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Sleeping With a Healthy, Clear Conscience

Jill Rowen -- Home Textiles Today, September 3, 2007

Al Gore would be pleased. Not only are consumers getting a better night's rest thanks to the myriad of "benefit" pillows in the marketplace, but every manufacturer has at least one — albeit niche — "green" story to tell. Organic fabrics, sustainable fills, and more environmentally friendly packaging — along with all the wellness and support benefits manufacturers can muster — are allowing consumers to get a good night's sleep, all with a clearer conscience.

Overall, sleep pillow manufacturers report a steady market, with consumers still willing to trade up for the right construction and what relief and relaxation it can bring them. As ever, raw material costs have increased, and currency issues continue to impact the market. However, manufacturers seem to be weathering it well.

Some are reporting that feather and down pillows, which have waned in the wake of new-kid-on-the-block memory foam products, are now on the upswing again. Down alternatives and synthetics, however, still lead the pack. "Benefits" marketing continues to loom large, and environmental claims are on the rise, although in doses which consumers can understand and appreciate — and afford.

"We all want to do the right thing, but in the end it has to be the right 'green' product," said Fritz Kruger, senior vp marketing, Pacific Coast Feather. "Consumers want products that still meet all the performance attributes with the addition of being green. It's still a niche market."

"We had a lot of questions about our eco-friendly offerings at market and it's a growing part of our line," reported Beth Mack, senior vp, basic bedding, Hollander. "Consumers want to feel good about the choices they make." But, she warns, they may stop short if it impacts their pocketbook too much or if it doesn't deliver the comfort they expect.

"Trend setters will make a commitment to "green" products for '08, but the volume retailers are taking more of a wait and see attitude," agreed Bob Hickman, senior vp, sales and marketing, United Feather & Down.

Ralph Rossdeutscher, president, Natura World, contends that retailers are taking steps in the right direction. "We've been doing organics for the last 12 years, and we've seen a real surge in the last year, but in relative terms, it is still a niche business, and retailers are still figuring out how to merchandise the category. The benefits category is still important."

"Consumers continue to be more experimental in their desire for a good night's sleep," noted Chris Ann Ernst, vp, Sleep Studio. "We're trying to be price competitive, but not design to price. People will trade up once they've had a good experience with our product."

Manufacturers have done a good job of differentiating themselves in how they interpret both the green and wellness benefits messages for their pillow selections. Whether in design, development or marketing, each has a distinct story for the marketplace.

"The biggest trend today is clarity of product offering," noted Scott Walters, director, product development, Louisville Bedding. "The consumer keeps saying, 'Tell me why I need this product.' The result has been a much clearer assortment definition at many retailers. The days of simply stepping up in thread counts or ounce weights are over. The retailers that have assortments where each item clearly stands alone and has a reason for being, are the retailers that are winning. As a result, we are continually searching for new technologies to solve consumer issues, offering added benefits and values to a commodity classification."

Down Lite, in its exclusive partnership with luxury down alternative PrimaLoft, is leveraging the high consumer recognition of that brand as it rolls out its most extensive-ever line of pillows. "The purchase of bedding is an emotional decision for the consumer," said John Spencer, chairman of Down Lite's advisory board. "PrimaLoft offers two advantages: product performance, and the fact that it is the only consumer brand" in down alternatives with significant, long term marketing and public relations programs.

PrimaLoft's latest innovation, its trademarked Ribbon Fiber Technology, adds loft without adding mass or weight. Down Lite's promise to consumers with PrimaLoft also extends to the easy-care and wellness benefits of its hypo-allergenic materials; the fill is also available with anti-microbial protection.

For United Feather & Down, the benefits and eco-friendly messages are combined in new fill offerings. In July, the company announced a partnership with Noble Biomaterials' X-Static silver fiber. The company is the exclusive pillow, mattress pad and comforter manufacturer with rights to the brand. In addition to being environmentally friendly, the silver has effective anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-odor properties. The company also offers products with Proneem, a natural oil that protects against dust mites.

For Louisville Bedding, their benefits message has meant a significant investment in the down alternative category; the company now produces its own ball cluster fibers, allowing it flexibility in customizing and creating unique blends of fibers. According to Walters, allergen reduction represents another growing category; the company plans to debut new, patent-pending technologies in this arena soon.

Carpenter has introduced a new concept in bed pillows designed and endorsed by Dr. Michael Breus, their Sleep Better spokesperson and the expert behind its consumer website, www.sleepbetter.org. Dan Schecter, vp sales and marketing, Carpenter, noted, "The cost of raw materials continues to increase. There are two ways to deal with this: raise prices, or create value-added products that are worth the retail in terms of meeting and exceeding consumer satisfaction."

Natura World's Rossdeutscher said that in addition to its organic offerings, it has worked on environmentally friendly packaging as well, using vegetable dyes and recycled cardboard. Additives such as lavender in fragrance pillows, and aloe are doing good business with their wellness appeal.

Sleep Studio is taking its own steps in becoming eco-friendly in the memory foam category, not necessarily an area known for its green properties. "We can do our part in being eco-friendly, too," noted Ernst. "Our ViscO2 product now comes in an eco-friendly version that replaces 10% of the synthetic material with natural oils." The company is also working to reduce its packaging.

Hollander has expanded its offerings in the certified asthma-friendly pillows it introduced last year. "This was one of the most successful launches at Hollander," noted Mack. The new program now includes travel pillows, youth size pillows and other bedding products. Hollander is also working with Obus Forme, makers of support products, to produce a line of pillows with the brand for the U.S. market — it already has a successful partnership with Obus Forme in Canada. Hollander's eco-friendly offerings include a recycled-polyester fill pillow — the fill is literally green – under its Natural Elements line.

One shift in the last few months that has put smiles on some producers' faces, is an upturn in down sales.

According to Mack, Hollander's down business is definitely on the upswing. "The increase in costs and supply issues were just a few of the many reasons that down had a number of years of decline, but we're seeing a real resurgence at retail. We've been spending time really educating new buyers on the attributes of down," she said.

Kruger at Pacific Coast Feather noted that same rise in down products. "As retailers were investing in memory foam products, many lost their down customer. They realize now that they've under-served that consumer and are working to gain them back," he said.

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