After a better than anticipated 2022, the coatings and finishes sector had realistic expectations about 2023 and is expressing the same sentiments about the year ahead. In short, it is prepared to meet the challenges of lower demand head on.

“Over the past year, the market for wood coatings has experienced shifts,” said Sarah Skinner, global marketing director wood finishes and adhesives at AkzoNobel.

“In 2022, despite initial concerns about a downturn in the macro-economic environment, the year ended up showing strong demand. However, in 2023, the industry has faced challenges due to the geopolitical situation and the overall macro-economic climate, resulting in unfavourable demand.”

AkzoNobel reports no significant changes to its route to market for the supply of industrial wood coatings and adhesives, with the primary channels being through its established distributor network, and direct supply to its customers. Direct supply continues to be AkzoNobel’s largest route to market.

Sherwin-Williams’s route to market also remains unchanged, with supply being direct to large manufacturers and via distribution partners to their customers, who are typically SMEs.

The company reports that its business was challenged in all spheres in 2023, including soft demand and rising costs in areas such as energy and labour.

“The good news is that the demand environment appears to have bottomed out and we may begin seeing better conditions going forward,” said Beckie Marshall, UK sales manager for Sherwin-Williams.

“In Europe, our performance has been helped by recent acquisitions we have completed. We will continue to control costs aggressively while working closely with our customers to be rewarded for the value we deliver to them.”

Sherwin-Williams serves both interior and exterior wood coatings markets and said it had seen mixed results for both segments throughout its customer base, “with the mouldings and smaller customers appearing stable, but then other segments, such as kitchens and luxury products appearing slower”.

The distribution of AkzoNobel’s interior and exterior coatings across the globe is split evenly, contributing to the stability of the business.

“Regional diversity remains a key strength, with examples such as the contrast in business focus between the UK and Scandinavia,” said Ms Skinner. “In the UK, key customers emphasise exterior coatings, while in Scandinavia the emphasis is on interior coatings. This diversity in product focus allows us to provide a comprehensive range of products and services to the wood coatings industry. In 2023, this split, and diversity persists, contributing to the stability and versatility of our business.”

Teknos now has 27 independent decorating merchants stocking its products across the UK and Ireland and said that “important industry events” during 2023 helped it increase sales.

“Timber supplies and availability in general have improved, which has meant an increase in demand for exterior coatings from our joinery customers,” said Mark Hubbert, managing director.

“The construction market tightened significantly during 2023 and this will continue in 2024, although from a Teknos perspective we have continued to increase sales into the exterior markets,” said Mr Hubbert, adding that exterior and interior markets remain equally important, and opportunities exist within both.

“The use of timber is also increasing within construction, which brings further new opportunities,” said Mr Hubbert.

The professional decorator market continues to be a growth area for Teknos and, following changes within the business last year, it has reviewed its strategy going forward in this market.

“In 2024 we plan to build on this work by rolling out our new merchant focus concept where we will work closely with our customers to tailor their Teknos product offer to their specific opportunities through their retail stores and give professionals more opportunity to try our wider range of products,” said Mr Hubbert.

“In Ireland we have seen significant interest and success in the machinery coatings market and will continue to be focused on this for 2024. With the industry moving towards net zero at a rapid pace, we’ve been able to assist our customers reduce their carbon emissions and energy costs by up to 90% thanks to our moisture curing TEKNODUR COMBI 3560 system.”

Mr Hubbert added that customers’ demands and expectations “go beyond the product” and that Teknos works hard to offer the services they need the most.

“We have always offered support with services like spray training and line reviews,” he said. “However, more recently we have found our customers are increasingly interested in sustainable practices and we’ve been working closely with them to save energy, reduce wastage and explore more sustainable products such as TEKNOCLAD SILVER and TEKNOCLAD NOVA, our Nordic Swan Eco-labelled cladding products.”

Mr Hubbert added that, in addition to its traditional interior finishes, “the increasing requirements around indoor air quality and fire retardants fit our offer very well”.

AkzoNobel agrees that customers’ demands and requirements have continued to evolve.

“In 2022, subjects such as indoor air quality, formaldehyde-free products, fire retardants, UV curing systems, and antibacteria/ anti-virus solutions remained important,” said Ms Skinner. “Waterborne technology, both in 1K and 2K forms, and carbon footprint reduction were also highlighted. The substantial investment in research and development reflected a commitment to meeting changing customer needs. The market demonstrated a broad responsiveness to the concept of indoor air quality, aligning with the growing awareness of wellness and sustainability.

“In 2023, these topics have retained their significance, with a notable increase in the adoption of waterborne technology,” continued Ms Skinner. “Additionally, sustainable solutions, including biobased/ renewable products, low-energy curing solutions, and products with extended durability, have become more important. The emphasis on these technologies underscores a commitment to future-proof solutions, and substantial R&D investments continue in these areas. The company aims to be a genuine partner for customers, supporting them in their sustainability journey and providing innovative solutions aligned with evolving industry needs.”

Sherwin-Williams reports that sustainability and process improvement were high on the agenda for many of its customers last year and it expects this to continue in 2024.

“Customers demand high performance products that can give them a competitive edge in the market and/or reduce their costs,” said Beckie Marshall. “Innovation is key to growth and we are, as always, looking to improve and maximise our offering.”

In terms of bestselling products, Ms Marshall added that the demand for a mixed portfolio of products to meet functional needs continued in 2023.

“Waterborne products are at the forefront of customers’ minds and 2023 demonstrated that every sector is looking at how we can provide low VOC solutions, and solutions that support easier/cost effective equipment maintenance,” she said.

Meanwhile, from a UK perspective, the most in-demand product for AkzoNobel is the Sikkens Wood Coatings brand.

“This brand is recognised for delivering superior exterior protection without compromising aesthetic qualities,” said Ms Skinner. “Customers in the UK are reassured by the brand’s extensive history and experience in developing high-performing, durable systems.

“The confidence in the performance levels of Sikkens Wood Coatings is supported by testing under the Global Weathering Program, and the positive results are well-documented in case studies across Europe. The consistent demand for this brand underscores its strong market position and reputation for meeting customer needs in the UK.”

In May last year, Sikkens Wood Coatings initiated a strategic shift by refreshing its image and expanding its portfolio of wood coating products, with a particular focus on interior wood coatings.

“The rationale behind these changes was to align the brand with its leading position in the dynamic wood coatings market,” said Ms Skinner. “The modern and dynamic look adopted aimed to reflect the brand’s contemporary standing and responsiveness to the fast-paced industry.

“The expansion of the product portfolio to include interior wood coatings marked a significant development,” she continued. “Sikkens Wood Coatings has now positioned itself as a one-stop-shop solution provider, catering to both distributors and endcustomers. This comprehensive portfolio, covering both interior and exterior products, was designed to meet a wide range of industrial wood coating requirements.

“To complement these changes, Sikkens Wood Coatings launched various tools and resources, including a refreshed website, distributor portal, brand videos, a comprehensive catalogue (specifically for interior products), and other supportive materials. These additions were carefully crafted to add value for customers, facilitating their day-to-day business operations.”

And hot on the heels of that development, in June 2023 Sikkens Wood Coatings introduced a comprehensive range of interior stains and topcoats, enhancing design and creative flexibility for customers. The waterborne range of stains includes wipe-on patinas, offering an easy-to-apply option with numerous design possibilities for pre-coated wood. The Aqua Creative range provides pigmented options with good hiding power, allowing for both opaque and transparent finishes.

For solvent borne options, the Universal Stains offer a palette of vibrant, colourful hues. Additionally, the Antique Effect Patina and Vintage Patina Glaze provide options for achieving an entirely different look.

New topcoat products introduced in 2023 are:

  • Aqualit Color T4401: This is a 1K opaque high-quality waterborne coating with excellent performance. Ideal for furniture, cabinets, and interior joinery, it is suitable for all types of wood and offers a wide range of colour options through the Sikkens Wood Coatings waterborne tinting system.
  • Aqualit Color T450-10: This waterborne 1K or 2K topcoat provides consistent reduced gloss with good filling and hiding power, along with excellent mechanical and chemical resistance. The lightfast properties of this coating contribute to its excellent resistance to fading.
  • Quantum T264-03: A key product in the expanded interior portfolio, this is the ultimate matt clear acrylic topcoat. It is solvent borne and 2K, providing antifingerprint properties and resistance to scratches. This topcoat delivers a beautiful and lasting appearance with a perfect matt finish.

Teknos has also been active on the product development front, updating its exterior cladding portfolio to include a range of new finishes and systems, which allow its customers to increase their speed of production.

“We’re excited to bring our TEKNOCLAD SILVER 2125 to the market in 2024,” said Mr Hubbert. “This sacrificial coating offers protection to timber cladding whilst promoting even, natural weathering. With WOODSTAIN VV we cater for both transparent and semi-transparent finishes and we also bring the TEKNOCLAD opaque range designed and suited for high-speed application lines.

“We’ll also be renewing focus on the energy markets. Our revolutionary coating for the leading edge of wind turbine blades has been updated for application by robot, saving time and improving safety.”

And Sherwin-Williams continues to develop new products “across a wide range of technologies” through its research labs.

“Water borne developments both for interior and exterior were prevalent through 2023 and will continue to be a focus into 2024 for interior, exterior and fire-retardant solutions,” said Ms Marshall. “Excimer technologies are still being launched and remain a key coatings offering for customers.”

In terms of trends in colours and types of finish, Ms Marshall said the fashion for dark colours and matt finishes maintained through 2023, with blues, greens and dark greys being top sellers.

However, “2024 trends look to be shifting towards more pastels and earthy colours. The Sherwin Williams 2024 Colour of the Year, ‘Upward’, aligns with this trend, as a breezy, calming blue. Our colour team in the US monitor and predict the trends, with the aim of keeping us and our customers ahead of the curve.”

Meanwhile, Teknos points to customer demand for alternatives to the traditional opaque finishes being on trend. “For example, low film forming translucent coatings such as WOODSTAIN VV and our sacrificial coating TEKNOCLAD SILVER, a product which reduces moisture ingress to protect the wood while still allowing the natural weathering process takes place,” said Mr Hubbert.

AkzoNobel says the current trends in coatings development reflect a careful consideration of the latest design preferences, with its technical service and global colour and design teams collaborating closely to ensure that the finishes are not only robust but also suitable for industrial applications worldwide.

“In response to contemporary influences and high-end design preferences, there is an acknowledgment of the need for belonging and reassurance in the face of an uncertain world,” said Ms Skinner. “People are seeking environments that exude calmness while providing moments of joy in their everyday experiences.”

She added that AkzoNobel’s Color of the Year for 2024, Sweet Embrace, embodies these sentiments. “This welcoming pastel pink, inspired by soft feathers and evening clouds, aims to evoke feelings of peace, comfort, reassurance, and lightness,” she said.

Furthermore, other distinct colour palettes have been created around the Color of the Year, influencing home decor elements such as furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and building products in the coming year:

  • Transitional: A warm colour story that combines shades of stone, soil, and clay
  • Cottage: A calm colour story that brings together soft greens and blues reminiscent of woods and the sea
  • Contemporary: An uplifting colour story featuring dreamy lilacs, fluid greys, and modern yellows.

“These trends reflect a nuanced understanding of the evolving preferences in colour, texture, and finish, catering to a desire for both tranquillity and moments of delight in living spaces,” said Ms Skinner.

Alongside product development, coatings companies have continued to expand their operations. Last August, for example, AkzoNobel completed the acquisition of the Chinese Decorative Paints business of Sherwin-Williams, while the latter finalised its acquisitions of the ICA Group in Italy, and the purchase of Iskar Nolte and Klumpp Coatings in Germany.

“We are already seeing strong synergies achieved between the companies,” said Beckie Marshall. “These excellent companies within the group will add significantly to Sherwin- Williams’ capabilities in industrial wood coatings.”

She added that, looking ahead, the main challenge will be to ensure that the business maintains positive growth, in what looks to be another challenging year.

“We remain focused on investing in our people and business, to provide our customers with innovative and cost-effective solutions, and to deliver continued highquality service to support and grow their business,” she said.

And AkzoNobel is optimistic that while this year looks challenging, brighter times are ahead.

“Looking ahead to 2024, the market is expected to plateau, but there is anticipation for the industry demand to resume growth in 2025 and 2026,” said Ms Skinner. “The outlook for 2024 reflects cautious expectations considering the challenging circumstances faced in 2023.”