1stSteps Global / Standards – Tough Competition
The challenge of steadily falling birth rates for the market for baby products and equipment, the sale of counterfeit products on the internet and the second-hand market were important topics at the second international press day at Childhome, the Belgian specialist in baby products.
Vincent Vanderjonckheijd from Childhome spoke on safety standards for highchairs
The fundamental problem in the industry was clearly explained by Cédric Rodrigues, Head of International Sales at Childhome, making reference to several facts: The number of births in the European Union declined from almost eight million in 1961 to something over five million in 2017, at the same time the average age of women at the birth of their first child rose to between 26 in Albania and Bulgaria to over 31 in Italy. The consequence: a target group that is not only getting smaller, but older, too. On top of this fundamental challenge, manufacturers are also faced with very topical problems such as competition from fake products being pushed onto the market through international online channels – without any respect for national regulations. The fact that increasing e-commerce is also forcing down the margins of stationary retail is making the situation even more challenging.
But there are also new opportunities and new markets – such as sustainable textiles made of completely organic materials. This topic is increasingly in focus for consumers. There is growing demand for quality as well as transparency about the origin of clothing and the working conditions in its production. Nevertheless, the clothing should not exceed a certain price range.
Two quality labels have become largely established here: GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) guarantees a minimum of 70 percent natural fibres and takes into account ecological and social aspects. Oeko-Tex Standard 100 excludes the presence of harmful substances, guarantees colour fastness and water resistance.
On the topic of safety, Vincent Vanderjonckheijd, head of the product team at Childhome, presented four different standards. Highchairs must comply with the European standard EN 14988:2017, the US Standard ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) F404-18, the Australian standard AS 4684-2009 as well as the International Standard Organization ISO 9221-1:2015. These different standards are usually updated every three to five years.
Some changes are, however, on the horizon. Currently under discussion are an improvement of rear stability to avoid chairs tipping backwards, better warning labels on tipping hazards, but also requirements on crotch restraints and restraint systems. Also on the agenda is product registration with a serial number for every product in order to facilitate product recalls.
Childhome has already modified its products with a view to the new rules, but for Stefan Aerts, who founded the company together with his wife in 1985, there is a catch. “While we and other manufacturers must comply with these new regulations, the second-hand market must be must more strictly controlled. No one seems interested whether these baby products are still okay and whether they comply with the stringent safety standards.”
Keenly awaited by journalists and bloggers from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, Great Britain and Belgium was also the presentation of the European Nursery Products Confederation (ENPC) by Maryke Hanneman, Public Affairs Coordinator of the Organization. Eight national industrial associations, including those of France, Italy, Germany and Spain, are members. They represent more than 260 companies, almost 80 percent of which are SMEs. The tasks of the ENPC besides information for the industry: close contacts to the European Union, so as to influence the content of technical standards (national, European and global) and legislation. In 2017, the organization decided to invest in the global ISO PC 310 standard “Wheeled Child Conveyances”, the content of which is to be presented next year. For this purpose, the most experienced members of the ENPC Technical Committee have optimized prams and buggies with regard to safety aspects so that they meet the EU’s strict safety requirements.”
As an accredited stakeholder, the ENPC also has a seat at the table when it comes to regulations on the safety of chemicals (REACH) and is also involved improving EU regulations on consumer safety in commerce, particularly with regard to online shopping. Still before the end of 2019, a study dating from 2012 is to be updated in which the sales figures of the leading product categories in the industry are compiled, to – at least partly – determine value creation in the industry. Participation in the development of ISO standards for other industry products besides prams and buggies is also planned.
The Italian specialist journalist Daniele Caroli sits on the jury for the Innovation Awards presented at the Kind+Jugend trade fair and is also member of the Trend Committee of Spielwarenmesse.