Wood flooring consumption down 4% in 2012
In 2012, wooden floor consumption in Europe (excluding
the UK) is estimated at 91 million m², a 4% decline
compared to the previous year.
Last‟s years decline is a reversal of the trend in 2011 when
there was a brief revival in European parquet consumption
following a sharp fall in consumption following the
financial crises between 2008 and 2010.
The 2012 consumption estimate is derived from FEP
(European Federation of the Parquet Industry) based on a
preliminary survey of country representatives at their
recent meeting held at the DOMOTEX fair in Hannover.
A more comprehensive assessment of consumption will be
published at FEP‟s annual General Assembly in June
In publishing their preliminary assessment, FEP stress that
market conditions vary considerably between European
countries and that this variation has increased. The
German-speaking countries of central northern Europe are
performing well with consumption rising slightly in 2012.
Scandinavian and Nordic countries are reporting stable
consumption or slight declines but no indication of a
significant downward trend.
However, market conditions in southern Europe, including
in the traditionally large consuming countries of Italy and
Spain, are very challenging with consumption falling more
than 15% in 2012. There were also quite significant falls
in consumption in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
As regards the product mix, FEP report that strong
demand for one-strip planks has helped compensate the
decline in other product categories.
Apart from the shaky economy, major challenges for the
sector result from high energy costs, continuously stiff
competition, expensive transport & logistics, extremely
high unemployment rates in some important EU regions
and the volatile and uncertain EUR/USD exchange rate.
On the other hand, FEP are optimistic that the ¡°overall EU
parquet industry remains strong and resilient, fuelling the
belief that it will successfully rebound as soon as the
overall economic indicators take a positive turn¡±.
On releasing the results, FEP identified two factors which
suggest better times might lie ahead: first, the ¡°never
ceasing innovative product creativity and evolutionary
design of European parquet manufacturers¡±; and second
¡°the multiple economic forecasts for 2013 which converge
on a more optimistic business development in the half of
the year, which should also boost overall consumer
Optimism at Domotex that better times lie ahead
While Europe‟s central role in the international flooring
industry has diminished in recent years, Domotex held
during January every year in Hanover, Germany, still
claims to be the world‟s leading trade show for the
international flooring coverings sector.
The Domotex organisers issued the usual positive press
release reporting another successful show in 2013.
However early estimates of visitor numbers of around
40,000 were down significantly compared to 2012 when
close to 46,000 attended the show.
This may be partly explained by many of Germany‟s
largest flooring manufacturers choosing not to exhibit at
Domotex this year and to focus instead on the BAU
biannual German building show held a few days later in
Nevertheless, the Domotex show remains a truly
international event. It attracted 1,350 exhibitors from 60
nations, including producers and suppliers of carpets,
textile floor coverings, resilient floor coverings, parquet
flooring and laminated coverings as well as installation,
cleaning and application technologies.
More than 60% of visitors were from outside Germany
with over 80 nations represented. Half were from
European countries other than Germany, while 21% came
from Asia and 11% from the Americas.
Attendance from Asian countries and North America
increased compared to last year. The show's attendees
once again consisted primarily of wholesale and
specialized retail buyers, at 30% and 20% respectively.
Wooden flooring producers exhibiting at the show
appeared quite optimistic about prospects for 2013. There
was a widespread view that the crises may be nearly over
and many producers were expecting sales to improve in
2013. Companies were generally reporting robust sales in
Germany, and stable demand in Scandinavia and the UK.
On the other hand, Italian and Spanish manufacturers were
reporting very poor domestic demand. As a result they
were focusing more on exports to other European
countries, the Middle East and the USA.
As in previous years, the Domotex show again emphasised
the extent to which oak dominates in the European
flooring sector. Oak products were found on virtually
every single stand, both solid wood and engineered.
Many laminate producers were also reproducing
artificially the ¡°oak look¡±. Very few other wood species
were on display ¨C a bit of ash, walnut and elm, some
maple for specialist sports floors, only a tiny quantity of
tropical woods, and no cherry at all. There was also a bit
To bring diversity to the displays, the emphasis again was
on the wide range of staining, varnishing, brushing, and
other surface treatments that can be applied to oak. Oak
flooring came in every shade from limed-white to black
stain and finishes ranged from clean modern through to
antique and rustic.
Widespread preference by manufacturers for European
oak a mystery
The vast majority of European producers use European
oak rather than American white oak. Although some
manufacturers claim otherwise, the widespread use of
European oak instead of American white oak cannot be
due to any real preference by European consumers.
Since most oak flooring products are stained or subject to
other treatments, consumers are very unlikely to be able to
tell the difference between oak species.
The choice of European oak by European manufacturers is
driven primarily by supply issues. Manufacturers are able
to source lumber and strips most competitively from
European sawmills, especially in the lower grades.
Local sourcing also helps reduce risks associated with
volatile exchange rates, long transport routes and the
potential for delayed deliveries.
Chinese wood flooring manufacturers at the show were
also focusing heavily on oak product ranges. They were
equally keen to stress that these products are composed
entirely of European oak (as opposed to Russian or
American) in the belief that this aligned to European
However in practice, it is well known that manufacturers
in China often mix oak species in their products and it was
difficult to assess the actual origin of the wood on display.
Stronger demand for wide flooring
Domotex demonstrated that European consumers prefer
wider boards. Most stands were displaying wide solid
boards or one-strip multi-layered products.
There were very few narrow solid boards or two-strip or
three-strip engineered products. Some high-end producers
were offering very wide boards in excess of 8 inches. Even
laminate products were printed with wide board surface
Wood flooring manufacturers at Domotex suggested
demand for oak will remain strong for the foreseeable
future. Some believed the strong fashion for walnut may
have peaked, although walnut floors are still selling well.
There still seems little prospect of any significant increase
in demand for beech or cherry in the European flooring
sector. Prospects for maple are a little better, with some
manufacturers expecting rising demand for maple in high
performance sports floors and in floors for high-traffic
Tropical wood species are generally out of fashion in the
European flooring sector. These species also tend to be
considered high risk under the EU Timber Regulation
unless backed by FSC or other third party forms of legality
As a result, more limited availability is likely to
increasingly restrict tropical wood floors to a high value
niche in the future.
Integrating wood flooring into interior sign
A key theme of Domotex 2013 was to try to better
integrate floor coverings into the broader field of interior
This was encouraged by the show organisers through
introduction of the ¡°Flooring Deluxe¡± exhibition to
Domotex this year. The exhibition involved 15 specially
arranged booths (so-called ¡°Concept Rooms¡±) with
installations created by young designers in collaboration
with floor covering manufacturers.
The wood flooring section of ¡°Flooring Deluxe¡± was
represented by Poland‟s Baltic Wood S.A. working in
collaboration with the German designer Mark Braun. The
resulting installation displayed embossed wood parquet in
a domino-like formation on both wall and floor.
According to Braun, the aim was to consciously break
with wood parquet‟s conventional application to
emphasise its natural colour and surface feel. Another aim
was to reintroduce the idea of wood as wall panelling.
After three days of voting by an expert panel and visitors,
Braun‟s wood display was recognized as the best project
in the floor coverings category.
The result emphasises the enduring attraction of real wood
floors and panelling. It also suggests strong consumer
interest in innovative designs which combine wood‟s
natural texture with modern materials and bold colours.
European laminate flooring sales declined in 2012
Another indication of challenging market condition in the
European flooring sector in 2012 is provided by data
released by the Association of European Producers of
Laminate Flooring (EPLF).
The association represents the leading producers of
laminate flooring in Europe. The 22 member companies
account for around 55% of the global market for laminated
floors and around 80% of the European market.
In recent years, laminate flooring has taken a rising share
of the European floor covering market, mainly at the
expense of textiles.
According to market research by Intercontuft, laminates
share of this market increased from 12.7% in 2004 to
14.3% in 2010 (wood‟s share increased from 5.1% to
5.6% during the same period).
European and international production capacity of
laminate flooring increased rapidly in the years before the
However, during the recession, excess capacity and ongoing
moves by manufacturers to replace d¨¦cor papers
with direct printing meant that prices for laminate flooring
High street prices for laminate flooring may be as low as
€5-10 per sq.m with little variation between looks and
The problems associated with low pricing and tight
margins in the sector are now being made worse by
The latest EPLF data shows that European sales of
laminated flooring by EPLF members fell sharply during
2012 (see table). Last year the volume of laminate flooring
sales fell 6% in Western Europe and 4% in Eastern
Europe. The decline in sales was apparent across nearly all
the leading European markets.
European manufacturers also suffered from declining sales
in North America. However manufacturers have had some
success to offset these losses by increasing sales to other
markets outside Europe, including Turkey, Latin America,
China and Africa.
Laminate flooring industry seeks to do more than
Reviewing information supplied by the EPLF, demand for
laminate floors in Europe is still heavily oriented around
the "all-rounder oak", as it is in the real wood sector.
There is a strong preference for the wide "country-house"
plank, with or without a V-joint. However EPLF also note
that there are signs of three-strip planks re-gaining
popularity in the laminates sector, although less for
isolated installations and more often as part of an
integrated interior design scheme.
The trend is towards floors with a consistent pattern
direction to create a more elegant appearance. For tile
designs, large, rectangular formats are preferred, which
create a spacious effect in larger areas.
In recent years, the laminates industry has invested heavily
in perfecting digital printing technologies to allow near
perfect replication of the look of real wood and other
However, according to EPLF, the industry now has
ambitions to move beyond mere duplication. It is
challenging real wood and other floor types by seeking to
deliver finishes which, while authentic and "natural", are
also unique and striking.
For example the heavy knottiness of pine may be
combined with the medium-brown shades of oak, perhaps
with subtle white effects added. Elm, a pale wood with
dark beige tones in nature, may be given a dark shade with
reddish brown effects.
EPLF note that the range of possibilities to modify
laminated decors is expanding all the time, now including
colouring, bleaching, etching, whitewashing, oiling, and
These techniques can be used not only to duplicate nature,
but to produce "never-before-seen" extreme surface
finishing styles. This is combined with sophisticated
haptics and texturing so that, according to the EPLF, "the
floors appear more interesting and life-like than the wood
from which they were modelled".
EPLF note that these same principles are also being
applied to stone designs. The industry is now focusing
attention on improving and promoting stone decors -
including slate, marble and granite - which to date have
been far less popular than wooden decors.
It's an ambitious agenda, to try to do better than nature
through use of modern technology and materials. The
response of consumers is still uncertain. For now, the
majority still seem to prefer the look and feel of natural
In addition to delivering new designs, the laminates
industry is seeking to build market share through
improved technical performance.
According to Dr. Theo Smet, Chairman of the Technical
Committee of the EPLF: "The response of the EPLF
members to the generally tough economic conditions is a
clear commitment to technical quality, the development of
innovative products, further transparency in terms of
technical features and work on complete laminate flooring
This means combining laminate flooring with what lies
beneath them, for example taking account of underfloor
heating and cooling, soundproofing, cleaning, care and
Participation in the European laminates market is a
complex and demanding process requiring compliance to a
wide range of technical standards. The EPLF assists
members through active participation in on-going
standardisation work in Europe.
For example it is participating in Technical Committee
CEN TC 134 (Laminate, Textile, Resilient) which is now
revising the European Norm (EN) 14041. This standard
introduces environmental aspects into CE marking of
flooring materials, especially relating to indoor air quality,
VOC emissions and potentially hazardous substances.
EPLF also recently contributed to finalisation of EN
16094 (test procedures for determining resistance to micro
scratches) and drafting of EN 16354 (covering
requirements for underlay materials). Further
standardisation projects include the revision of the
standards for laminate floor coverings EN 13329
(thermoset resins), EN 14978 (electron beam-hardened
acrylic surfaces), and EN 15468 (direct printing).
Environmental groups react to EUTR
The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which regulates
illegal timber trade, entered into force on March 3. Import
of illegal timber is prohibited under EUTR. Failure to
comply can land importers with up to two years
imprisonment or a 50,000 Euro fine, in addition to
confiscation of timber.
Companies importing timber into the EU are required to
carry out „due diligence‟ to ensure that the timber was
logged according to the producer country's laws, including
for example, knowing the details of each logging licence
under which timber is cut and taking measures to verify
that all relevant laws are followed.
An immediate effect of EUTR has been to encourage
campaigns by European environmental groups targeting
specific species and supply sources perceived to be high
risk of illegal logging. So far, the main focus has been on
tropical products and countries.
Following a report that illegal Liberian timber was found
in a French port, Global Witness campaigner Alexandra
Pardal told the BBC: "Almost all timber from tropical
rainforests carries a high risk of illegality and should be
checked out thoroughly - if there's any suspicion at all,
don't touch it¡±.
A recent Greenpeace report singled out the Democratic
Republic of Congo as ¡°clearly extremely high risk".
China is also frequently mentioned by environmentalists
as a participant in the illegal trade. In March, the WWF‟s
Beatrix Richards told the BBC ¡°much of the illegally
traded timber comes from central Africa and South-East
Asia, with a significant proportion being processed in
China and Hong Hong before being shipped to EU
nations, particularly the UK¡±.
Timber exporting countries in both Africa and South East
Asia are negotiating bilateral Voluntary Partnership
Agreements (VPAs) on timber trade and forest governance
with the EU. A key objective of the VPAs is to implement
rigorous procedures for "Legality Licensing" of all wood
exported from partner countries into the EU.
Wood covered by these licences will be exempt from
control under the EUTR. However the conclusion of some
VPAs has been delayed and no tropical country is yet in a
position to issue a VPA license. In the meantime, wood
imported from VPA countries must trade under the EUTR.
* The market information above has been generously provided
by the Chinese Forest Products Index Mechanism (FPI)