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Exporting wooden coasters to Europe

Takes about 22 minutes to read

The European market for wooden coasters has recovered strongly from a dip in 2013. This provides opportunities for exporters from developing countries. Coasters have developed from functional basics to decorative table accessories. They form a relatively small product group in home decoration, so you should develop them as an additional line rather than a specialisation. You can easily add wooden coasters to your product range if you already use wood and/or focus on a particular consumer group, style or use.


1 . Product description

Coasters protect their table tops from spillage or scratching frm glasses or other drinkware. They are used at home as well as in restaurants. Besides being functional, they also add a decorative element to the table. This also makes them suitable gifts.

Coasters can be made from many different materials, including the following.

  • Wood
  • Cork
  • Paper
  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Synthetics/plastic
  • Rubber
  • Ceramic
  • Stoneware
  • Textiles

This study focuses on wooden coasters. Many developing countries have a long tradition in processing wooden products. This gives them a comparative advantage in trade of these products. This study uses the following codes to indicate trade in wooden coasters:

Table 1: Product codes

Harmonised System (HS)

Prodcom

Description

4419.0010

1629.1200

Tableware and kitchenware of wood as specified in additional note

4419.0090

Tableware and kitchenware of wood (excluding 4419.0010)

Quality

Functionality

Coasters should protect the table top from liquids and scratches left by drinkware. To match common drinkware sizes, coasters generally have a diameter of 9-10 cm. Their functionality can be increased by:

  • a smooth finish of the coaster’s surface
  • a non-slip base
  • table protective additions
  • raised edges.

In terms of finish, wooden coasters generally have a coating. The coating closes the wood pores and creates a smooth surface. By closing the wood pores, the coating protects the coaster from:

  • scratches
  • dirt
  • mould
  • water.

Durability

Coasters need to be durable enough to withstand moist and scratches. This prevents cracks, mould and other forms of decay.

The type of material used influences durability. For wooden coasters, different types of timber may have different degrees of toughness and absorbency.

Coatings increase the durability of the product. For wooden coasters, polyurethane (PU) coatings or oils and waxes are commonly used as a finish.

Product specifications

Retailers greatly appreciate it when suppliers provide detailed specifications for their coasters, for instance listing:

  • type of raw material
  • its exact size, i.e. its measurements
  • a logical description of the item
  • whether the product is dishwasher safe.

For wooden coasters, include a recommendation to hand-wash the coaster or clean it with a damp cloth.       

Labelling

  • Information on the outer packaging of wooden coasters should correspond to the packing list sent to the importer.
  • External packaging labels for wooden coasters should include
    • producer
    • consignee
    • material used
    • quantity
    • size
    • volume
    • caution signs.
  • EAN or barcodes on the product label are common in Europe.
  • Your buyer will specify what information they need on the product labels or on the item itself. For instance, logos or 'Made in …' information. This is part of the order specifications.
  • Use English for labelling, unless your buyer indicates otherwise.

Packaging

Importer specification

You should pack wooden coasters according to the importer’s instructions. They have their own specific requirements for:

  • the use of packaging materials
  • filling boxes
  • the use of pallets
  • stowing containers.

Always ask for the importer’s order specifications. These are part of the purchase order.

Damage prevention

Properly packaging wooden coasters minimises the risk of damage caused by transport. How an item is packaged for export depends on how easily it can be damaged. Packaging should ensure that items packed in a cardboard box cannot damage each other. It should also prevent damage to the boxes when they are stacked inside the container.

Packaging therefore usually consists of inner and outer cardboard boxes. The inner boxes are filled with materials to protect the products. For instance bubble wrap or paper, depending on the buyer.

Dimensions and weight

Packaging must be of easy-to-handle dimensions and weight. Standards are often related to labour regulations at the point of destination. The buyer must specify them.

Boxes are usually palletised for air or sea transport. Exporters have to make maximum use of pallet space.

Cost reduction

Preferably consider packing in the design phase of the coaster and, if included, its dispenser. Nesting, stacking or flat-packing the items inside the container reduces costs. Especially for coasters, as their simple size and form make them easy to handle and stack.

Packing has to provide maximum protection. However, you also have to avoid using excess materials or shipping ‘air’. Waste removal is a cost to buyers. You can reduce the amount and diversity of packing materials by:

  • partitioning inside the cartons, using folded cardboard
  • matching inner boxes and outer cartons by using standard sizes
  • considering packing and logistical requirements when designing your products
  • asking the buyer for alternatives.

Material

Importers are increasingly banning wooden crating and packaging. This is due to their unsustainability and high cost of the material and disposal. Economical and sustainable packaging materials are more popular. Using biodegradable packing materials can be a market opportunity. For some buyers, it can even be a requirement.

Mould prevention

You need to properly dry your wooden coasters after production, to prevent mould and cracking. Condensation inside the container during transport can cause mould. This is caused by humid air that becomes colder at night and warmer during the day. You need proper air ventilation inside the container to prevent this. Before shipment, you must inspect containers for air holes. You can also place products to reduce humidity amongst the cargo. Make sure the importer’s instructions are followed on this.

Consumer packaging

Coasters are ideal gifts. They are often used as gifts for special occasions, such as birthdays or seasonal festivities. They are often given to men. Gift packaging is therefore very suitable for coasters, particularly since they usually come in sets of four or six.  

2 . Which European markets offer opportunities for exporters of wooden coasters?

European imports of wooden coasters have recovered strongly from a dip in 2013, with developing countries as the main suppliers. Europe’s main importers of wooden coasters are:

  • Germany
  • the United Kingdom
  • the Netherlands
  • France.

Especially Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are interesting focus countries, with a strong market for developing countries.

Trade statistics

(!) This data covers tableware and kitchenware made from wood.

Where is consumer demand?

  • Europe’s demand for wooden coasters is considerably higher than its production. This drives the need for imports, making Europe an interesting market.
  • Between 2010 and 2014, European consumption of wooden coasters also increased, amounting to €317 million in 2014.
  • European consumption of wooden coasters is also highest in Germany at €72 million. The United Kingdom follows at €48 million, and Italy and France at €40 million each.

What is the role of European production in supplying European demand?

  • Between 2010 and 2014, European production of wooden coasters increased from €104 million to €139 million. This resulted in an average annual growth rate of 7.5%.
  • Germany and Italy are responsible for 27% and 21% of European wooden coaster production respectively.

Which countries are most interesting in terms of imports from developing countries?

(!!) The following data only gives an indication of the trade in wooden coasters. No specific trade data are available. The figures below cover tableware and kitchenware of wood.

This figure covers tableware and kitchenware of wood.

* This figure covers tableware and kitchenware of wood.

* This figure covers tableware and kitchenware of wood.

  • In 2014 and 2015, European imports of wooden coasters recovered strongly from a dip in 2013. They reached €1.7 billion in 2015. This resulted in an average annual growth rate of 5.1% between 2011 and 2015.
  • In the coming years, European imports are expected to keep growing moderately.
  • Developing countries are Europe’s main source of wooden coasters. They supply 64% of European imports. This amounted to €1.1 billion in 2015. This share is predicted to increase slightly in the coming years.
  • Germany is Europe’s leading importer of wooden coasters, with €382 million in 2015. The United Kingdom (€227 million), the Netherlands (€206 million) and France (€198 million) follow.
  • These main importing countries are also leading when it comes to imports from developing countries. Especially Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with about 75–85% of their total wooden coaster imports!
  • In these top three countries, imports from developing countries grew strongly between 2011 and 2015, at values ranging between €37 million and €62 million.
  • China dominates European wooden coaster imports, with 54% in 2015. Other leading suppliers among developing countries are Thailand, Vietnam, India and Tunisia.

Tips:

  • Focus on Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France. Their strong imports from developing countries make Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands especially interesting markets.
  • Compare your products and company to the strong competition from China, as well as Thailand, Vietnam, India and Tunisia. You can use ITC Trademap to find exporters per country. You can compare with regard to:
    • market segment
    • price
    • quality
    • target countries.

What role does export play in supplying European demand?

* This figure covers tableware and kitchenware of wood.

  • European exports of wooden coasters are mainly related to trade within Europe.
  • Germany (€216 million) and the Netherlands (€148 million) are Europe’s leading wooden coaster exporters.

Macro-economic indicators

Real private consumption expenditure

  • Private consumption expenditure is an important indicator for the European home decoration market. The sector is closely linked to economic conditions. When money is tight, consumers postpone buying non-essential items until they have enough disposable income.
  • Between 2015 and 2017, European private consumption expenditure is expected to increase. This means that consumption of luxury and decorative products is likely to rise. Especially in emerging markets, consumers will have more money available to spend on these products. Consumers in mature markets already spend a fair amount of money on luxury items, so growth in their consumption is expected to be moderate.

3 . Which trends offer opportunities on the European market for wooden coasters?

From functional items to decorative accessories

Coasters used to be purely functional items, preventing stains and scratches made by drinkware on table tops. However, coasters have now become decorative home accessories. They are being styled, tuned to current trends and included in the collections of tableware or kitchenware distributors. More attention from the makers means more value for the consumer. There are now plenty of options for consumers to include coasters in their tableware collection. They are no longer just for protecting the furniture, but have decorative value.

Tips:

  • If you produce wooden tableware or kitchenware, you can add coasters to your collection relatively easily.
  • Keep your offer fresh and attractive in a market with high consumer expectations. For instance, use interesting:
    • materials
    • shapes
    • decoration
    • techniques
    • texture
    • colours.
  • Coasters usually come in sets of four or six. You can use this in your design process. Four different but matching decorations could be more interesting than four identical coasters. For instance, you can offer different colours or connect different designs through a design story.
  • Offer complete ranges of matching table accessories, such as a plate, placemat, trivet and coaster. Being a one-stop-shop can be a valuable selling point for buyers and just what the consumer needs.

Changing dining culture

Northern Europeans are developing a table culture that the southern Europeans have already had for centuries. They are experiencing a newfound joy in cooking and eating together. This expresses itself through social gatherings with drinks and snacks, both indoors and in the garden. This trend includes setting the table with attractive tableware and accessories. Details matter when the consumer has friends visiting and wants to display good taste. This leads European consumers to invest in table accessories, including coasters.

Tips:

  • If you already offer coasters, study trends in dining, considering such things as how, what, where and when people eat.
  • Trends in tableware also have a direct influence on table accessories, including barware and drinkware. Select a few main players in tableware – trend setters, big brands – and follow their offers and the underlying values. For more information, see our studies on dinnerware, glassware and tea sets.

A broadening appeal

Now that coasters are becoming an increasingly valued table accessory, there are several ways to position them in the market. Examples include the following.

  • Seasonal: coasters are popular around Christmas, with typical decoration (see our study about Christmas articles).
  • Fun: humour is a popular theme in home accessories for the European market, including coasters.
  • Do It Yourself (DIY): making your own coasters is popular, for instance from a model provided by the retailer. 
  • Male gifts: this is traditionally a difficult product group in Home Decoration and Home Textiles, but coasters can make a good gift for the male consumer. For instance, a bottle of wine with a set of coasters.
  • Outdoor dinner or party: the garden has become an annex to the dining room. Coasters that are suitable for outdoor use are welcome additions to the tableware category.
  • Functional basics: the original, basic type of coaster is perhaps the most price-sensitive, with no additional style or design.
  • Novelty item: coasters are put to surprising uses. Especially related to merchandising, the corporate gifts sector, but also to fun and games market segments.

Tips:

  • Coasters form a relatively small product group in home decoration. Rather than as a specialisation, coasters are best included in a wider offer of table accessories. If you already specialise in wooden tableware, or focus on a particular consumer group (men), style (fun) or use (outdoors), you can include coasters in your range.
  • To market coasters as gifts, provide simple but stylish packaging. You can also offer your coasters in a (decorative) holder that consumers can place on their table.

At home and away

As a drinkware-related item, coasters are also used in the project market. Especially by businesses in the catering sector, such as hotels and restaurants. This is a growing market, with real opportunities for table accessories like coasters. It requires:

  • durability
  • options to merchandise and customise
  • sharp pricing.

Tips:

  • Interior decorators, agents in the catering business and specialised wholesalers dominate the project market. The main home decor trade fairs now also include a section on the project market. Study the relevant exhibitors and connect with them.
  • To work with this market, you must be able to:
    • work on project basis (not so much on a regular basis)
    •  supply large volumes  
    • work with tight margins
    • provide durability.
  • Especially popular in the project market are coasters for wine bottles. These could also work in the consumer market and could be worth including in new collections. 

Craftsmanship in natural materials

European consumers value craftsmanship, natural materials and the combination of the two. Hand-made products in natural, pure materials catch their attention. This provides great opportunities for wooden coasters.

Tips:

  • To benefit from this trend, focus on:
    • real craftsmanship
    • authentic stories about making and cultural meanings
    • special materials.
  • Natural materials other than wood are also welcome on the European market. Stone, metal and glass are currently trendy. Bring out the natural properties of these materials, rather than varnishing or staining them.

Sustainable and eco-friendly coasters

Sustainability is a growing trend on the European home decoration market. Wooden coasters fit in well with this trend. Sustainable wood and renewable materials such as bamboo are becoming increasingly mainstream. The fair-trade movement traditionally offers coasters in their basic collections.

Coasters become more sustainable through eco-friendly options in:

  • raw materials
  • production
  • transport and distribution
  • consumer use
  • (waste) disposal.

Tips:

  • Remember that being green and fair-trade is a process, not a one-step action.
  • Develop sustainable alternatives and clearly communicate the added value you provide.
  • Adhere to your customers’ codes of conduct and develop your own.
  • If your importer is interested, consider sustainable certification. For more information, see our study on buyer requirements for Home Decoration & Home Textiles.
  • For more information on sustainability, see our special study on sustainability in the home sector.

4 . With which requirements should wooden coasters comply to be allowed on the European market?

See our study about buyer requirements for Home Decoration & Home Textiles for the requirements applying to wooden coasters.

With which legal and non-legal requirements must your product comply?

General product safety

The European Union’s General Product Safety Directive applies to all consumer products, including wooden coasters. It states that all products marketed in Europe must be safe to use.

Tips:

  • Read more about the General Product Safety Directive in the EU Export Helpdesk.
  • Use your common sense to ensure normal use of your product does not cause any danger.
  • The RAPEX database lists products that the European Union has rejected at its borders, or withdrawn from the market. Check the database for coasters and other wooden products for an idea of what issues may arise.

European legislation

Europe has specific packaging and packaging waste legislation. It for instance restricts the use of certain heavy metals.

Europe also has requirements for wood packaging materials (WPM) used for transport, such as

  • packing cases
  • boxes
  • crates
  • drums
  • pallets
  • box pallets
  • dunnage.

Restricted chemicals: REACH

The REACH regulation lists restricted chemicals in products that are marketed in Europe. For wooden coasters, this includes arsenic and creosotes as wood preservatives.

 

Tips:

Timber Regulation

According to the European Union’s Timber Regulation, you must prove any timber used was harvested legally. This also applies to wooden coasters. Products with a FLEGT or CITES license comply with the Timber Regulation.

Tips:

Which additional requirements do buyers often have?

Sustainability

Social and environmental sustainability make your products stand out on the European market. Think of sustainable raw materials and production processes. European buyers increasingly demand the following certification schemes:

  • Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI): European retailers developed this initiative to improve social conditions in sourcing countries. They expect their suppliers to comply with the BSCI Code of conduct. To prove compliance, the importer can request an audit of your production process. Once a company is audited, it is included in a database for all BSCI participants.
  • Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI): This initiative is an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. It aims to improve the working lives of people across the globe that make or grow consumer goods.

You can use standards such as ISO 14001 and SA 8000 to read up on sustainable options. However, only niche market buyers demand compliance with such standards.

Tips:

  • Optimise your sustainability performance. Reading up on the issues included in the initiatives will give you an idea of what to focus on.
  • Buyers appreciate a good story. If you can show that you considered your company’s performance, this may be a competitive advantage. For instance, perform a self-assessment like the BSCI Self-Assessment for Producers, or follow a code of conduct such as the BSCI Code of Conduct or the ETI base code.
  • For more information, see our special study on Sustainability in the Home Sector.

What are the requirements for niche markets?

Fair trade

The concept of fair trade supports fair pricing and improved social conditions for producers and their communities. Especially when the production of your wooden coasters is labour intensive, fair-trade certification can give you a competitive advantage.

Common fair trade certifications are from:

Tips:

  • Ask buyers what they are looking for. Especially in the fair trade sector, you can use the story behind your product for marketing purposes.
  • Check the ITC Standards map database for more information on voluntary standards and their requirements, including fair production.

FSC certification

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification is the most common label for sustainable wooden products, including wooden coasters. The FSC label guarantees that a product’s source material comes from responsibly managed forests. These products are especially popular in western European markets.

Tip:

5 . What competition will you be facing on the European wooden coaster market?

The competition for wooden coasters does not differ significantly from the sector in general. See our study about competition in home decoration & home textiles for a general overview. Also refer to our top 10 tips for doing business with European buyers.

6 . Which channels can you use to put wooden coasters on the European market?

The market channels and segments for wooden coasters do not differ significantly from the sector in general. See our study about market channels and segments for home decoration & home textiles for a general overview.

Market channels

In Europe, wooden coasters are generally distributed through wholesaler-importers and retailer-importers in tableware and general home decoration. They are available from:

  • department stores
  • home decor outlets
  • tableware specialists
  • gift shops
  • online.

E-commerce

E-commerce in home decoration is increasing. It can help you reach a broader range of customers. Retailers often combine online and offline channels. Consumers research and purchase products online. They shop around and compare prices on home decoration items. Small (gift) items are especially suitable for this.

To supply e-commerce, you have to be able to work with:

  • individual packing
  • individual labelling
  • limited minimum orders.

Tips:

Trade fairs

These trade fairs are useful sources for finding trading partners in Europe.

Market segments

Coasters are mainly a mid-market product, with friendly and accessible designs and prices. There are no significant lower-end or luxury segments for coasters.

Mid-market

Product design generally responds to the average consumer’s taste and existing trends. Price points are accessible. They range from ‘value for money’, appealing to a more price-sensitive consumer, to less price driven ‘gifts’. Communication is about giving (usually with a gift wrap), decorative value and trendiness.

7 . What are the end-market prices for wooden coasters?

Table 2 gives an overview of the prices for wooden coasters in the ‘value-for-money’ and ‘gift’ categories.

Table 2: Indicative consumer prices of handmade paper notebooks

 

Value for money

Gift

Wooden coasters, set of four

€10–20

€20–30

Consumer prices depend on the value perception of your product in a particular segment. Your marketing mix influences this through:

  • product benefits
  • promotion (brand or not, communication of product benefits)
  • points of sale (reseller positioning)
  • price.

Tips:

  • The value perception of your product in the chosen segment determines its price. Your product quality and price must match what is expected in your chosen target segment. To determine your price, study consumer prices in your target segment. Adjust your prices accordingly.
  • Understand your segment. Offer a correct marketing mix to meet consumer expectations. Adapt your business model to your position in the market.

The following figure gives an indication of a price breakdown for wooden coasters.

Figure 6: Indicative price breakdown for coasters, mark-ups in %

wooden_coasters_fig_6.png

Source: ProFound, 2014

Please review our market information disclaimer.