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By: Jamie Ko

Panic hit Singapore last week as its air quality started to deteriorate. The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) soared to hazardous levels during the middle of the week, recording its highest reading in 16 years. Forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, similarly affected air quality over Indonesia and Malaysia, with the latter declaring a state of emergency in Johor. Immediately, this led to a spike in demand for surgical and NIOSH-approved face masks, eye drops as well as home air purifiers, with demand outstripping supply and resulting in many pharmacies and appliance retailers being left with no stock.

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Within Asia Pacific, China and South Korea also suffer from poor air quality every spring, with the wind blowing in from the West carrying yellow dust, sand particles and industrial elements to the West coast of both countries. During this period, respiratory ailments and eye irritation complaints skyrocket. Japan, the biggest market for air purifiers in the region, is also exposed to natural elements such as influenza outbreaks and a high pollen count.

Overall, both natural and artificial causes of air pollution are driving sales growth of air purifiers in Asia Pacific, and the current haze as a result of the Indonesian forest fires is expected to last a while. Unfortunately for Asia Pacific, the degree and frequency of air pollution is heightened by the combination of these two factors. The speed of industrial development is exceeding that of environmental regulation in emerging countries. Consumers will therefore look to appliances such as air purifiers to help alleviate air quality problems in the region.

Volume Growth of Air Purifiers by Region, 2007-2012, % CAGR

Source: Euromonitor International

An opportunity for manufacturers

Given this recurring annual cycle of wind and pollutant movement, manufacturers should look to improve product knowledge to create sustained year-round demand for such lifestyle-enhancing products rather than relying on sales spikes during adverse situations. Consumer demand is moving towards products which offer the features of both air purifiers and dehumidifiers, with these dual-function products seen as offering better value for money. In turn, Asian manufacturers are launching products with anti-virus filters and dehumidifier functionality, such as Panasonic’s humidifying series which is distinct and separate from its standard line of air purifiers. Manufacturers are encouraging consumers to compare the efficacy of brands/products in terms of the removal of pollutants/viruses in the air and consider how the creation of negative ions helps in terms of cleaning air particles. In addition to a growing assortment of functions, the sizes of air purifiers are also increasing to cater for those who require a small unit for their office. LG Corp and Woongjin Coway Co Ltd are actively promoting small air purifiers.

Japanese companies such as Sharp Corp, Panasonic Corp and Daikin Industries Ltd traditionally have a strong presence in air purifiers, collectively accounting for a 49% share of total volume sales in Asia Pacific. However, it remains to be seen how long the dominance of Japanese manufacturers will last as Chinese manufacturers like Beijing Yadu Science & Technology and GD Midea Holding are rapidly gaining ground. Over 2004-2012, Beijing Yadu Science & Technology’s air purifier sales grew by more than 600% thanks to the company’s price competitiveness and ability to cater for domestic needs. Consumers stand to benefit in the long run if Chinese manufacturers invest in R&D and engage in brand-building initiatives.

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