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The European market potential for blankets and throws

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Two-thirds of European blanket and throw imports come directly from developing countries. This makes Europe an interesting market for exporters in these countries. An increased interest in social and environmental sustainability is a key trend that shapes the market for blankets and throws. A great many buyers are interested in co-creation, smaller quantities and shorter lead times. Developing a range of matching or complementary cushion covers helps buyers market a concept.

1. Product description

Within the Home Decoration and Home Textiles (HDHT) sector, blankets and throws are categorised under ‘home textiles’. A blanket is a piece of cloth designed to provide warmth to the user, usually when they are sleeping. It can also be used to decorate the bed. A throw – or ‘throw blanket’ – is a smaller blanket, often used as a decoration outside of the bedroom as well. However, the terms ‘blanket’ and ‘throw’ are often used interchangeably.

This report uses the following product codes to refer to trade in blankets and throws:

Table 1: Product codes

Harmonised System (HS)

Prodcom

Description

6301 20

13 92 11 30

Blankets and travelling rugs of wool or of fine animal hair

6301 30

13 92 11 90

Blankets and travelling rugs of cotton

6301 40

13 92 11 50

Blankets and travelling rugs of synthetic fibres

6301 90

13 92 11 90

Blankets and travelling rugs of other (non-synthetic) materials

Functionality

The main purpose of a blanket is to provide warmth as a (bed) covering. Secondarily, a blanket can also be decorative.

Throws also offer warmth, but they mainly serve as a decoration on a couch or sofa – anywhere in the house. They have become popular accessories, providing an easy and inexpensive way to add style to any interior. Throws can be combined with matching cushions or cushion covers, which can be sold together in sets.

Material

Blankets and throws are often made of wool, because of its warmth and ability to absorb moisture. Other options include cotton, linen, silk, recycled or leftover fabrics, blended yarns or mixed (manmade) fibres. High-end blankets and throws can also be made of materials like (kid) mohair, merino, alpaca or cashmere. Alternative fibres like bamboo, jute and hemp are less common.

Figure 1: Yumeko – Ethically produced throws made of a merino wool and cashmere blend
Source: Yumeko @ Instagram

Most blankets and throws available in the European market are woven or knitted. Other production methods include crocheting.

Size

Different sizes are available  to fit different sized beds. Common sizes for blankets in Europe are:

  • 150cm x 210cm (single bed)
  • 200cm x 200cm (double bed)
  • 240cm x 220cm (king size bed)
  • 260cm x 220cm (super king size bed)

Throws come in a wide variety of sizes, the most common of which are:

  • 90cm x 200cm
  • 130cm x 180cm
  • 140cm x 200cm

Other sizes are also available. Ask your European buyers what specific sizes they need in the early stages of the collaboration.

Design

Blankets vary in thickness, texture and elasticity. They come in a wide variety of colours and patterns. Because throws have a mainly decorative purpose, they are more sensitive to fashion trends. With colours ranging from neutral to vibrant, designs varying from plain to intricate or embroidery – there is a throw available to suit every style.

2. What makes Europe an interesting market for blankets and throws?

The European market for blankets and throws is growing. Two-thirds of the import value comes directly from developing countries, making Europe an interesting market for exporters in developing countries.

European imports of blankets and throws grew from €816 million in 2017 to €953 million in 2021. This accounts for about half of worldwide imports. There was a clear decline in imports in both the European and the worldwide market in 2020, but these markets recovered in 2021. Some of these 2021 imports may have consisted of delayed shipments that carried over from 2020.

The direct market share of developing countries is fairly stable, amounting to about two-thirds. These imports grew from €595 million in 2017 to €645 million in 2021. Overall, this makes Europe an interesting market for exporters in developing countries

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine continue to disrupt international trade.  At the same time, lockdowns have resulted in an increased focus on the home and trends like sustainability and wellness. This may (partially) compensate for the negative effects of the crisis. For more drivers of demand, see ‘which trends offer opportunities?’ below.

Tip:

3. Which European countries offer most opportunities for blankets and throws?

The larger Western and Northern European economies are the main importers of blankets and throws. However, importers in these countries generally sell their products throughout Europe. The best strategy therefore is to focus on a particular segment, rather than a specific country.

In 2021, Germany remained Europe’s leading importer of blankets and throws with 19% of imports, followed by the United Kingdom (13%) and France (11%). The Netherlands (7.7%), Poland (7.7%) and Spain (6.4%) held the remaining three positions in the top 6 importing countries. All these markets performed well in 2021, but some of those imports may have been delayed shipments that carried over from 2020. Whether the new patterns seen in 2021 are here to stay, is not yet clear.

Focus on segments

It is important to be aware of the fact that European countries play different roles on the market. Some are mainly importers and others are mainly manufacturers. Western European countries are mainly importers (and re-exporters). Most Western European importers do not just sell their products in their own country, but they also distribute them across the continent. This explains why small countries like Denmark and the Netherlands often import much larger quantities of HDHT items than they consume.

In terms of marketing, it should be kept in mind that countries are not the same as markets. The HDHT sector has different market segments, ranging from low to high end (see our report on market entry for blankets and throws). Every European country has these segments, although their size may vary by country. Therefore, it makes much more sense to select a segment based on the product range to be supplied contact the importers and distributors in that segment, instead of in a specific country. These distributors will then sell the products in that segment across Europe.

Consumer spending and confidence are under pressure

An important indicator for growth in demand is general consumer spending (‘real private consumption expenditure’). The HDHT sector is sensitive to economic cycles. When economic circumstances and prospects are down, consumers postpone buying items that they do not urgently ’need’. When economic conditions are good, purchases of such non-essential products tend to rise.

Until the outbreak of COVID-19, the leading European markets showed an annual growth in consumer spending of around 1-3%. Due to the pandemic, 2020 broke with this trend. In 2021, growth moved back into positive figures.

In December 2021 the forecasts for 2022 and 2023 were also positive, particularly for 2022. However, in March 2022 European consumer confidence plummeted due to the situation in Ukraine. This reflected a large drop in households’ expectations about the general economic situation in their country, and their own future financial situation. Consumers’ intention to make major purchases also fell. This lower consumer confidence may well lead to lower spending, and lower demand for HDHT products.

Germany continues to be the largest European importer

Germany,  which is home to nearly a fifth of the European Union’s population, is the largest economy in Europe. The European Commission projects German GDP to have returned to pre-COVID-19 levels by the fourth quarter of 2022. This is somewhat later than most other Northern and Western European countries, where economies recovered in 2021.

German imports of blankets and throws grew from €147 million in 2016 to €176 million in 2021. This was mainly due to impressive  growth in 2021 (22%), despite the fact that  these imports did not decrease during the pandemic-related trade disruptions of 2020. Germany’s role as a key trade hub in Europe may have helped the country maintain strong performance.

About 80% of Germany’s import value came directly from developing countries, which is well above the European average. These imports grew from €120 million in 2017 to €140 million in 2021, at an average annual rate of 4.0%. China dominates the market, directly supplying about two-thirds of Germany’s imports of blankets and throws.

Its strong domestic market, role as a key European trade hub, and relatively large market for developing countries make Germany an interesting market for exporters in developing countries. However, China’s dominance may somewhat limit your opportunities. In order for an exporter to differentiate itself from China’s mass-production, it will need to focus on the mid- to high-end segments and add value to its products, for example by using traditional techniques and designs, and sustainable materials.

Brexit may stimulate direct trade with the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s imports of blankets and throws peaked at €123 million in 2019. After decreasing to €96 million in 2020, they nearly returned to their 2019 levels in 2021. This amounted to average annual growth of 2.6% between 2017 and 2021. About three-quarters of the country’s  imports come directly from developing countries, which is above average for Europe. Most of these imports come from China.

The United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) has led to relatively low consumer confidence levels since 2016. At the same time, Brexit may result in British buyers importing more goods directly from developing countries, rather than from European importers. This will allow them to avoid additional fees now that they are no longer part of the European Union’s single market. The fact that the British Pound has decreased in value since the Brexit referendum also makes direct trade more appealing.

British GDP shrank by 9.9% in 2020, a record decline. As in most Northern and Western European countries, the British economy returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Considering this positive development and the potential increased interest in sourcing directly from developing countries, the United Kingdom could well offer opportunities for exporters in developing countries. Just as in Germany,  it is necessary for exporters in developing countries to focus on the mid- to high-end segments and add value to its products to differentiate itself from China’s mass-production.

France imports less from developing countries

French imports of blankets and throws grew from €86 million in 2017 to €100 million in 2021, at an average annual rate of 4.0%. At the same time, its imports from developing countries decreased from €66 million to €47 million, at an average annual rate of 8.1%. This amounted to a direct share of around 47% in 2021, which is relatively low. It seems France has substituted some of its direct imports from developing countries with goods from European countries like the United Kingdom and Belgium. China remains France’s leading exporter.

Economic growth in France had already slowed down before plummeting to -8.3% in 2020 due to the pandemic. Global uncertainties and the effects of social unrest have weighed on consumer confidence and the consumption of non-essential products. French GDP did return to its pre-pandemic level in 2021. However, considering the country’s apparent shift towards intra-European trade, opportunities in France for exporters in developing countries may be limited.

The Netherlands is an important European trade hub

Like fellow trade hub Germany, the Netherlands managed to keep its blanket and throw imports stable in 2020. In 2021, these imports grew by an impressive 45%, reaching €74 million. This led to an average increase of 12% per year from 2017 to 2021.

The Netherlands sourced two-thirds of its blankets and throws directly from developing countries, which is equal to the European average. In addition, as in Germany, China dominates the market with a direct import market share of about 60%.

As in other Western European markets, Dutch GDP had returned to 2019 levels by 2021. Brexit and various international trade disputes may have a big impact on the Netherlands, since the country relies heavily on international trade. Because developments in other European countries play a key role, Dutch imports are difficult to predict. However, the Netherlands’ strong performance as a European trade hub continues to make it an interesting market for exporters in developing countries.

Poland is a strong emerging market

Poland’s growing imports have made the country a leading European importer of blankets and throws. Its imports grew from €48 million in 2017 to €73 million in 2021, at a strong average rate of 11% per year. About 85% of these imports came directly from developing countries, which is the largest share among the leading markets. In this case too, however , China dominates the market, accounting for about three-quarters of the imports.

After nearly three decades of continued economic growth, the Polish economy declined by a relatively modest 2.7% in 2020. After that, Polish GDP was among the first European economies to recover in 2021. As the Polish market matures, it may be an interesting market for exporters in developing countries.

Spain is facing economic struggles

Spain’s imports of blankets and throws had been declining for years before the country was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, its imports plummeted by a further 26%. Although the imports returned to €61 million in 2021, they had declined at an average rate of 5.8% per year since 2017. Spain sourced around 84% of its imports from developing countries, which is well above the European average. However, most of them came directly from China.

As The Economist predicted, the Spanish economy experienced the deepest contraction in Europe with a decrease in GDP of 11% in 2020. A return to pre-pandemic levels is expected by the third quarter of 2023, which would make the Spanish economy the slowest to recover in Europe. This, of course, could limit the  opportunities in Spain for the coming years, especially because the market was already in decline before the pandemic.

Tip:

  • It is best for exporters to identify the appropriate segment and allow their buyers to distribute their products across Europe within that segment, as opposed to simply focusing on specific European countries.

The market for blankets and throws is shaped by various trends, often related to the trends for HDHT on a sector-level. The main developments are outlined below, starting with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the HDHT market.

COVID-19’s effect on trends in HDHT

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the focus on the home. Areas such as wellness and working from home have become hot topics since lockdown measures were introduced.

Spending a lot of time at home has also encouraged consumers to:

  • make their homes more pleasant, practical and comfortable
  • merge their outdoor and indoor living areas
  • declutter
  • think more about sustainability

These are mainly consumer trends that already existed and may have been strengthened.

Environmental and social sustainability

European consumers and designers are making more and more sustainable choices, especially in the mid-high to high-end market. They are increasingly aware of and concerned about the negative impacts of production and consumption. This is driving the popularity of sustainability labels and commitments in the textile industry.

Using natural materials such as wool or (certified) organic cotton as your main raw material fits in well with this trend. Another option is to use recycled fabrics/fibres or leftovers from the production of other textile products. In the high-end market there is an even larger variety of sustainably produced natural fibres, such as (kid) mohair, alpaca and cashmere. Using natural dyes adds an extra sustainable feature to your blankets and throws.

Figure 5: URBANARA – ethically produced blankets
Source: URBANARA @ YouTube

The COVID-19 pandemic has further emphasised the delicate balance of the planet. It has highlighted the need to produce more sustainably – taking care of our resources, our people and the planet in general. This has boosted the importance of this trend. For most consumers (particularly the younger generations), the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important that both consumers and companies improve their sustainability. In addition, most people want significant change to ensure the world is a fairer and more sustainable place after COVID-19.

Tips:

  • Use natural, recycled or leftover raw materials and natural dyes.
  • Promote the sustainable aspects of your blankets and throws as an added benefit and emphasise the story behind your product in your promotion strategy.
  • For more information, see our special report on sustainability and our webinar on the sustainable transition in apparel and home textiles.

Wellness at home

European consumers are constantly trying to improve themselves, both in mind and body. This is further stimulated as the COVID-19 pandemic has made consumers more acutely aware of the importance of both their mental and physical wellness. In a 2021 global Young Living survey, 48% of respondents reported they were making wellness and self-care a top priority. To boost their mental and spiritual wellness, consumers increasingly value healthy sleeping habits, connecting with nature, and spa and yoga practices.

Having comfortable blankets and soft throws fits in perfectly with this sense of wellbeing. Especially in the higher-end segments, which cater to those who can afford luxury products.

Tips:

Co-creation and range development

European buyers are increasingly trying to distinguish themselves from their competitors. To do so, they focus on their own image and design. They look for producers they can cooperate with to develop their own products, so-called ‘co-creation’. This makes it extra important to showcase your special skills, production techniques and the variety of raw materials you work with.

More and more buyers are selling concepts rather than single products, especially in the middle-high-end segment. They do this for marketing and positioning purposes and to push their sales. To benefit from this trend, matching products can be added to your range of blankets and especially throws. Cushion covers are ideal for this purpose. Their design could be similar to your blanket or throw, but  complementary designs and materials can also be considered.

Tips:

  • Make sure your collection showcases the different materials and production techniques you have to offer.
  • Consider developing a small range of cushion covers that go well with the design of your blankets and throws.

Smaller quantities and shorter lead times

European buyers are changing their collections with increasing frequency. As a result, they want shorter lead times and smaller minimum orders. This is a distinct advantage for small- to medium-sized producers, since they are more flexible and can generally supply smaller quantities than larger manufacturers.

Tip:

  • If you are flexible in terms of production and can supply smaller quantities, you should emphasise this in your promotional materials.

Example company

Basha successfully taps into several of these trends. It produces textile items that reflect the heritage and craftsmanship of Bangladesh. Basha’s artisans create blankets made from recycled saris, using the traditional Kantha embroidery technique. It also produces cushion covers in matching or complementary styles. For an added contemporary twist, the vintage saris are also used to crochet chunky knit throws.

Figure 6: Basha – Kantha blanket and complementary cushion covers
Source: Basha @ Instagram

As part of the Freedom Business Alliance, Basha provides a sustainable livelihood for women at risk and survivors of trafficking. These women “gain job skills and the opportunity to develop into leaders and entrepreneurs in a healthy, healing and supportive environment, helping them to create a sustainable livelihood for themselves and their families”. Basha gives them access to ongoing mentoring, training, education, support and encouragement. On its website, Basha showcases the stories of their individual artisans and allows you to send them a message.

This report has been compiled on behalf of CBI by Globally Cool B.V. in collaboration with Remco Kemper.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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Coordinated decorative cushion covers are a perfect add-on for throws in particular. They allow you to sell a look, rather than a single product.

Remco Kemper, international HDHT consultant