Warm beige - the new white for hygiene products

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Although many of us use products containing fluff pulp, some of us daily, it is one of those materials which is surprisingly unknown to the wider group of consumers.

Fluff pulp is a type of wood pulp typically used in absorption cores of baby diapers, sanitary pads, incontinence products and various forms of air-laid nonwoven products. Not many consumers know what fluff pulp is, and that it in many cases is the only natural raw material in a typical disposable hygiene product.

Even if a single absorbent hygiene product only contains a few grams of fluff pulp, the massive number of products consumed every day make that global fluff pulp market big. In 2023 it is projected to reach over 7 million tons globally (Global Fluff Pulp Consumption, projection according to Smithers).

In today’s world, we are in a position where we need to transform from fossil-based materials to renewable solutions. We must reduce carbon emissions and design for sustainable consumption. In some respects, this is a huge challenge. But there are also solutions out there which we could start utilizing already now. Using NaturaFluff Eco by Stora Enso instead of regular bleached fluff pulp is an example of such a solution.

We describe NaturaFluff Eco as an oxygen delignified fluff pulp. This means that it is not bleached, only treated with oxygen to remove the remaining lignin after the cooking of the pulp. By not bleaching the fluff pulp we save approximately 80 kgs of bleaching chemicals per airdried tonne of fluff pulp. This corresponds to a saving of the carbon footprint by more than 30% compared to bleached fluff pulp.

Lignin is a component in the wood which is not wanted in fluff pulp as it impacts the absorption properties. All traces of lignin are removed during chemical bleaching. During the innovation project to develop NaturaFluff Eco we realized that by carefully monitoring the production process we can in fact produce a fluff pulp without any bleaching chemicals keeping the same performance properties.

NaturaFuff Eco fulfills the requirements of common Eco labels such as EU Eco Label, Nordic Swan, Blue Angel and Asthma Allergy Nordic. The only difference between NaturaFluff Eco and traditional fluff pulp is the lower carbon footprint and the colour.Elementary Chlorine Free (ECF) bleached fluff pulp by Stora Enso has an ISO brightness of 87. NaturaFluff Eco has an ISO brightness of 46. This results in a warm beige colour.

This means that we have a product which has the same performance we require, it is better for the environment, but it is not the pure white colour consumers of hygiene products are used to. Hygiene products have always been white. White traditionally signals purity and a lot of marketing has gone into convincing consumers that the colour of hygiene products simply has to be pure white.

What we see today, however, is that the colour of several product categories is turning “beige”. In packaging materials, we see a rapid change from white bleached carton board to unbleached. Coffee filters, underwear, liquid carton board and paper packages for hygiene products all move from pure white to warm beige or unbleached.

Stora Enso carried out a consumer survey to understand what are the most important features for consumers when buying hygiene products. Comfort, performance, eco-friendliness, and price of hygiene products came out as top priorities. Not colour.

Let’s assume that consumers are ready to accept non-white, warm-beige hygiene products, especially if they are performing just as well as regular white ones, understanding that these are better for the environment. What about the value NaturaFluff Eco can bring to brand owners and hygiene products producers?

Sustainability is becoming more and more important for a growing segment of consumers. Many studies show that consumers are, in fact, willing to pay for better, more sustainable products. Eco-branded hygiene products come with a premium.

What is nice about NaturaFluff Eco is that it does not require any investments or changes in the way the end products are produced. It has the same performance as regular bleached fluff pulp and does not require a lot of design changes to the products. The difference in colour which comes with NaturaFluff Eco can be viewed as an advantage. It clearly communicates to the consumer that this is something different – the message about eco-friendliness goes hand in hand with what the consumer can see in the product.

By switching from bleached fluff pulp to NaturaFluff Eco, hygiene products producers and brand owners can reach consumers in an attractive premium segment. At the same time, they will reduce their scope 3 emissions.

We would like to see more of our competitors launching products like NaturaFluff Eco, to offer more supplier alternatives to our customers. And we would really want all our customers to come to us and be brave to make the switch in their brands.

The future is warm beige.

Source: Stora Enso