By David Gill
Reports of the death of organic bedding, to paraphrase Mark Twain, are greatly exaggerated.
The fear was that, with cotton prices on the rise for more than a year--and with the recession affecting higher-priced organic products--demand for organic bedding might hit the brakes. However, vendors have been moving to keep consumers' interest in organic bedding high--as it has been for the past few years.
Vendors such as Home Source International have responded by holding the line on organic-bedding prices.
"Our mission is to price organic the same as other bedding so as to give the ultimate consumer a final reason to buy, with the organic factor being the close of the sale," said Keith Sorgeloos, president and CEO, Home Source International.
Sorgeloos believes that organic cotton's benefits will ultimately persuade consumers to stick with the category. "Consumers will eventually gravitate to organic bedding as they will come to realize that it is not only important what goes in your body such as organic foods, but what touches the body such as organic bed and bath products," he said.
There is research that bears out Sorgeloos' view. According to a study by The Integer Group, a marketing agency, about one out of four shoppers are willing to pay more for something if it makes them feel that they are contributing to saving the environment--one of organic cotton's key selling points. Interest in such products increases among demographic groups aged 35 and older, the study found.
The story behind organic bedding, as it is with organic foods, comes down to quality rather than price, vendors said. And the elements in the quality equation include both benefits to one's health, the integrity of the organic cotton and the idea that consumers of organic are doing their part to save the planet.
Thus vendors feel that focusing their marketing more on quality can counteract the effects of higher cotton prices.
"I believe the success (of organic bedding) lies within the product-development and packaging departments," said Beth Mack, chief merchandising officer of Hollander Home Fashions. "If a product is developed that conveys value and, in our case, comfort, and the packaging tells the same message, the product should succeed."
Bedding manufacturer Coyuchi places a premium on integrity in marketing its organic bed ensembles.
"Through our manufacturing partner, Coyuchi has a favorable relationship with a collective in India that spans 6,500 organic cotton farms," said Karyn Barsa, the company's CEO. "This assures the integrity of the organic cotton we buy, and our commitment to fair wages and other responsible production practices has kept price increases to manageable levels."
In the current environment, marketing organic bedding around quality has become more necessary than ever. There are still concerns among vendors that high cotton prices could hurt the category.
The run-up in cotton prices "led many manufacturers to seek cheaper alternatives to all-cotton products," Barsa said. "The results for mass-market consumers were more synthetics, cotton blends or lighter-gauge cotton yarns on the shelves, as well as fewer adornments to hold costs down."
With all of this, it appears that organic bedding has plenty going for it on the consumer side. "There remains a consumer segment that will continue to demand all-cotton products for the unique qualities of the fiber, and consumers who will continue to demand organic cotton products developed without toxic chemicals for reasons of personal health and values," Barsa said. "When a consumer's purchase decision is based on their health or their beliefs, options like synthetics simply don't enter into the equation."
Organic bedding also has history on its side. Sorgeloos said the shift toward organic cotton is another chapter in the overall progression toward higher-end bedding. "There were diametric shifts over the last 25 years from muslin to percale, from 180 thread-count to 300-plus thread-count, from cotton-poly to cotton and from cotton to organic cotton, which will continue over the next few years," he said.
Finally, there are signs that cotton pricing has stopped its steady climb. "It's still higher than last year at this time, but the most recent price is in the range of $1.40 (per pound)," Mack said, adding that the price had been close to $2 per pound at about the time of the March New York Home Fashions Market. "The differential has been from a 10 to 20 percent upcharge between organic cotton and regular cotton. Maybe with cotton prices coming down, there is hope."