Natural Candle Waxes – Struggling Market Since Evolution

Birthdays are often incomplete without a cake. Moreover, it’s arduous to imagine a birthday cake without candles. But many of us fail to recognize the cognizance of the waxes which go into candle making. Let’s dive deep into this wonder material which forms an integral segment in making our birthdays memorable.

Since time immemorial, candles have served as an elusive source of lighting. For the most part of human history, candles were produced using tallow, beeswax, animal stearin, spermaceti, etc. and the raw materials vary across geography.

Until the 16th-17th century, candles were considered to be exquisite and property of royalty. The onset of the industrial revolution which resulted in the development of candle-making machinery and higher disposable income among the masses spurred a rising demand for candles. The establishment of the world’s first oil refinery in the mid-1800s paved the path for the modern candle industry. Paraffin wax, which is obtained as a solid residue from the fractional distillation of crude oil became a delight in the eyes of candle manufacturers since mass production of inexpensive good quality candles was made possible.

During the same time, the invention of incandescent bulbs took place. This was an ominous sign for the booming candle industry since the sole purpose of the candle as a source of lighting was met.

However, in the late 1900s, the development of candles to serve purposes such as a home decoration item, emanate fragrance, aromatherapy, etc. revitalized the interest in candles for the developed world.

The global candle industry in 2019 was estimated worth 9,750 Mn US$ and candle wax amounts to 2,370 KT. The candle industry heavily relies on paraffin wax as the major feedstock for candle production, because of its durability, ease of availability, production compatibility, and most importantly economical price. More than 75% of candle waxes (by volume) comprise mainly paraffin.

Nonetheless, the use of paraffin wax obtained from petroleum, as a viable source for candle production, was deeply investigated in the 1990s, which prompted some of the manufacturers to give birth to candles made from innovative bio-based sources such as soy wax, palm wax, coconut wax, and rapeseed wax. These waxes are obtained from environment-friendly and renewable sources, unlike paraffin wax which could potentially help in reducing the global carbon footprint. Moreover, burning these waxes produce little to no carcinogens, unlike paraffin wax which doesn’t burn clean and produces black soot.

Despite such advantages, the majority of the candle makers are not enticed to shift to bio-based waxes, which is evident from the poor market share of these waxes (~19%). Apart from suffering from exorbitant prices, these waxes do not impart the desired candle characteristics because most of these waxes are soft, brittle, and have a lower shelf life as compared to paraffin wax. The inherent high burn time for bio-based candle waxes like soy wax is not well supported by its low adhesion with glass, low fragrance load, release, and lower compatibility with the majority of the available scents which makes it unfavorable for scented jar candles and inferior in front of paraffin wax. Besides these points, the existing players which control a sizeable share of the candle industry have installed machinery which is not suitable for producing candles using soft and brittle bio-based waxes.

Although the current market share of bio-based wax candles is low, on the brighter side a lot of small companies are mushrooming in parts of North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia which are based on strong pillars of sustainability and making a mark by producing candles from bio-based materials. Along with that, a number of companies are developing, “wax blends” which combine the merits of both paraffin and bio-based waxes. In some portions of the developed world, customers are increasingly getting aware of the type of waxes that go into candle making, which could further catalyze the growth of bio-based wax candles. These factors seem promising for the growth of bio-based waxes. In the near future, we might witness a substitution of paraffin waxes by bio-based waxes, which might bring curtains to the wax which shaped the face of the modern candle industry. For this to become a reality, extensive R&D on bio-based waxes must take place to overcome the existing drawbacks, simultaneously tackling the high price by devising novel and cheaper ways of producing bio-based waxes.

Ananyo Bhattacharya, Associate Consultant


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