Mattress imports from the EU to the US grew by 216m in 2020 to 1.5bn. For some nations starting from a small base, there was a huge growth of exports. For example, US imports of mattresses manufactured in Slovenia grew by an enormous 1577% between 2019 and 2020. This took the absolute numbers from 5010 to 84,000 units. Spanish exports of mattresses to the US grew by 939% to 20,787 units.
Serbia's share grew by 345% to 8981 units. Turkey, a more established manufacturing base, exported 981,122 units in 2020. This is an increase of 740,000 units being sent to the US. Overall, the main European exporting nations increased their output to the US by 844,000 units. The EU, Serbia and Turkey increased exports by 1.7m units. However, exports from China to the US fell from 31m to 120,000 in the light of the import sanctions the US imposed in 2019 taking effect.
The US is, by some margin, the largest e-commerce mattress market, accounting for 46% of sales, Raine said. ‘It is interesting to note that the leading bed-in-a-box supplier in the US is that well known foamer, Amazon,’ he said.
In Asia, China is the largest e-commerce market, accounting for 30% of the total. In Europe, e-commerce accounts for 15% of the market with the UK and the fastest-growing market, Germany, leading the way. These markets are followed by Italy, France, and Spain. The other countries in the region account for just 7% of e-commerce sales, he added. In 2019, the global business-to-consumer market for mattresses was estimated at $10bn, and it was projected to be significantly higher in 2020.
The low density and bulky nature of flexible polyurethane slabstock foam has been a barrier to economic transportation over long distances. However, exports have become much easier because of the strides made in formulation and compression technology for both hybrid and foam mattresses.
Yet the market is not all going on line. There is an emerging trend for companies who previously operated online-only to partner with bricks and mortar retailers. This gives customers the opportunity to experience their mattress before buying.
Export to succeed
Turning to the automotive industry, Raine said that 2020 had endured a 20% fall in new car registrations in the EU. Turkey, however, was the home of a 57% increase in registrations. Consumers there benefited from low-cost auto loans, and favourable repayment terms. Vehicle sales in the EU fell by 25% in 2020. ‘[This is] the largest ever recorded,' Raine said. This was a result of pandemic lockdowns and reduced spending.
While there was an overall fall, because people did not need to upgrade their driving experience so much during the pandemic, there was strong growth in hybrid and electric vehicles.
Looking at the numbers for flexible foam, Raine said that European polyester slabstock production topped 1.35MT in Europe in 2020, comfortably exceeding the volumes produced in 2019. Overall, the volume of flexible foam produced by Europe's 160 flexible foamers was 1.4MT, with a total of 63.9kT of polyester-based flexible foam included.
EuroPUR estimates that the industry employs 28,622 people in the EU27 nations, the UK, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Turkey, and the rest of Europe. It turned over an estimated €5.3bn in 2020, according to research for the association.
Although turnover was flat between 2019 and 2020, the industry employed 4% more people in 2020, according to the information presented by Raine. There was a 5kT, or 7.4%, decline in the amount of polyester slabstock foam produced between 2019 and 2020, but this was more than offset by the 44kT increase in polyester foam used in domestic furniture and mattresses.
In the automotive industry the amount of PU foam, that EuroPUR estimates is used in each vehicle has been reduced to 15kg from 16kg, as lightweighting efforts take hold.
Into the numbers
EuroPUR estimated that about 54kT of MDI was used in all kinds of slabstock foam in Europe in 2020, and that a further 363kT tonnes of TDI was consumed in these products. In moulded foams, the numbers are a little different, with 80kT MDI consumed in 2020, and more than 17.5kT TDI in these applications.
There was a slight fall in the amount of standard elastomeric slabstock foam produced in Europe in 2020. ‘Most of the growth has been in HR and viscoelastic types with a decline in CM modified,’ Raine said. ‘These changes have been driven by the growth in the bed-in-a-box market.'
There were two notable trade developments over the course of 2020. First, the volume of PU foam imported into the EU grew, with more material arriving from Russia and Serbia. This trade was driven by worldwide raw material shortages. And there was an unusual spike in flexible foam exports from Europe to the Yemen, possibly for mattresses for refugees there.
Looking more closely at the flexible slabstock market, Raine said that his information shows there is no great displacement of PU foam. ‘Creep to lower densities and lighter weights is visible,’ he said. But, he warned, the world is becoming more competitive. 'Ever faster turnaround is required as e-commerce gets stronger, and the demands on the supply chain get stronger,’ he said. ‘Foamers are rationalising their ranges, and trying to make longer runs. Plants are facing tougher regulations from local authorities, and there is pressure to integrate downstream.'
Raine pointed to recent rationalisations, including Recticel restructuring its business with the purchase of assets of Foampartner; the recent rebranding of Eurofoam, Multifoam, Unifoam and Perfoam as Nevion; Vita Group's recent purchase of IPME in Italy, and Nantong Healthcare's expansion into Spain. Downstream, Tempur Sealy has bought furniture store Dreams in the UK.
Overall, despite the unusual nature of 2020, the industry is in reasonable shape. ‘Demand continues to be strong, although there were some reports of weakening demand in Q2,’ he said. ‘When will demand and the raw materials markets stabilise? Which forecasts will be nearer to reality?’ he said. ‘We are facing a lot of challenges but, nevertheless, I think we are strong enough to deal with them.’