13939 Wed, 03/05/2008 - 5:36pm
By David Gill
NEW YORK–Basic-bedding manufacturers used last month’s home textiles market to present ideas for injecting new life into natural-fill products.
This segment needs a charge, said industry executives at the market. Sales in the down-and-feather category have suffered recently, due largely to cost increases and performance issues with Chinese goose down, according to those executives.
“Prices for down are up significantly,” said Jeff Hollander, president of Hollander Home Fashions. Not only has the fall in value of the U.S. dollar boosted the raw materials markups, but so has a change in the tastes of Chinese consumers. “The Chinese have shown a preference for younger geese, meaning that a lot of the down we now see out of China is from those younger birds,” Hollander said. “That down has less fill power than the down from older geese.”
Hollander also said bedding products filled with down alternatives have hurt the natural-fill business. Unit sales for products featuring synthetic-down fills such as Primaloft, which is used by Downlite, and MicroMax, offered by United Feather & Down, have risen at the expense of sales for natural-fill merchandise, Hollander said.
Hollander is among the basic bedding vendors that is trying to put new life into the category.
“We’ve created Arctic down as a new natural-fill alternative,” Hollander said. “It’s a combination of European goose down and duck down, which has enhanced fill power, and we’re positioning this as an upper-end program.”
Another factor that has hurt the natural-fill sector is Mother Nature. Over the past couple of years, said Mandy Talbert, product development manager for Louisville Bedding, the weather has been warmer in some of the colder-weather regions of the United States during fall and early winter, which are key times of the year for sales of down-filled products.
“It’s been warmer during the times of year when it’s supposed to be colder,” Talbert said. “So the retailers don’t want to stock up on a lot of natural-fill merchandise. This has hurt us and has hurt the apparel segment as well, which includes down-filled jackets.”
Louisville Bedding used market week to introduce a down-filled extension to its long-standing Beautyrest licensed program. The Beautyrest Nature’s Loft line is the first Louisville Bedding Beautyrest program with natural fills. But Louisville Bedding is no stranger to this category; its Nautica licensed program has featured natural fills for the past year, Talbert said.
Beautyrest isn’t the only major home brand in the down-and-feather category, either. Both Springs and WestPoint Stevens have down-and-feather programs as part of their basic-bedding offerings—WestPoint under its Charisma label and Springs has placed its Serta-branded down- and down-alternative-filled products in several retailers.
Pacific Coast Feather, United Feather and Downlite remain as major players in this business as well. Pacific Coast Feather attempted to juice sales in its retail customers’ down-and-feather departments during market with its In/Out Pillow Promotion. The company tied this to the introduction of its DownAround down-filled pillow, which features a single-chamber pillow-in-a-pillow design. The promotion includes printed display shipper for holding inventory, a support poster and a 40-second video loop that shows the DownAround pillow plumping back to its original shape after being run over by construction equipment.
The issue of quality of sleep was addressed by other basic-bedding manufacturers. During market, Carpenter marked the fifth anniversary of its Sleep Better program, which has “raised health consciousness” in terms of basic bedding, said Dan Schecter, vice president of sales and marketing for Carpenter’s consumer products division.
Thanks to the Sleep Better program, “we’ve gone from being commodity products to being value-added products,” Schecter said. “The industry talks a lot about this, but we do research and development at our Richmond [Va.] headquarters, with scientists on the staff.” The program also includes a national-advertising component, with ads placed on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The View” and “Good Morning America.”
Good health from basic bedding was a keynote in the market introductions from Perfect Fit. The company introduced Copper Therapy, a program of sheets, bed pillows and pillow covers made with copper fiber. “Copper is an element in collagen, which promotes healthy skin,” said Hector Torres, Perfect Fit’s vice president of marketing and product development. “It’s also a natural anti-microbial agent.”
Perfect Fit also introduced a line of bed pillows and mattress pads featuring the Ionx fabric finish. Produced by Canterbury of New Zealand, Ionx applies negative ions to fabric, which promote blood flow and thus increases a person’s energy.