(News from RISI) US tissue paper capacity entered a fifth-year of significant growth in 2015 that was not outpacing steady demand expansion and not taking the air of producers’ pricing.
That said, the last official tissue product price increase was in mid-2011 and since then, nine different companies started up new or converted machines that added 500,000 tonnes of capacity to the North American tissue market.
Further, two more additional companies plan new machine capacity this year.
On pricing last year, First Quality Tissue, North America’s eighth-largest producer announced a consumer increase that turned out being a solo run, and this August Clearwater Paper, the second largest private label producer behind Georgia-Pacific (GP), was out with a consumer products increase.
Producers slightly increased pricing since mid-2013 by reducing sheet counts. Kimberly-Clark (K-C) reported a 1% rise in consumer tissue pricing for 2014 vs 2013 and a 2% increase for 2013 vs 2012.
The key issue in the segment continued to be the pace of capacity additions vs demand growth that has averaged 1.8%/yr since 1993 and has only declined twice sequentially in the last 15 years.
Also, there remained ongoing big brand vs private label face-offs for shelf space in the largest US grocery and retail company stores.
That heated competition turned producers toward making more ultra and premium product than ever before and starting up through-air-dried (TAD) machines to do so.
Five of the last nine PMs started up were TADs. One company, Wausau Paper, even added a new tissue paper machine with Atmos technology in Harrodsburg, KY, that makes high-quality paper products for the Away-from-Home market segment.
In North America, about two-thirds (68%) of the 9.8 million-tonne capacity tissue paper market demand goes for consumer products, which are led in volume by bathroom tissue and then kitchen towels.
The other third of the capacity (32%) is for AfH products, which are primarily supplied by dispensers in bathrooms in offices, schools, stores, hotels, and restaurants.
While bathroom tissue is the No. 1 volume product in the consumer segment, towels are the top AfH seller.
Overall, the consumer products continue to grow faster than AfH products in the US marketplace.
Tissue papers include sanitary grades such as toilet, toweling, facial, napkin, sanitary napkins, wipes, and special sanitary papers.
Along with bathroom tissue and towels, other consumer products include Kleenex and facial tissue, and meal napkins.
North American production totalled 9.14 million tonnes of tissue paper in 2014 and capacity was 9.67 million tonnes for a 94% operating rate.
The market divides up into two product types, based on production method: the brands and private label.
The big brand and largest producers are GP, Procter & Gamble (P&G), and K-C. P&G is largest in the consumer segment led by its Charmin brand.
G-P is the largest in private label with its connected to Costco and its Kirkland private label product, and is big in brand business with Great Northern as well and the largest in capacity overall.
In private label, Clearwater is the second behind G-P and First Quality continues to grow in the segment as does Kruger.
The fourth largest producer in North America, Cascades is well-sized in consumer and AfH, and North America’s largest parent roll supplier. Main private label end users include Walmart and Costco.
The tissue paper is made by conventional machines (about 65-70% of North American capacity) and TADs (30-35%).
The TADs cost more to operate and turn out a softer product. Conventional machines run on a lower cost, lower-quality position.
The brand producers – P&G, K-C, and GP – compete strongly with TAD products. But other smaller players – Clearwater, First Quality, and Kruger – started up four new TADs in the last four years to compete more strongly in the ultra and premium categories.
Of the last 10 PMs started up in North America, six were TADs.
Supply/demand balance. Even with the capacity growth, the market remained balanced in terms of supply and demand in North America, contacts said. From 2011 to 2014, North America’s apparent consumption increased 443,000 tonnes, with imports increasing 142,000 tonnes and production up by 341,000 tonnes. Capacity at the same time rose by 306,000 tonnes. However, another 200,000 tonnes of capacity is in play for 2015, from the 2014 total.
For late 2015 and 2016, new capacity is to startup by yearend 2015 by von Drehle at Natchez, MS, and First Quality plans two new machines, one each in 2015 and 2016, and newcomer St. Croix Tissue plans two news PMs as well, one each in 2015 and 2016.
Also, Kruger continues to consider adding another US machines, as part of its connection with the “White Cloud” business at Walmart.
The St. Croix Tissue company becomes the first Chinese-owned company to make tissue paper in the USA.
The firm started from buying Domtar’s Woodland Pulp mill in Baileyville and plans to product parent rolls on two machines in two years.
Pulp from the Woodland mill will be integrated to the two conventional parent roll machines at Baileyville.
Also, at the end of 2014, Cascades added converting capacity in the US South and converted a former Boise Paper uncoated freesheet paper machine to tissue paper products in St. Helens, OR.
Some of the tonnage from St. Helens is set for Cascades’ converting plant in Kingman, AZ, which has been expanded.
Imports represent 10% of North American demand, and increased to 1.3 million tonnes in 2014, which exceeded the totals from 2011 to 2013 of 1.1 million to 1.2 million tonnes of imports.
Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has partners or affiliates in Solaris Paper in Los Angeles and Mercury Paper in Virginia that sell tissue products made of APP paper.
As new capacity entered the market the last five years, K-C shut a large mill in the Pacific Northwest and a machine in Pennsylvania and Kruger shut machines in British Columbia.
Since 2008, nine of the largest 10 North American tissue paper producers increased their capacity, with K-C being the only one to reduce capacity.K-C’s reduction was by 176,000 tonnes from shutting down a mill in Pacific Northwest and a machine in Pennsylvania.K-C’s reduction was by 176,000 tonnes from shutting down a mill in Pacific Northwest and a machine in Pennsylvania.
The largest capacity-growers were Clearwater, which started up a TAD in Shelby, NC, in 2013 and acquired Cellu Tissue.
This increased Clearwater’s capacity by 297,000 tonnes.
First Quality increased capacity by 165,000 tonnes by starting up several new TADs in Anderson, SC. Also, Clearwater sold its specialty papers/tissue business to Dunn Paper, and GP added 96,000 tonnes of new capacity from 2008-2014, possibly from its special proprietary work on two machines at its Crossett, AR, and Port Hudson, LA, mills. That technology was called eTAD and was intended to produce paper at a lower cost yet at a higher quality level.
Prices. With the capacity growth, pricing has mostly held in the last year with little change, other than the move by producers in second quarter 2013 to reduce sheet counts. K-C reported the 1% price gain in 2014 as well as a 2% increase in 2013.
Producers in 2013 including K-C and Clearwater reduced sheet counts on their tissue packages, thus gaining a higher cost per package, company executives said. This sheet count reduction worked as an unofficial price increase. Analysts varied on how much the sheet count reduction equalled in terms of an increase and it was unclear how many producers reduced their sheet counts in 2013.
Also, along with the consumer increase by First Quality in 2014, AfH producers announced an increase of up to 10% for the summer of 2014. That increase was implemented to some degree and with some companies continuing to lag in the increase into 2015, executives said.
A key benchmark for tissue pricing is the price of market pulp. Producers such as K-C and P&G do not run pulp operations, as does GP, so they rely on buying an open market pulp mix of both bleached softwood as well as bleached eucalyptus for making their tissue paper. The benchmark northern bleached softwood kraft (NBSK) increased 17.5% from 2012 to 2014. The 2014 NBSK average was $1,025/tonne on a list price basis in North America. By mid-2015, that price was down 3.7% to average $987, according to PPI Pulp & Paper Week.
Market outlook. The major issues for 2015 and 2016 continue to focus on new capacity and how it balances with demand growth. And the ongoing competition in stores for shelf space between big brand and private label tissue and towels.
Promotional spend was expected to continue to be a benefit for the largest producers to further help their order books. Majors such as P&G counted on heavy advertising spend in 2014.
Also, innovation remained very important, and touched various parts of the segment. K-C, citing concern about reduced quality of deinked recovered paper, launched GreenHarvest, a tissue paper brand with 20% alternative pulp made from bamboo and straw pulp.
K-C also launched a tubeless bathroom tissue product and P&G was said to be testing one for its big brand Charmin.
GP pushed ahead with its EasyNap one-towel-at-a-time dispenser for the AfH market and Wausau Paper also launched a large-volume dispenser.