Cork products are created exclusively from Cork Oak. It is found most often in the Mediterranean region, though it can be produced in a variety of climates. The issue is commercial use, which requires a specific environmental window to create a useable product. For that reason, only a handful of nations are involved in the cork industry.
Cork is a versatile product and is used commercially in a variety of ways. Most people are familiar with wine corks and cork board products, but the materials can also be used to create gaskets, construction materials, and is sometimes even sold as a raw product.
Cork forests thrive in arid, coastal regions. The thrive in conditions that are typically poor, such as sandy soils. With perfected husbandry practices, new plantings, and new market opportunities, the cork industry looks to be on course to achieve major milestones in the near future.
Interesting Cork Industry Statistics
#1. The global cork industry employs around 30,000 workers who have a variety of jobs, from harvesting to refinement. (Cork Quality Council)
#2. Portugal is home to about 737,000 hectares of forest area, which is more than one-third of the world’s Cork Oak forest. Portugal produces about 100,000 tons of cork per year from that land, accounting for half of the global cork production. (Cork Quality Council)
#3. Spain is the other world’s major manufacturer of cork products. They produce 62,000 tons of cork each year, accounting for 31% of total production on 574,000 hectares of forest space. (Cork Quality Council)
#4. 72% of all cork revenues that are produced by the industry originate from wine corks. The total value of the market is estimated to be 644 million euros annually and account for 25% of the total production weight in Portugal. (Cork Quality Council)
#5. Cork building materials comprise another 25% of the total value of the industry in Portugal, at a value of 228 million euros. (Cork Quality Council)
#6. Just 1% of the cork market is dedicated to the export of raw materials. (Cork Quality Council)
#7. More than 13 billion wine stoppers are produced every year by the cork industry, including stoppers and Champagne corks. (Cork Quality Council)
#8. Growth in the global wine markets has spurred growth within the global cork market of 7% annually. In 2010, there was 64.1 million euros of value in the U.S.-based cork stopper market. In 2015, that value was 103.2 million euros. (Cork Quality Council)
#9. The estimate value per hectare of cork oak forests is 100 euros per year, directly attributed to environmental services. (Portuguese Cork Association)
#10. Global cork forests are able to remove an estimated 14 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (Portuguese Cork Association)
#11. In the typical cork forest that is properly managed, up to 135 difference species of plants can be found per square meter. (Portuguese Cork Association)
#12. 80% of the companies that are working within the cork industry can be found in Portugal. 49% of those organizations are focused exclusively on the production of cork stoppers. (Portuguese Cork Association)
#13. 81% of the companies actively operating within the cork industry reported a positive net income in 2016. The average turnover was just 2.5%. (Portuguese Cork Association)
#14. In Portugal, more than 40 million cork stoppers are produced on the average day. (Portuguese Cork Association)
#15. The Portuguese cork industry has 691 patents registered to it. That has helped the industry achieve a 63% share of exports within the cork sector. (Portuguese Cork Association)
#16. Cork stripping is the highest-paid job, on average, in the agricultural world. That is because it requires an extremely high level of expertise to complete properly. The average salary begins at 45,000 euros per year. (Amorim / Payscale)
#17. Cork oak trees are able to regenerate their outer layer about a dozen times over the course of the life of the tree. The average tree lives about 150 years, but some have known to live upwards of 350 years. That means a tree can be harvested every 10 years or so after its initial harvest, which may take up to 20 years. (Cork Institute of America / Green Building Supply)
#18. The tissue of the bark harvested from the cork oak tree has an extremely low density. This is because about 90% of the tissues from the bark are of gaseous matter. A very dense cork product may have a density rating of just 0.20. (Green Building Supply)
#19. In 2005, Wine Spectator tested 2,800 bottles of wine for trichloroanisole, or TCA, and 7% of them were found to be contaminated. It only takes one bad bottle of wine from a bad cork to harm the reputation of a winemaker. Since 2001, however, testing by the Cork Quality Council shows a 95% reduction in TCA. (The Atlantic)
#20. The major threat to the wine industry, especially for cheaper wines, are aluminum screw caps. About 20% of table wines sold in the world today have moved on from cork to aluminum caps. (The Atlantic)
#21. Plastic caps have begun to infilitrate the cork wine stopper market as well. For bottles of wine priced under $10, the cork industry may have lost up to 40% of the market share for bottle closures. (The Atlantic)
#22. In 2010, 168 bottles of Champagne were located in a Baltic Sea shipwreck. Although the Champagne was 170 years old, it was still drinkable because of the qualities that cork has. (The Atlantic)
#23. The small cork industry of Morocco, which provides just 6% of global cork production from 383,000 hectares of cork forest area, offers the local economy over $11 million in support annually. (The Atlantic / Cork Quality Council)
#24. In total, there are more than 100,000 people who are directly or indirectly supported because of the global cork industry every year. (The Atlantic)
#25. Tunisia, France, and Italy each have 3% of the cork industry total production each. Together, they produce 18,000 tons of cork annually. (Cork Quality Council)
Cork Industry Trends and Analysis
The cork industry is poised to experience high levels of growth in the coming years. Good harvesting practices, combined with continual investments into research and development, have helped to keep this mostly localized industry strong and thriving.
At the same time, there are complementary industries that have arisen from the cork industry as well. Acorns from cork trees, for example, are fed to pigs in Spain and Portugal to create cured ham products.
The only negative the industry must manage is the issue of TCA. From 1% to 7% of corked wine bottles may have their products tainted by TCA that came from the cork stopper, which is why aluminum and plastic caps are becoming a trend. It is a natural compound of the product and techniques to remove it are ongoing.