Lisbon, Portugal – Flexible polyurethane foam production in Europe fell by 3.7% in 2018, as the industry faced difficult challenges, Angela Austin of Labyrinth Research & Markets told delegates at the EuroPUR meeting in Portugal in mid-June.
She said that turnover was down by about 10%. The revenue figure is down further than the volume decline because of the fall in raw material prices in the second half of last year, she added.
In total, 1.24m tonnes of polyether foam was produced in the EU 28, Norway, Switzerland the Balkans and Turkey last year, Austin said. She was presenting top-line figures from the annual EuroPUR production and market survey to the meeting.
‘Despite all the drama and complaints and worries about the foam industry, the data we have collected, suggest that in the Europe 28, Norway, the Balkans and Switzerland production was only down by 3.7%,’ she said. ‘If Russia, Turkey and the CIS countries are included, it is down by 4%.’
The news for polyester foam was even worse. Production fell 7.4%, from 81 kT in 2017 to just over 75kT in 2018.
Austrian, German and Swiss production fell by nearly 9%, she said. Downstream markets were down in that group of countries. In Germany, for example, vehicle production was down 9%, mattress production by 2–3% and furniture by 5%.
‘For the first time in a long time, there was no growth in Poland,’ Austin said, adding that the foam industry in Poland may be maturing. ‘There have been several years of strong demand, and there is a considerable volume of production capacity in the country. The market is highly competitive.’
Producers in the country have reported a ‘shift towards low density foam and away from products containing visco or HR foams’, she added.
In addition, in the Benelux market, manufacturers walked away from some business in 2018. This was to protect margins over volume, she said. Competitive foam products from Germany and Eastern Europe are driving this behaviour.
Despite Brexit uncertainty, lower consumer confidence and a weaker pound, polyurethane production fell by 1.2% in the UK. There was a big increase in e-commerce and buying mattresses online. The UK is Europe’s second largest online market for mattresses, she said.