The stork brings more than babies
My husband and I welcomed our first child, a baby boy, in January. As we prepared for his arrival, we quickly learned that as first-time parents, we will be acquiring an enormous amount of baby stuff, in complete disproportion to the expected size of our newborn. Our apartment was rapidly inundated with a car seat, stroller, swing and Pack ‘n Play, playmats, toys, onesies, hats, pajamas, burp cloths, swaddles, bibs, a crib, a changing table, and of course, mounds of diapers and wipes.
The baby product industry is booming. Sales reached an estimated $10.9 billion in 2017 and are expected to reach $16.8 billion by 2025. And with the pressures placed on first-time moms to be the perfect parent, it’s no wonder we shell out thousands of dollars in the baby’s first year to keep them warm and safe, hoping to avoid the 3am cries as much as possible.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the annual spending on a child under two was $12,680 in 2015 (for a married couple with two children). While most of that spending was allocated to housing and child care, an average family still spent over $1,000 a year on baby products, excluding food.
No surprise, the three big components of baby-related expenditure – diapers, car seats and toys — are global industries.
Dry and clean derrieres
A first-time parent might be surprised by the number of diapers they will change in their child’s first year. At two and a half months, my son goes through 6-8 diapers a day, not including the occasional mishap affectionately known as a “poop explosion”. And while I applaud families that choose to use cloth reusable diapers, by necessity or out of eco-consciousness, we opted for disposable diapers in my family.
The global disposable diaper market is dominated by two brands – Pampers made by Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Huggies made by Kimberly-Clark. Together, the two companies control roughly 80 percent of the global disposable diaper market. The disposable diaper industry has been undergoing significant changes in recent decades, driven by a decline in birth rates in the West and increased demand in China and other emerging markets. Both P&G and Kimberly-Clark have complex supply chains that span dozens of facilities around the world to meet parental needs.
China only recently became a significant market for disposable diapers, with Pampers leading the way. In the 1990s, P&G launched a low-cost diaper brand in China that failed to make inroads locally. Recognizing that Chinese consumers valued the diaper’s softness and ability to absorb over price, the company reentered the market in 2010 with higher-end products targeted at China’s middle class, and sales have been growing strongly since. In 2018, diaper sale revenues in China reached $7.6 billion. American diaper producers are working to convince Chinese parents to ditch kaidangku, Chinese back split-pants, which allow young toddlers to squat anywhere. While kaidangku are still popular among China’s rural population, China’s middle class is rapidly adopting the disposable diaper lifestyle.
Strapped in for safety
Car seats are often one of the most expensive purchases new parents will make in the baby’s first year. Given the stringent safety requirements for baby car seats, large international brands generally do not face significant competition from low-cost, lower-quality brands.
The global car seat market was estimated at $7 billion in 2018, with infant seats representing 32 percent of global sales. Leading companies are headquartered around the world: Dorel, Quinny and Cosco are brands based in Canada; Artsana Group’s Chicco brand and Kiwi Baby are Italian; UPPAbaby and Newell Brands, which make Graco and Baby Jogger are based in the United States; Goodbaby, the maker of Cybex and Evenflo, is based in Hong Kong; Renolux is based in France, Mothercare in the U.K., and InfaSecure is headquartered in Australia – to name a few.
While the companies above are headquartered around the world, many of their brands are manufactured in China (a few high-end brands are also made in the United States). Over the last several years, the U.S. trade war with China placed significant pressure on the car seat industry. While the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) provided exemptions from Chinese tariffs to some safety products, including finished car seats, the components and materials used to manufacture the car seats did not receive the same treatment, placing increasing costs on U.S.-based car seat manufacturers. Advocating for an exemption for all baby safety products, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association argued that an increase in the costs of these products could put children, especially those in low-income families, at risk. And while the conclusion of the phase one trade negotiation with China suspended the tariffs, the risk to the industry remains.
You may be surprised to learn, much like my husband was, that toys play an important role in a baby’s development from their first weeks of life. Toys not only entertain, but they help develop key skills such as creativity, innovative thinking, and other important developmental milestones.
The global toy market dwarfs all other products for children, reaching $90.4 billion in 2018. The top seven toy companies in the world account for 55 percent of global toy sales. These include Mattel (with brands such as Barbie and Fisher-Price), Hasbro (making the Disney toys), Lego, and others. It’s estimated that 80 percent of all toys produced worldwide are manufactured in China and 85 percent of U.S. toy imports are from China. It’s no wonder that the trade war between the U.S. and China had a significant impact on the toy industry.
While the toy industry managed to avoid the 15 percent tariffs that were planned for December 2019 on Chinese-made toys, the tariff threats resulted in a turbulent environment for two large U.S. toy makers Hasbro and Mattel. Shares of both companies fell in late 2019, driven in part by the tariff uncertainty. As toy manufacturers generally operate with low margins in a highly volatile market driven by consumer preferences, most manufacturers are hoping for a long-term resolution of the trade tensions with China to ease their pressures ahead of the next holiday season.
A bottomless pit
As my son approaches three months, I am amazed at how quickly my purchasing habits have changed. I’m already thinking of our next car seat that can transition with him as he gets older, looking into the weight recommendations for different diaper sizes, and researching new toys to keep him (and myself) interested. And while we may slow down our purchasing to prevent a total baby takeover of our apartment, one thing is absolutely clear – we will always need to buy more diapers.
Ayelet Haran is a contributor to TradeVistas. She is a government affairs and policy executive in the life sciences industry. She holds a Master’s of Public Administration degree in International Economic Policy from Columbia University.