China and the World

Plugging the gap

Europeans snap up China-made electric blankets as winter looms


‘Winter is coming’ is the much-repeated warning on the hugely popular TV series Game of Thrones. For many in Europe, it seems like a very real concern this year. The winter months are increasingly dreaded, with worries about soaring prices for energy supplies, particularly natural gas, because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The energy crisis is prompting the Europeans to plan ahead. Last week, social media in China was abuzz with news that shoppers from European countries have been snapping up China-made electric blankets in anticipation of the winter chill.

“In this backdrop of an energy crisis and fears of an impending cold winter, Chinese electric blankets are suddenly worth their weight in gold,” Beijing Youth Daily claimed.

In July, exports of electric blankets to the European Union from China reached 1.29 million units, an increase of 1.5 times from June. Many of them are made in the town of Xinle in Hebei, where 11,000 workers produce about 40% of national supply. “I’ve been making electric blankets for 35 years and have never seen such a surge in orders,” the founder of Beijiren, one of the leading brands, told Shanghai Daily.

Another electric blanket maker in Dongguan in Guangdong told that orders were running at three times the pace of the same period last year. Since June the factory has been operating 24 hours a day to meet additional demand from Europe and North America, he added.

Shenzhen-based UTK Technology, a producer and seller of electric blankets, confirmed that demand had reached unprecedented levels. According to the South China Morning Post, inquiries from European buyers have increased fivefold, with most customers requesting urgent shipping. The company expects to deliver over 10,000 blankets to the continent over the next month.

Caihong Group, which has been selling electric blankets in China for the last 30 years, has seen some of the benefits too with an unexpected boost to its share price.

Although Caihong has clarified that its products are mainly sold in the domestic market and that its overseas sales are small in comparison, investors have piled into its shares. The Chengdu-based firm saw its stock price reach the daily limit of 10% over five consecutive days of trading in Shenzhen.

Another product getting interest is air source heat pumps (which compress outside air to heat rooms, largely through underfloor heating, and can also heat water stored in cylinders for showers and baths). A unit of home appliance giant Haier is reporting that its exports of these pumps have surged more than 200% in the first half of this year. The largest market is France, which saw sales grow 36%; followed by Italy, with an increase of 64%; and then Germany with 26%.

“In the long run, we expect air source heat pumps to become a high-growth product, given the overarching trend is energy saving. Recently, the European Union proposed to install 10 million air source heat pumps in the next five years. The US is also introducing heat pump subsidies, which will stimulate more demand for heat pumps globally,” Essence Securities, a brokerage, has also predicted.

Nevertheless, some are sceptical that the surge in interest will last. “Electric blankets are seasonal products, so demand could really fluctuate. The current boost may only be a short-term adjustment. What Europe lacks is energy, not electrical appliances. There may not be genuine demand for electric blankets in the long term,” warned 21CN Business Herald.

Others took pride in how Chinese firms are helping Europeans to negate the worst of the energy crisis. “China is providing cheap and high-quality goods to consumers who are in a dire position around the world. Unfortunately the margins on these products are thin. But the gesture is like ‘sending charcoal in snowy weather’,” Beijing Youth Daily assured, referring to a Chinese proverb that means providing help to those in need.

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