The protective glove industry, like many similar industries, has fluctuated drastically over the past year. In 2019, its global market size was 5.98 billion USD; in 2020, that number almost doubled to 11.68 billion, according to a recent report in Fortune Business Insights. This intense growth, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, has been unprecedented.

But what does the future hold? How will the effects of COVID-19 affect the market over the next decade? Will any other factors hold a strong sway over the future of the protective glove industry?

The Effects of COVID-19

The factor that has had the most significant impact on the industry over the past year has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare professionals who have been distributing vaccines, testing for the virus, and collecting blood samples for antibody testing have required a high quantities of gloves and other PPE; those involved in researching the virus have required them as well.

In addition, disposable gloves have been a crucial component of required PPE for healthcare professionals since the beginning of the pandemic, and coupled with consumer purchasing of gloves during the early days of the pandemic, this need pressured suppliers to accelerate production. The introduction of disposable gloves into developing countries and other previously untapped markets has also impacted the industry.

While it seems that the pandemic is winding down, that does not mean that its impact on the market has ceased. Even while vaccines and other relief methods (antivirals, plasma, etc.) are becoming broadly available, it will take additional months for their impact to cycle through society. It is unclear how long it will take to reach herd immunity, with some epidemiologists believing that we’ve already reached it, and others believing that we never will.

Other Impacts on Demand

Other global changes are expected to impact the industry. Population growth across the globe, and especially a growth in the aging population, should drive increased demand for PPE in general and disposable gloves in particular. In developing countries, rapid industrialization coupled with the growth of the healthcare industry should also spur significant market growth.

Healthcare expenditure has been growing, and will continue to grow, especially as the case rate of chronic and infectious diseases rises. Surgeries and procedures that require PPE are expected to become more and more commonplace, including dental procedures, cataract surgeries, and orthopedic surgeries. Governmental and agency-based policy changes regarding employee safety should also have a significant impact on the market.

Negative Impacts on Supply

Even when the demand for protective gloves increases, glove manufacturers face several industry-specific challenges to maintaining a consistent supply of gloves. In truth, making gloves is as much art as science. Due to multiple factors, gloves are not like other PPE—masks, gowns, or even sanitizer—which are much easier to produce in various locations with minimal startup costs. Some factors that prevent a rapid increase in production include the following: 

  • Shortage of raw materials. While synthetic rubber is not naturally constrained, no one expected to produce it at such increased volumes so quickly. It can take months for the production of synthetic rubber to catch up to the demand.
  • Labor constraints. Disposable glove production is geographically constrained primarily to Southeast Asia, where there is currently a shortage of available employees. Most workers at a glove factory require extensive training; in addition to having some experience in chemistry, they require specific expertise that can take time to acquire. Many chemical variables involved in glove production can take months, if not years, to master.
  • Equipment limitations. Factories cannot be built overnight, and production takes a long time to ramp up.

Due to these constraints, there is little chance of a significant increase in production capacity until the end of 2021 at the earliest.

In addition, some legal hurdles may present a roadblock to companies looking to expand. Recently, supplier Top Glove’s products were seized by border control due to complaints that they were making use of “forced labor” in Malaysia. While Top Glove is one of the largest suppliers in the area, many other companies are wary that additional seizures may follow.


Positive Impacts on Supply

Despite the many limitations on glove manufacturers, recent changes in the industry may allow for growth over the next several years. The use of automation is increasing in many companies, from computerized warehouse management to automated packaging systems. Some companies are even utilizing artificial intelligence to better detect defective gloves before they leave the factory.

These improvements can greatly improve both the quality of the product, as well as the pace at which companies are able to produce them, conceivably helping to drive the market forward over the next decade.


The Bottom Line

So where can we predict that the industry will be in the next few years? While supply and demand may fluctuate, we will see the market slowly arrive at an equilibrium. Restaurants and similar businesses will continue to open, increasing the demand for gloves, although some businesses will never reemerge after the pandemic. Glove prices may decrease as COVID begins to resolve, but they will likely never go back to their pre-pandemic levels. Although it’s hard to know exactly how long it will take for the market to return to its normal growth rates, the market will eventually stabilize. The industry is expected to see continued, moderate growth as the decade continues.

Written by Robert Brown