Many in the disposable glove industry are wondering what 2021 will bring. At least at first, it will look a lot like 2020.
Tens of millions of people worldwide have been infected. More than 1.6 million have died, including over 300,000 in the U.S. alone. Economic devastation is widespread. Major cultural wars over something as simple as wearing face masks have dominated headlines and caused highly questionable behavior.
No one, of course, knows what lies ahead. We expect a substantial part of 2021 to look a lot like what we saw in 2020. Glove prices will likely remain high, especially for nitrile and latex, and supply will struggle to keep up with demand.
Overall, we anticipate that 2021 will be a year of transition as we strive to achieve a balance between supply and demand in the industry.
2020’s challenges continue
Like everybody else on the planet, the disposable glove industry spent 2020 battling the impacts of the pandemic. The need for gloves, along with other forms of personal protective equipment, remains intense.
Manufacturers have struggled to increase the production of gloves to meet demand. Glove orders, which used to be planned a few months in advance, are now booked ahead 18 months or longer. Major production increases take time to play out.
Manufacturers are doing everything they can to push capacity past its current limits. In the short term, it simply is not enough.
The ubiquity of disposable gloves
One factor driving demand is the unprecedented awareness given to gloves in this pandemic. Every picture or video from coverage of the pandemic shows multiple images of gloves. Besides the first responders, the images show average citizens wearing gloves—everywhere. One sees them in retail environments for employees and customers alike. The mainstream public today is more aware of hand hygiene than ever before.
In sum, 2020 saw the largest advertising campaign for disposable gloves in the history of the world, larger than anybody can or will ever buy.
Plus, prior to this, disposable gloves have never been a top-tier product—they have always been an ancillary, or lesser item. In retail environments, they have never been deemed worthy of competing for space at the front counter and were relegated to random shelves in the back of the store.
As we look forward, disposable gloves are no longer an afterthought. They may not stay a top-tier item, but the overall lift in demand is likely permanent. More people are aware of hygiene and safety, and they want gloves.
What to expect in 2021
We anticipate the disposable glove market will stabilize as we move into the second half of 2021—mainly, and hopefully, due to vaccines helping get the pandemic under control. Demand and supply will continue to be out of alignment because of a continuing shortage of nitrile capacity. Overall, though, prices are more likely to stabilize due to greater use of easier-to-produce vinyl (PVC) gloves.
However, while vinyl glove production may be easier to scale, most customers prefer to buy nitrile gloves due to their strength, versatility, and comfort. Any increase in nitrile supply will be gradual.
Early 2021 will likely feel a lot like 2020. Glove prices will in many cases be going up until we see reduction in the scale of the pandemic. It is safe to say that supply, demand, and prices all will be reset at a completely different level than COVID-19.
A lot of unanswered questions
As we head into 2021, there will continue to be many questions and uncertainties. How will logistical details of vaccine distribution play out, both inside the U.S. and elsewhere? How fast can we get a large portion of the population vaccinated? How will the pandemic play out across the poor and remote parts of the globe? Will premature and almost inevitable attempts to return to “normal” cause outbreaks?
No one can answer these questions with certainty. Our best recommendation is to focus on your customers and determine their needs, plan ahead, and be creative.
We are committed to keeping you informed and supporting you during these difficult times.1