Surface Active Agents, Finishing Agents, Sulfonated Oils, and Assistants

SIC 2843

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry classification includes establishments primarily involved in making compounds that, when dissolved in water, reduce the water's surface tension. Products include preparations such as wetting agents, emulsifiers, and penetrants. These ingredients are raw materials for soap and detergent manufacturers. This industry classification also includes establishments primarily involved in producing sulfonated oils and fats and related products.

This $8 billion industry employed 4,000 people in 2008. Nearly all were production workers, earning an average hourly wage of $21.58. The industry spent $17.13 billion on materials. The largest concentrations of businesses in the category were in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, and Illinois.

Customer demand and legislative requirements had changed the industry throughout the 1990s. Manufacturers worldwide developed milder products, used more natural ingredients, and emphasized environmental safety. One of the most profound changes was the shift to concentrated and superconcentrated products for use in homes, industries, and institutions. Some industry analysts feared that the increasing demand for superconcentrated surfactants produced by large manufacturers would impede the development of small companies because the formulas were difficult for smaller manufacturers to reproduce.

Formulas were also changed to comply with environmental regulations. Personal care product manufacturers required solutions with less alcohol, makers of specialty cleaners were shifting from solvents and volatile organic compounds to water-based systems, and some communities upgraded biodegradability standards. The demand for naturally derived surfactants steadily increased in the mid-2000s.

By the late 2000s, surface active agents, or "surfactants," shipped $1.68 billion in products. Textile finishing agents shipped $51.2 million in products, manufacturers of finishing agents shipped $9.6 million in products, oils and grease manufacturers shipped $75.3 million in products, and manufacturers of processing assistants shipped $10.9 million in products. Other important industry sectors were comprised of 14 operations that manufactured textile assistants that contributed $56.3 million to the industry total and 16 manufacturers of leather finishing agents that shipped $43.7 million in products.

Companies were busy trying to differentiate themselves from others by manufacturing surfactants that were more functional with multiple uses. For instance, the Stepan Company launched Stepan 745 GC, "a novel water-compatible emollient that is soluble up to 2 percent in water at ambient temperatures, does not negatively affect foam, improves viscosity build and provides conditioning properties," Annie Gariepy, market manager told Household & Personal Products Industry in September 2007. Others focused on specialty surfactants directed at the creation of innovative products that are manufactured with no sulfates, ethylene oxide, or preservatives, targeting the environmentally friendly market.

Despite the innovative product introductions, the industry was struggling through some of the toughest of economic conditions. Industry observers forecast domestic surfactant growth in the near future to be less than two percent, while demand in Europe would grow 10 percent annually. In the meantime, manufacturers were faced with raw material prices that surged, such as oleochemical feedstock's that had doubled in one years' time and oil prices that surged 40 percent in 2008.

The two leading companies in the industry in the mid-2000s were Stepan Company, of Northfield, Illinois, and Harcos Chemicals Inc., a subsidiary of Harrisons and Crosfield Inc., based in Kansas City, Kansas. Surfactants for consumer, industrial, and commercial use represented Stepan's largest sector. In 2008, Stepan employed 1,578 and posted sales of $1.172 billion. Harcros Chemicals Inc. employed 460 and had estimated sales of $92 million in 2008.

Stepan Company's revenues increased to $1.3 billion in 2007 and again in 2008 to $1.6 billion with 1,578 employees. Harcos Chemicals Inc.'s revenues plummeted to $92 million compared to $323 million in 2005 with 460 employees.

Although the market for surfactants grew slowly in North America into the early twenty-first century, demand increased in developing nations where standards of hygiene and household cleanliness were rising. In the mid-2000s, the demand for surfactants in Asia had increased significantly. Pascal Juery, vice-president of Rhodia, a home and personal care product manufacturer in Cranbury, New Jersey, cited double-digit growth in 2004 and the first half of 2005 due to the increased Asia market.

Surfactant demand was slowing in both North America and Europe in 2007; however, Brazil, Russia, India, and China were expected to rise 10 percent annually.

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