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Strong rebound in German, French and US optical markets, but definite slump in overall sunglasses exports to Asia, Africa and Australia

Following on from this year's Mido Optical Show in Milan, the event's organizers have issued a major update on the current state of the Italian eyewear industry. As the world's leading player, Italy's fortunes have global repercussions.

Photo: Sunglasses: leading the optical industry’s renaissance.
Sunglasses: leading the optical industry's renaissance.

Optical sales to Europe and the US are on the up, while orders from Asia have taken a slightly disappointing turn for the worse. The findings come in a major update to the state of the Italian eyewear sector issued in the wake of the 2014 Mido Optical show. Given the prominence of Italy in the optical sector, the figures (courtesy of GfK Retail and Technology Italia in association with ANFAO, the organisers of the Mido event) provide a useful barometer of the overall state of the global optical industry.

According to the figures, the total value of Italy's eyewear production in 2013 was Euros2,919 million, a 4.3% increase on 2012, with a rise in exports solely responsible for this growth. Despite this, there was a drop in the overall number of companies active in the sector, with a number of the smaller businesses going to the wall. In total 869 companies comprised the sector in 2013, a 1.3% drop on 2012.

This fall was matched by a reduction in overall employment numbers. With nearly 1,000 people leaving the Italian optical industry, the sector had 15,380 employees in 2013, a 2.4% year-on-year decline.

Export figures, however, were far more heartening. In terms of frames, sunglasses and lenses, which together account for 90% of sales in the sector, exports were up by 7.2% compared to 2012. With the total trade worth Euros2,811 million this was an historic high for the sector.

This growth in 2013 exports was led by sunglasses, with the sector recording a 9% year-on-year surge, with total sales in the region of Euros1,872 million. The export of frames fared less well, but still enjoyed a 3.7% rise, valuing the sector at Euros878 million. Overall, the trade balance for Italian eyewear was overwhelmingly positive. The 2013 export surplus was Euros1,919 million, a 7.9% increase.

In a reassuring move for many, the 2013 figures show clear signs of recovery in both the European and North American markets. Overall, Europe remained the key market for Italy's eyewear sector, accounting for almost 50% of all exports in 2013. Of particular note was the 9.8% rise in the export of sunglasses and 8.8% for frames. Taken together, these two sectors account for the vast majority of the overall 9.4% increase.

The extraordinary performance in the European market was largely down to exports to France and Germany. In Germany this saw a continuation of the 2012 trend for increased demand for sunglasses. In 2013, Italian exports of prescription sunglasses to the country rose by 23.7% (26.6% for sunglasses and 21.2% for frames). The figures for France, while less dramatic, were also impressive. In 2013, Italian eyewear exports to France increased sharply compared to 2012, with a 10.4% overall rise, with 10.6% derived from sunglasses and 10.3% from frames.

In terms of the Americas, 2013 export volumes were just 30% shy of the total, including an 8.8% year-on-year increase in the export of sun-prescription eyewear. The best results came in North America, with a growth of 11.3%.

Overall, the US confirmed its status as the primary market for the global eyewear industry, accounting for more than 23% of all exports in 2013. Exports of sun-prescription eyewear to the country soared by 11.7% (sunglasses +13.6%, frames +6.5%).

In Asia, the export destination of 17% of all Italian sunglasses and frames grew by 2.7%, with the overall figure hampered by a poor performance in the frames sector. The figures in Australia and Africa were also disappointing, coming in at -11.2% and -7.4% respectively.

In terms of the world market for sunglasses and frames (valued at around Euros13,000 million in 2013), Italy has 24% of the global share, ranking it in first place overall. In second and third place, respectively, are China and Hong Kong, who continue to dominate the low-end, high volume sector of the market.

Overall Italian eyewear companies exported approximately 93.5 million pairs of eyeglasses in 2013, a 1.6% increase over 2012.

Photo: Mido 2014: Italy’s leading optical event.
Mido 2014: Italy's leading optical event.

Of the total exported number, 62 million units were sunglasses (around 66%) and around 31.5 million were ophthalmic frames (34%).

In terms of domestic sales, Italian consumers spent Euros940 million in the optical sector in 2013, down by 2.3% compared to 2012. The drop was largely due to a fall in demand for sunglasses (-0.8%).

The relatively poor performance in its domestic optical sector has led to continued concern about the overall state of the Italian economy, with some predicting a further decline in 2014.

Francesca Toschi, Milan Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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