New Vision Council Report Says Future of PALs, Free-form Looks Bright

NEW YORK—Free-form technology is driving sales of progressive addition lenses (PALs) to new heights, according to the 2012 Progressive Lens White Paper Report which was recently published by the Vision Council. The report is based on data from surveys of U.S. consumers, eyecare professionals, optical laboratories and lens experts.

According to the Vision Council’s VisionWatch survey, which polls 110,000 U.S. consumers, PALs represent just over 27 percent of all lenses purchased in the U.S. Among those 20.5 million pairs of PALs, consumers reported 17 percent were manufactured using free-form technology. The report indicates that 64 percent of eyecare professionals offer free-form lenses to patients, and free-form lenses represent about 18 percent of the PALs they dispense.

The VisionWatch data shows that before 2005, traditional bifocal/trifocal lenses outsold progressive lenses (at the retail level) and represented a larger portion of the total lens type mix. However, in 2005 the mix shifted in favor of PALs, and the gap between the two has steadily been increasing since.

The data also indicates that the average retail price per pair of progressives has risen by over $48 per pair since 2003, an increase of about 27 percent. By comparison, the price of bifocals and trifocals have only increased by about 15 percent since 2003, possibly because one of the appeals of bifocals and trifocals is that they cost less than progressives, according to the Vision Council.

PAL sales are rising for several reasons, the Vision Council report said. According to the VisionWatch survey, 42 percent of first-time PAL purchasers said they wanted a lens they could use for both distance and reading. Some 39 percent said they wanted a lens that didn’t have a line that was visible to others.

Among consumers who previously wore PALs and continue to wear them, 68 percent said the reason was because they were satisfied with the design. Some 43 percent of consumers who previously wore bifocals and switched to PALs said they wanted a design with no lines. Only 26 percent switched because their ECP recommended they do so.

Among consumers who previously wore single vision lenses and switched to PALs, 54 percent did so because their prescription changed.

According to consumers, 17 percent of progressives purchased are manufactured using free-form technology. Two percent of consumers were not sure if their progressives were manufactured using free form technology. The younger the progressive purchaser, the higher the likelihood that they will choose free-form technology when buying PALs. The Vision Council noted that surprisingly, there is little difference in free-form use among consumers based on income, adding that the majority of progressive users in general are in the $60K+ annual household income category.

The report concluded that lens experts have “a very optimistic outlook on progressives and free-form. Most believe that within the next five years, the majority of progressives will be manufactured using free-form technology.” 

—Andrew Karp