Article: BedTimes – Feb 2007

“Going Green – Industry finding fertile ground for natural products”

By Karl Kunkel

Taking a cue from growth in pricey natural foods and organic clothing, the American bedding industry is sprouting its own green products.

Once the domain of a few specialty mattress manufacturers that marketed to niche bedding shops and catalog companies, green mattresses – whether they be wholly organic or just incorporate more natural materials – have found their way into the inventories of major manufacturers. Those bedding producers, seeing a potentially lucrative segment, have, in turn, begun knocking on suppliers’ doors, asking for more materials that say “earth-friendly.”

As with many trends, this one in being driven by consumers. Some with chemical sensitivities or allergies seek alternatives to traditional mattresses. Others believe beds made from natural materials are more easily recyclable and, being made from sustainable materials, are easier on the earth. Still others want “fair trade” beds in which the workers growing the natural materials get a fair wage.

“The customer of this type of product is sincerely interested in his or her health,” says Michael Penny, owner of Savvy Rest, a Charlottesville, Va., bedding wholesaler and retailer.

Natura World, a manufacturer based in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, has been a player in the green bedding game since the company was founded in 1994. It offers an organic collection and incorporates into its entire line natural materials such as chemical-free wool, organic cotton, Canadian maple, natural latex and a Talalay-processed latex that is 40% natural and 60% synthetic. Natura says the latter component has less rubber odor and lacks proteins commonly found in natural latex that could trigger allergies.

Another Canadian manufacturer, Sleeptek, produces a range of natural-material sleep products. President Jean Corriveau founded the Ottawa-based company in 1985 after working in a Quebec City mattress plant. His company initially made conventional mattresses, but it got into green when customers with chemical sensitivities asked for chemical-free mattresses.

Today, Sleeptek manufactures only organic beds in a plant where employees wear no fragrances and wash their hands with organic soaps before handling components. The company offers its own private-label beds for catalog and Internet retailers and a specially produced organic bedding line and accessories under the Obasan label. It’s also the North American Licensee for the Belgium-based Green Sleep bedding program.

“I saw that niche and developed a real passion for it,” Corriveau says.

Vivetique, a third-generation, family-run manufacturer in South El Monte, Calif., offers only natural bedding products, including its own organic line under the Natural Bedroom name. It includes mattresses, toppers, comforters and related products.

Who’s getting in?

The niche isn’t for everyone. Some bedding manufacturers say they don’t offer green products because of premium price points, limited market potential and a lack of readily available raw materials. Others are producing “bridge” products that incorporate some natural components, such as organic cotton, organic wool or sustainable wood, into more traditional innerspring and foam constructions.

Consider these majors’ efforts. Later this spring, Therapedic in Princeton, N.J., will start offering pillows made with cushioning foam that has a soy component, Preserve, from Hickory Springs Mfg. Co. Therapedic President Gerry Borreggine says the soy-based foam could eventually find additional uses in Therapedic mattresses.

“We incorporate natural components into all of our mattresses and futons,” says Bob Naboicheck, presiden of Gold Bond in Harford, Conn. “Natural products typically have a more pleasing feel to the touch and, in many cases, are more durable that manmade compnents.”

Atlanta-based Simmons entered the green scene last July when it launched its Natural Care mattress line during the Las Vegas furniture market. The collection concentrates on Natural materials.

“It has a higher percentage of natural ingredients than a lot of other foam mattresses that are out in the marketplace that have a lot of chemicals or synthetic-type materials,” says Anne Kozel, Natural Care brand director. “We think it will be a growing niche for the company.”

Land and Sky, a specialty bedding manufacturer in Lincoln, Neb., also embraced the green movement last July with the introduction of its Natural Body line. This good-better-best collection with traditional styling has a 100% latex core with certified organic cotton and natural wool.

“We felt it was the natural extension of our line since we already had a focus on latex,” says Land and Sky President Ron Larson. “The message is that this is all natural.”

What’s the difference?

In bedding, as in other consumer products, the terms “organic”, natural” and “green” get bandied about pretty freely and are subject to interpretation and hair-splitting. Companies that use organically produced cotton, silk, wool and the like tend to make a point of describing them as “certified organic” and may provide information on the sourcing for conscientious consumers. They also may downplay “natural” and “green” terms because those have more nebulous meanings.

Consider cotton. While a natural fiber it may be dyed, bleached or chemically treated. Or it might be green, meaning unbleached and undyed, but not grown under certified organic conditions.

Sleeptek’s Corriveau makes only organic products and markets them that way, encouraging consumers to check the Web site to examine component certifications. Corriveau uses several European testing agencies to certify the materials he uses, and he regularly travels to the source of his compnents to inspect the sites and works conditions of the employees. His inspecting agencies include KRAV in Sweden for cotton, Skal International in the Netherlands for fabric and other materials; and Oeko-Tex in Germany for wool. He relies on a number of laboratories to test natural rubber cushioning for purity.

“We’ve been traveling the world to find all the ingredients where I can get certifications, where we aren’t just depleting the resources of that country,” Corriveau says. “Fair trade is extremely important to us. I’ve personally visited every source I’m using”

E.J. Schrader Mattress Co., in West Palm Beach, Fla., tried to as descriptive as possible in naming what became its Chem-Free line.

Diane Schrader, director of research and development, says the company’s Chem-Free bedding uses organic materials to create a chemical-free environment for the sleeper. A percentage of Schrader customers don’t even want metal in their beds, believing they are affected by electro-magnetic fields given off by the metal. Today, about 25% of Schrader Mattress‘ business is natural, and the Chem-Free bedding category represents much of that growth.

With Simmons’ Natural Care line, the emphasis is on “natural”.

“We talk about the fact that it is biodegradable and has a high percentage of natural ingredients inside.” Kozel says. “We are getting ready to have a hangtag explaining to consumers that Simmons Co. is interested in taking care of the environment and looking for healthier ways to produce mattresses.”

Where is Green going?

“The category is really growing,” says Scott Carwile, Vivetique chief executive officer. “More people are wanting to live a healthier lifestyle and realize the importance of sleep.”

Bedding maker Park Place has grown its Sleep Therapy health-related line during the past two years. Last July, it took the collection one step further, introducing the Eco Therapy mattress. The bed includes 100% pure latex and bamboo yarn in the ticking. The product, with anti-microbial properties, is being promoted as an aid for allergy sufferers.

“There is a pretty good movement of people out there who, if they could buy green, would buy green,” says Edwin Shoffner, vice president of sales for the Greenville, S.C.-based company.

Marlon Pando, president of White Lotus Home in New Brunswick, N.J., credits a growing public awareness of the fragile environment with helping publicize green bedding.

“Folks are talking with their wallets as sales of natural and organic products are on the rise,” Pando says. “By simply reminding people that we spend a third of our lives in bed, it becomes quite apparent that what we choose to sleep on is an important decision for both our personal health and the Earth’s sustainability.”

Corriveau believed strongly enough in the future of the category to scrap his conventional line to devote his efforts to organic bedding.

“I’ve never regretted it one second, and I really believe in it,” he says. “For me, it is a passion. I think natural and organic will get very big.”

Years ago, when Corriveau mentioned organic beds, people thought he was crazy.

“They aren’t questioning it anymore, so it’s getting into the mainstream,” Corriveau says. “It will remain a fringe niche. But if we can get a fairly high share of it, we will be very happy.”

How to Market?

Green bedding is inexorably tied to the environment and health, so earth tones – greens, browns, blues – tend to dominate consumer-focused brochures, advertisements and retail store signage. And there are plenty of images of healthy, happy couples.

Sleeptek makes effective use of its Web site, whidch goes into intricate detail about the beds’ components for shoppers. And the company places ads in Natural Home & Garden, a consumer magazine targeting eco-minded homeowners who have an interest in natural living.

White Lotus Home gets its message out by word of mouth, as well as by having a presence in publications such as the Green Pages and Green Guides, Pando says.

E.J. Schrader advertises in E-Magazine, an environmentally oriented periodical. Because the company makes so many custom mattresses with a green theme, Diane Schrader keeps in close touch with the interior designers and relishes word-of-mouth publicity. One company project was to create a mattress for a child with cancer who needed to live in a sterile environment. E.J. Schrader made the chemical-free mattress under sterile conditions, sealed it and shipped it.

Diane Schrader believes the average consumer won’t look for a chemical-free mattress in a retail store.

“Most people have to go online or read Natural Home& Garden and things like that,” she says. “It’s not a retail market industry, and it should be.”

But some manufacturers disagree and are sticking with marketing efforts that work for their more traditional bedding products.

“Right now we are going through our traditional dealer network,” says Land and Sky’s Larson. “We think that people who care about this product live everywhere.”

What stands in the way?

The green bedding category, while growing, remains very much a niche, attracting a health-conscious consumer with disposable income.

Green bedding, with its above-the-bar materials, typically carries a much higher price tag that comparable traditional models. A queen-sized green bed retailing for $2,000 and above is not unusual.

“And education is an expensive part of the marketing. That’s why it took organic foods so long to take off,” says Barry Shapiro, Sleeptek sales representative for the eastern United States.

One obstacle to growth is a lack of consumer knowledge, says Savvy Rest’s Penny.

“Most consumers have no idea of what is inside their mattresses and pillows,” he says.

And White Lotus Home’s Pando sees the new federal open-flame standard, which will affect every mattress and bed set sold in the United States beginning July 1, as a potential obstacle for some producers.

“The new fire retardant regulations may affect the way we manufacture our products,” he says.

Increasing competition in the category is making it difficult for individual manufacturers, as well. As more producers enter the category, each has its own ideas about what materials to use and how to market, leaving consumers caught in mind-numbing apples to oranges comparisons.

“For natural products, really, every manufacturer competes at some level, particularly in the high price points.” Says Michael Zippelli, chief executive officer of Dormia in Jessup, Md.

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