PCF looks to corn fiber

Marvin Lazaro, March 4, 2002

Taking the next step in the use of natural fill, Pacific Coast Feather Company will be introducing new products this market that are made from Nature Works fiber.

Nature Works is made by Cargill Dow LLC. It is an all-natural fiber derived from corn that, according to Cargill Dow, performs as well as or better then synthetic, oil-based fibers and may be used in anything from candy wrappers to carpeting.

Pacific Coast Feather has entered into an exclusive agreement with the Minnetonka, MI-based Cargill Dow to use Nature Works for bedding. PCF, known for its down-based products, plans to introduce product with the new fill at the upcoming spring market.

According to Eric Moen, cfo of PCF, the decision to use Nature Works makes good business sense.

"There are very few times you have a revolutionary product like this that has so many different attributes and benefits to it," Moen said. "It makes great sense for the consumer, too."

Said Jerry Hanauer, chairman, PCF. "It's grown and made in America. People want that now."

PCF said it will unveil three separate lines for this market. Each of the three will have a unique positioning. The focus of one will be how a plastic-like fiber is derived from a natural source; the heart of the second will be the product's environmental, eco-friendly attributes; and the third will center on Nature Works' performance vs. synthetics. Although a new brand name will also be part of the launch, PCF's interest is not in developing that name, Fritz Kruger, vp, marketing, said, but rather in promoting the Nature Works fiber and its performance.

In the short term, a variety of bedding will feature the fiber as an alternative to polyester fill. In the longer term, Kruger said, PCF will consider buying fabrics made from Nature Works as well as using it for packaging to replace plastic bags. According to Hanauer, one of the company's long-term goals is to replace 75 percent to 80 percent of the polyester capacity with Nature Works but continue to keep polyester in the mix.

PCF continues to tout the fiber's relative loft and durability compared to synthetics, as well as its insulation, wicking, fire-retardant and odor-resistant properties. In addition, since it is hypo-allergenic and does not support bacterial growth, Kruger said Nature Works should be a natural hit with consumers.

"I think consumers will respond to the fact that it is eco-friendly, but it also delivers on its promise," Moen said. "In the past, 'green' items have been less than compelling from a performance standpoint. But Nature Works surpasses that, and I think we can communicate that effectively."

Moen cited the amount of retail interest as well as the testing conducted by PCF with consumer focus groups as evidence of a basic understanding of the product. However, PCF does not plan to roll out the new line en masse but instead will test multiple scenarios this summer with an initial launch scheduled for May 1. The overall market ship date, Kruger said, is expected to be around early 2003.

Although pricing has not been set, Moen said the range would fall into the overlap between upper-end synthetics and lower-end down.

"This looks like it will be a very popular and long-lasting thing," Kruger said. "It's doing right by society and by the planet, so this product has some very long-term sustainability."

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