscale families are increasingly switching from brands. Consumers now trust private label quality and will buy even if the cost savings are not so great.
• PL sales have grown at twice the rate of brands for the last 6 years
• For the nonwovens categories, 20% of purchases go to PL, however…
• PL is a shrinking part of the nonwovens business (8% decline over the last year) due to successful innovations in the branded diaper and femcare lines.
• PL is doing well in wipes and fabric softeners.
• 70% of consumers rate PL quality as equal to or better than the brands.
• For the PL nonwovens categories, savings average 21% c.f. brand pricing. However within this group, PL adult incontinence prices are equal to the brands so the rest of PL looks 27-37% cheaper.
• PL manufacturers and retailers should realise that their products no longer have to be made at the lowest possible cost. There is scope for creating and investing in store brands to command a premium price, somewhere between traditional PL and the market leading brands.
• Some PL offerings are now so good the consumer thinks it's a brand. This is the way forward.
• Continued consolidation of retailers will allow the larger groupings to create their own store identities.

Asked if PL will continue to grow as the economy improves, Ms Zielinski thought it would because PL now sells for more reasons than just price. Who does PL best? Aldi, Trader Joes, Costco. Does the Nielsen data include Walmart? No. In diapers, PL needs to catch up with the brands to reverse the loss of share.

Household Cleaning Trends

Brian Sansoni, VP Communications for the Soap and Detergents Association (SDA) said their mission was to enhance health and quality of life. For our meeting he introduced new data on why people love wipes and how they are using them:
• Portability (26%), ease of disposal of germs (26%), killing of germs (13%), Fast action (12%) and multipurpose (10%) were the main reasons for buying a wipe.
• Cleaning counters/appliances (23%), disinfecting surfaces (23%), cleaning skin (17%), cleaning bathrooms (11%), dusting furniture (6%) and cleaning floors (5%) were the favourite uses of wipes at home.
• 24% used a wipe once a week, 20% twice a week, 18% daily and 18% more than twice a day.
• 41% chose a product for its cleaning effectiveness, 23% for value, 15% for the brand, 10% for its durability and 4% for the package size.
• Only 28% are loyal to any particular product (31% of women are loyal)

Each year they commission International Communications Research to survey 1000+ Americans to elucidate changes in cleaning habits:

• In 2002, 2/3rds of respondents admitted spring cleaning, with kitchen and bathrooms at the top of their list. Women aged 35-54 were most likely to do it, but 18-24 and 55-64 year old males admitted similar tendencies. Men prefer cleaning garages and basements, while women prefer kitchens and bathrooms.
• In 2003, three-quarters said they would spring-clean, half said they didn't have time to clean, and one in four said they cleaned their home to keep it cleaner.
• In 2004, 88% considered cleaning important for keeping the family happy healthy and safe, and only 8% regarded it as a chore.

Questions from the audience brought out yet more data. 81% of wipes were used to disinfect, 76% to clean, 76% for toilets, 58% for hands, 44% for dusting, 35% for cars, 29% for windows, and 14% for removing stains on clothes. 1 in 10 families use cleaning services. Brand loyalty in wipes is very low compared with liquid cleaners. Environmental issues were of little concern, but of the 13% who felt they mattered, 35% worried about the chemicals, 32% about non-biodegradability, 26% about the waste, 6% about the smell, and 6% about bacteria developing resistance. Non-wipes users are over 55, high-school educated, earning under $25,000/year and living in the South.

The conclusion: “companies ahead of the convenience curve will continue to define marketplace success”.

Visionary Award Presentations

Resolution Print Media

Frank Baker of BBA described how layers of Reemay Elite TM (spunbond polyester) were combined and coated to make a very ink-receptive medium for ink-jet printers with advantages over premium photo paper. It was matt and canvas-like in appearance, giving a rich texture and zero run-off in the wet. Archival properties were excellent and it had 20-70x the tear strength of photo-paper.

Oral-B Brush Ups

Peter Gladstone of Gillette (USA) argued that between toothbrushing (most effective/least convenient toothcare) and chewing gums (least effective/most convenient) there existed a gap which could be filled by a disposable cleaner worn on a finger. The cleaning side was a thermal-bonded bulky spunbond laminated to a thin waterproof spunbond. The bulky spunbond was thermally embossed* and impregnated with cleaner and said to remove 60% of the plaque c.f. a toothbrush. The elastic backing allowed the one size to fit snugly over any finger size. Market research indicated it would be purchased in addition to current toothcare products and used mainly away from home.

Huggies Disposable Wash Cloths

Clay Mahaffey of Kimberly Clark introduced these soap-moistened baby wash cloths as the convenient, gentle, hygienic and always clean alternative to soap and sponge. They were made from what looked like Huggies training pants side-panels, being a bulky elasticated Co-form nonwoven, which had been impregnated with a baby wash formula. Given this “on the shelf” base sheet, an existing baby wash formula and outsourced converting and packaging, they had been able to launch the product within 12 months of concept (the concept itself being based on a J&J product launched 18 months ago). KC now claim a 62% share of a segment that has grown 55% in the year since introduction.

Oil Filter

Markus Kolczyk of Mann & Hummel ( Germany ) introduced a fully synthetic oil filter intended to replace the traditional phenolic-impregnated cellulosic product. The new filter was lightweight, and comprised just 2 components, a meltblown/spunbond gradient-structure composite on a knitted monofil support, pleated and held in shape and sealed by polymer end-caps. Benefits include extended service intervals, higher oil flow rates or lower pressure drop and higher dirt holding capacity.

White Cloud Soft-Fit Training Pants

Donald Sheldon of Tyco Healthcare (USA) claimed the pulp-free core in the White Cloud training pant was the successful first commercial use of a technology which would, if applied to all diapers save 3 million tonnes/year of woodpulp or 12 million trees. Furthermore the low weight and volume of the pulp-free products would cut the landfill required for used diapers in half. Trucking costs would be reduced by 80%, and the use of a continuous filament tow to carry the superabsorbent dramatically reduced the space and power needs in diaper conversion. The tow was spread and fed by a simple low power air blower, which replaced the complex and messy pulp defibration and air-laying equipment. The product was exceeding Wal-Mart's expectations being 25% ahead of budget since launch.

Love'N Napkins and Pantyliners

Marco Benedetti of WIP Srl ( Italy ) described the Wellness Innovation Project as a young independent company dedicated to using eco-friendly materials and technologies. The Love'N pads use organic cotton spunlace covers (on the pantyliner) or thermal bonded poly lactic acid (PLA – on the napkin), starch-based superabsorbents (Lysac) and starch-based films (Mater-Bi) in the backsheets and packaging. Tests have shown these to be equivalent to conventional products and they are being offered at prices in line with those of the leading brands. Waitrose in the UK was the retailer involved.

…And the Winner…

Obtained from the secret ballot of the remaining audience, and said to be the closest in the history of the Awards, was the Resolution Print Media from BBA .

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