Market goes 'corny' as Ingeo meets world

Brent Felgner, Carole Sloan, January 27, 2003

New York — It's been colloquially referred to as "the corn fiber" since its commercial debut in 2001. Last week, Cargill Dow unveiled a brand name for its generic man-made fiber, polylactide (PLA), and announced an ambitious global growth strategy for the product that it expects to drive fiber production from the current 50 percent of revenues up to 75 percent within four years.

The selling hook for Ingeo — literally "ingredients from the earth" — is that it's made from annually renewable plant resources, thereby reducing reliance on petroleum for the production of manmade fiber. Cargill Dow's marketing also will emphasize Ingeo's biodegradability — another advantage the company feels it has over petro-based fiber products.

"This brand is more than fibers and textiles. It's a lifestyle brand," said Tim Eynon, general manager, fibers, during a press event here.

The company also released a list of 85 companies in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Taiwan that will use Ingeo, including fiber producers, apparel makers, fabric companies, carpet manufacturers, home furnishings manufacturers, fiberfill producers, industrial materials manufacturers and non-wovens companies.

Home furnishings-related producers among the 85 companies that have signed up to use Ingeo include Belding Hausman, Carolina Mills, Culp, Faribault Woolen Mills, Manual Woodworkers & Weavers, Milliken, Mastercraft, Valdese Weavers, Lees Carpets, Quaker Fabrics and Tietex.

The polylactide (PLA) fiber is derived from carbons stored in plant starches like corn, although it can be extracted from other agricultural products, Eynon said. The resin used to make Ingeo is being produced at a plant in Blair, NE. Cargill Dow plans to open three additional PLA plants in the coming decade, Eynon said, as its expands its fiber business.

This is not Cargill Dow's first PLA introduction. At Neocon during summer 2001, Interface introduced both decorative fabrics and carpeting using the man-made fiber. A year later, Pacific Coast Feather launched a line of pillows, mattress pads, comforters and fiber beds under the NatureWorks trademark — the first time consumers encountered the products at retail.

According John Ohman, Cargill Dow's director of fiber-fill, customers using NatureWorks brand will phase into the Ingeo brand identification over the next nine months.

The new Ingeo partner companies will use the fiber to create a vast variety of fabrics for home, apparel and commercial/industrial uses, said Vicki Bausman, global brand manager. In the carpet area, both commercial and residential carpet tiles as well as broadloom will use Ingeo fiber.

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