Blue sky days have become increasingly rare in cities in mainland China, but global air-purifier makers are seeing the bright side of the hazy conditions as concerns over air quality drive up demand.
Blueair, a Sweden-based maker of air-purifiers whose products are sold in more than 50 countries, said its sales in mainland China soared 300 per cent year on year in the three months from last December to 20,000 units.
High levels of air pollution have raised the awareness of Chinese people about indoor air quality, said Sam Li, general manager of Blueair China. "The smoggy weather conditions have helped accelerate sales of our premium air cleaners," he said, noting that all the products in the Blueair range saw record sales in China over the past two months.
Blueair's 500 series, which are for rooms of up to 54 square metres, and the 600 series for up to 65-square-metre rooms, are the most popular on the mainland. They cost between 6,860 yuan and 12,000 yuan (HK$8,450-HK$14,800). The products' clean air delivery rate, which measures the amount of filtered air delivered by an air purifier, was higher than other brands, Li claimed.
It was a tough winter for Beijing residents as the weather was chillier than last year, while the hazardous smog sent air quality readings to record lows. The worst day was on January 12, when readings of PM2.5, fine air particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres that can be easily inhaled, reached a record of 993, far higher than the World Health Organisation's recommended level of 35. But Beijing was only the ninth most heavily polluted city in January, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
"The current air problem in China is not going to disappear overnight," said Li, who expects sustainable demand for the company's products.
A report by global research and consulting company TechSci Research forecast that China's air-purifier market would surpass US$14.6 billion by 2016, with a compound annual growth rate of 36 per cent, outpacing the global average of 8 per cent growth.
Philips, the largest air-purifier maker in China with a market share of more than 40 per cent, sees increasing demand from the middle class.
Chinese people, especially the rapidly expanding middle class, have become more concerned about looking after their health and living in a healthy environment, said Winston Phua, vice-president of marketing for Greater China at Philips Consumer Lifestyle.
Air-purifier models with a filtration system that removes harmful agents in four stages and a dual sensor that responds to indoor air quality were popular in China, Phua said, noting that the products were designed to address the needs of mainland users. Philips' air-purifier products on the mainland are priced between 1,000 yuan and 6,000 yuan, targeting a wider range of consumers.
The Netherlands-based appliance maker's China sales went up by 29 per cent to €2.71 billion (HK$27.36 billion) last year from a year ago, outpacing the 9.8 per cent growth rate of its total sales, according to Philips' annual results.
"China is our second-largest market and another global home," Phua said. The company moved its global headquarters for domestic appliances to China in 2011.
To capitalise on the rising demand, Phua said the company would accelerate expansion into the air-purifier market in second- and third-tier mainland cities and invest in product innovation.
Meanwhile, Blueair has also stepped up efforts to expand its presence. The company set up a joint venture in Shanghai last September that signalled its intention to increase investment in its mainland operations.