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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Zoe Wood

UK furniture prices to rise as war in Ukraine drives up cost of timber

Sofas and other furniture in a store in England
UK furniture manufacturing, which is focused on sofas, chairs and tables, is worth almost £13bn a year to the economy. Photograph: Alex Segre/Alamy

Shoppers are being warned that the cost of a new sofa and other furniture is to race higher as the Russia-Ukraine war pushes up the cost of key materials such as timber.

“We have never seen anything like this in terms of across-the-board price increases for materials,” said Sean Holt, the managing director of the British Furniture Manufacturers (BFM), the industry’s trade body. “It is putting a lot of pressure on manufacturing in the UK and that will have to be shared with retailers and consumers.”

Higher furniture prices are already feeding into higher living costs in the UK. Inflation is running at 7%, the highest level in three decades, with furniture prices up 17%. The invasion of Ukraine is heaping more pressure on British furniture makers who had been sourcing timber from Russia.

“We’ve seen a pattern of material increases over the last two years, but the situation has escalated significantly in recent weeks,” Holt said. “Compound price hikes of up to 100% are not unusual, and this is on top of the energy cost increases affecting manufacturing. Fuel and labour costs are other factors. Our members are saying there will be further price hikes over the next few months.”

At the end of last year, Ikea, the UK’s biggest furniture retailer, said it was putting up prices as it struggled to absorb a significant increase in costs – including for raw materials, transport and logistics – because of the upheaval caused by Covid-19.

UK furniture manufacturing, which is focused on sofas, chairs and tables, is worth almost £13bn a year to the economy. However, a wide range of materials including hard woods such as birch, beech and oak, along with fabrics, foam, fibre, steel and MDF, were increasing in price, according to the BFM.

Ian Oscroft, the managing director of the Nottinghamshire furniture maker Whitemeadow, said it now cost 25% more to make one of its sofas than before Brexit. “During the two years of Covid the furniture industry has seen pretty excessive raw material costs and we thought that was over as we got into the new year, but the conflict in Ukraine has exacerbated it even further. Timber is a key raw material and a lot of it comes out of eastern European forests, particularly birch and beech.”

The Forest Stewardship Council has suspended all trading certificates in Russia and Belarus, blocking all controlled sourcing from the two countries, but the knock-on effect has been higher prices as firms scrabble to find alternatives.

“The Forest Stewardship Council has put a ban on imports out of Russia, and rightly so, but what that’s done is put pressure on other countries who supply timber and, of course, that has made the price of timber rocket,” said Oscroft, who added that his firm had to pay almost a quarter more for birch wood in April than the previous month.

“We all try to swallow some of it,” he said. “I’ve not been able to pass a 25% increase to all my customers, but I’ve had to pass some of it on.

“Similarly, retailers have had to pass some of that on, too. We can’t take all of the pain because if we did that we probably wouldn’t be here any more.”

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