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Global consumption of detergents is expected to grow at or around GDP in 2012, producers say. The key developing regions of China, Eastern Europe, and India are expected to continue growing strongly, and market expansion in Western Europe and North America is forecast to be slow. "We would tend to overlay detergent demand growth on top of GDP growth," says Eric Stouder, general manager/ organics at Sasol. "In developed regions, that expectation is in the range of about 0%-2.5%, but much higher rates of 5% plus are expected in developing regions."
Performance trends and product differentiation remain key issues for soap and detergent makers in 2012, as customers demand better-performing products at reasonable prices, players say.
The 2011 global market for surfactants is estimated at 11 million m.t.-12 million m.t. and is valued at about $25 billion at the pre-formulation level, IHS Chemical says. Western Europe and North America are the largest contributors to the volume of this market, at about 48%, followed by China at about 8%, IHS Chemical says.
Croda, which supplies non-ionic surfactants, cationic surfactants, and a variety of other specialties designed to deliver performance benefits, says sales in 2012 are off to a strong start. "There is a sense of confidence that wasn't necessarily there in 2011," says Kevin Gallagher, president/North America at Croda. "Last year was better than 2010, and right now 2012 seems to be very bullish."
Producers say that market demand is at or above 2008 levels. "We saw growth in the second half of 2009 and that continued into 2010 and 2011," Stouder says. "We see demand back to or in excess of pre-recession levels, and developing regions are a big part of that." Sasol does not break down sales into individual markets, but says that 2011 sales volumes in the company's olefins and surfactants business were up about 3% year on year. A large percentage of Sasol's olefins and surfactants business sales go into soaps and detergents.
"The hesitancy from 2011 is evaporating now that raw material and commodity costs have stabilized," Gallagher says. "People are …