BERLIN, Germany – In a surprisingly confrontational presentation given on the first day of Europur’s Annual Conference, president of furniture manufacturer Home Group, Lorraine McMahon, gave her view of the strengths and weaknesses of PU foam.
In yesterday’s presentation, to members of the European trade association for flexible foam manufacturers and suppliers, “PU Foam – Strengths and Weaknesses from the Perspective of a Furniture Producer”, McMahon pulled few punches: “You may find I see more weaknesses than strengths but I will try to be balanced.” And, at least as far as an audience comprised of PU industry professionals was concerned, the perceived weaknesses outweighed the strengths.
She decried the “very high cost in foam” and suggested that her company is trying to use as little foam as possible: “Since the start of Covid we’ve wanted to use more springs because of the high cost of foam.” She also suggested that foam has a relatively poor image in the eyes of consumers: “In Germany, if you say ‘pocket springs’ they are prepared to pay more than if you say ‘foam’.”
She proceeded to warn the conference of all the materials she felt will usurp PU foam in the market: feathers, pocket springs, AirWeave LLDPE “which is much easier to recycle than foam and so much greener” and future alternatives including bio-based foams produced by fungi in combination with vegetal fibres and PU made using non iso-cyanate pathways, like canola- and linseed-oils.
Returning to cost, McMahon said, in a Q&A with Europur secretary general Michel Baumgartner, “Why is there such a huge difference in the price of foam in China and Europe? At the end of the day, whether it’s mattresses or sofas, we compete in the end market with products from China. I will not be able to compete if I have pay 60% more for foam.”
McMahon said that other materials in her business have seen less drastic price rises: “We haven’t seen a huge price increase in textile per metre.” She told the conference an anecdote: her company had considered making its own foam, to make foam more cost effective, but she felt she couldn’t justify the cost of equipment that she considers will be obsolete in 10 years.
There was a silence of a few moments at the end of McMahon’s presentation before polite applause.
We can produce in Ukraine!
McMahon’s presentation started with a discussion of Ukraine. Home Group has four production facilities: two in Lithuania, one in Poland and one in Ukraine. And it is in this part of the speech that she established a confrontational stance with certain sectors of the audience.
“I think it’s a hard time with what’s going on in Ukraine. Even though I speak to [Home Group’s Ukrainian employees] every day it’s hard to understand how people can go to work every day when they have to go to the bunker each time Russian missiles are being launched in their region.
She didn’t conceal her displeasure with “chemical companies, some of whom are in this room” for refusing to supply Ukraine because it is a “country at war” and with Ikea for stopping production in Ukraine because it didn’t want to sell products manufactured in a war zone (there were also representatives of Ikano, Ikea’s sister company, in the audience).
McMahon’s presentation might have been an unconventional way to address representatives of the PU industry but it succeeded in sparking debate that rang through the conference's evening dinner.