With allergy and asthma symptoms on the rise, it’s time to talk to consumers about better health, overall wellness and cleanliness in the bedroom, say suppliers of mattress and pillow protection products.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence of allergies and allergy-related asthma is ballooning in both children and adults, with one in five Americans exhibiting allergy or asthma symptoms.
Given that, it’s important to offer consumers ways to keep bedding clean and free of dust, dander, dust-mite waste, mold and germs, protection suppliers say.
“We consider allergens in the bedroom as public enemy No. 1 and the mattress to be ground zero,” says Sean Bergman, chief marketing officer for protection supplier Fabrictech International in Cedar Grove, N.J., and himself an allergy-induced asthma sufferer.
The typical bedroom houses more than 100 million dust mites, says Conor Stapleton, head of marketing for Dublin, Ireland-based Gabriel Scientific, maker of hygienic SleepAngel pillows, toppers and other bedding products containing the patented PneumaPure Filter. Dust mites, or more specifically their waste, are principal triggers of allergies in the bedroom.
“It’s a fact that asthma is on the rise, and dust mites factor into 80% of asthmatic symptoms,” says Chris Montross, vice president of brand and marketing for Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based protection supplier CKI Solutions. “Our aging population is also part of the picture. Our immune system starts to fail us as we grow older and asthma and allergies are more prevalent.”
All of that wheezing, sniffling and sneezing is a “teachable moment”—an opportunity for the bedding industry to help grateful consumers clean up their bedrooms and snooze more peacefully—and healthfully.
And, with typical five-sided mattress protectors starting at $50 in queen size and total encasements beginning at $99, it makes dollars and cents for retailers to set sales goals for these products—and for mattress manufacturers to support retailer efforts to merchandise protection products with bed sets.
‘The anti-mattress pad’
The latest protection products are engineered for greater comfort, reliability and conformability, as well as for easy care. Most consist of a soft, polyester-cotton blend flat woven fabric or a cotton-blend terry cloth laminated to a pliable polyurethane barrier.
Five-sided protectors provide coverage for the bed’s top panel and four borders. Some protectors, although fitted-sheet style, have a polyurethane membrane on the bed’s top panel only. Total encasements have six sides: They envelope the entire mattress and are closed with a zipper, which is most often placed at the foot of the bed. Some have 360-degree zippers, allowing for easy removal and laundering of the top panel.
Protectors are not mattress pads, suppliers say.
“We’re the anti-mattress pad company—pads are just a hotel for dust mites,” says Dave Powers, president of Sutton, Neb.-based protection supplier GBS Enterprises.
Mattress protectors and encasements are specifically designed to not change the feel of the bed. That’s an important message to convey to consumers investing in today’s mattresses made with specialty foams and engineered innersprings.
Shana Rocheleau, marketing director for New York-based Bedgear by Guard Master, says her company’s products perform like a protective yet “cooling second skin” for a new mattress.
Protectors versus encasements
Because total encasements can be difficult to remove for regular cleaning and because mattresses often are left exposed for long periods of time when an encasement is being laundered, some protection providers say the bedding industry should encourage consumers to purchase both a protector and encasement—one for easy removal and washing, while the other stays put.
Rocheleau says her company advises a dual purchase because, if the protector is washed weekly, the encasement rarely needs laundering. But for older consumers with physical limitations or budget-conscious shoppers, a five-sided protector may be the better option.
“Even for someone with severe allergies or asthma, a protector will do most of the job,” says Herman Tam, group vice president of sales and marketing for Leggett & Platt’s Consumer Products Group in Whittier, Calif. “If you wash the protector frequently, it will remove most of the dander and allergens that settle on the surface of the mattress. But, yes, if you absolutely want peace of mind, buy an encasement—nothing can get in or out of the mattress.”
Powers says GBS Enterprises promotes a “healthy sleep system” consisting of either a three-part package—mattress encasement, mattress protector and pillow protector—or a two-part package consisting of a mattress protector and pillow protector.
“But mattress protectors are the best solution for most consumers,” he says. “We have lab testing that shows that putting a mattress protector on a used mattress renders the bed’s surface 99.9% dust mite free. And, frankly, encasements can be difficult to take on and off. We recommend encasements only for those with very severe allergies.”
Don’t forget the pillow
Pillow protection is important, but often overlooked.
“Just think: Some people are keeping the same pillow for 10 years or more,” Powers says. “That’s when they are really breathing in allergens.”
Consumers should know that a dust mite-, dander- and dust-filled pillow is no place to press their face at night and could contaminate their pristine new mattress.
“Arguably a pillow protector is just as important as a mattress protector—or more important,” Tam says. “You breathe your pillow, therefore, we have a full line of pillow protectors.”
Pillows themselves are becoming allergen-protection products.
Gabriel Scientific brought its SleepAngel pillow to the consumer market in 2011. The PneumaPure Filter has a worldwide patent and its technology can be applied to a range of sleep products—from pillows to mattresses to top-of-bed products. The filter is vapor permeable to allow for air flow but impermeable to microbes as small as 0.2 microns.
The SleepAngel pillow technology has been used in medical settings since 2001 and targets “allergy, asthma and sinus sufferers,” as well as consumers who are concerned about hygiene, Stapleton says.
“The most important thing is the pillow,” he says. “We’re trying to fight dust mites, fungal spores and nasty bugs, and viruses that can live outside the body for 24 hours and longer.”
first product three years ago was an “allergy-free pillow,” Rocheleau says. It was developed, in part, because a member of company principal Eugene Alletto’s family suffered from allergy-induced asthma.
Fabrictech launched a line of PureCare Plush pillows in January. The pillows have a sealed inner lining, as well as UltraFresh and anti-bacterial silver treatment to keep dust mites and other allergens out. Three sleeping pillows are available in latex, memory foam or down fill and there’s a fiber-filled body pillow called CuddleMe.
“Protecting your pillow is so important. It’s a real life enhancement for the allergy sufferer,” Bergman says. “But in comparison to mattress protection, only a small percentage of consumers purchase pillow protectors. So we felt the best thing to do was create a new pillow line.”
Guard Master offers the Dri-Tec pillow protector, but Rocheleau says pillow protectors aren’t a must-have product unless someone has severe allergies. It’s far more important that retailers encourage consumers to replace their pillows every two years to ensure correct spinal alignment, she says.
Helping retailers make the sale
Protection suppliers have made it easy for retailers to educate sales associates and consumers about bedroom allergens and better health, offering videos, training programs, marketing materials, display racks and signage. And they urge retailers to stock a wide selection of protection products.
“It’s pure, simple consumer behavior to be more likely to buy if given choices and options,” Tam says. “Another important reason to offer a selection is that people will only pay so much for add-ons in relation to their mattress purchase.”
Protect-A-Bed markets its products individually and in themed kits. Its Allergy Protection Kit includes two AllerZip pillow protectors, an AllerZip mattress encasement and a premium mattress protector. The kit sells strongest in the South, where seasonal allergies and mold are more of a problem, says Jared Bell, sales director for the Wheeling, Ill.-based company.
“We are big proponents of offering consumers a ‘good-better-best’ option,” he says. “ ‘Good’ is our fitted protector with our polyurethane Miracle Membrane, ‘better’ is a full six-sided encasement and ‘best’ is one of our many kit alternatives.”
Protect-A-Bed offers an interactive display designed for major furniture retailers and the company soon will launch a more compact unit for sleep shops. It holds an array of protection products and plays video loops on monitors. All product packages have a quick-response code that takes customers to an educational video. In addition to fixtures, pull-up banners and foot guards, Protect-A-Bed provides branded “head swatches,” a disposable nonwoven for testing pillows.
GBS Enterprises uses a simple rack that lets its products “be the star,” Powers says. Product packaging and marketing collateral focus on “healthier sleep and investing in a healthier you.” The company also offers a demo jar topped with its protector fabric that can be filled with a strong-scented liquid such as Windex or Febreze. The jar proves that although the cover is waterproof, it’s also breathable.
Fabrictech’s in-store signage and display racks pull in curious shoppers with bold headings, such as “Health and Allergy Center” or “Advanced Allergen and Wellness Center.”
Stapleton encourages retailers to “activate people when they walk in by having a point-of-sale unit with a pillow dispenser.” His company’s unit has graphics that clearly demonstrate how bugs and germs are blocked and offers QR codes and good storytelling graphics, he says.
Some suppliers offer educational videos that retailers can use in-store for staff training or customer education, as well as online and in TV advertising. GBS recently produced a short video aimed at consumers that explains its products and how they contribute to healthy sleep.
The United States of Allergies
• One in five Americans has allergy or asthma symptoms.
• 40 million Americans have indoor/outdoor allergies as their primary allergy. The most common triggers are tree, grass and weed pollen; mold spores; dust mite and cockroach debris; and cat, dog and rodent dander.
• Allergies are the most frequently reported chronic condition in children.
• Allergies have a genetic component. When one parent has allergies, there is a one in three chance a child also will. If both parents have allergies, there is a seven in 10 chance a child will.
• Allergic asthma—triggered by inhaled allergens such as dust mites, pet dander and pollen—is the most common form of asthma. More than 2.5 million children under age 18 suffer from allergic asthma and 44% of those hospitalized due to asthma are children.
• In the United States, about 4,000 deaths each year are attributed to asthma.
Sources: American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; WebMD.com.
The Breathe bed
In January, Boston-based mattress licensing group Spring Air International launched the Breathe mattress collection, the first to be certified “asthma and allergy friendly” by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
The Back Supporter Breathe collection is available with innerspring and foam cores and its patent-pending zippered cover acts as an allergen barrier. Models have suggested retail prices from $999 to $2,499 in queen size.
“The mattress is the No. 1 haven in your home for allergens,” says Rick Robinson, Spring Air president. “Asthma, allergy and immunology experts say it is a priority target for reducing allergens and improving indoor air quality in the home. Our ultimate objective (in introducing Breathe) is to begin improving America’s quality of life one home at a time.”
This story originally appeared in a slightly different version in the May/June issue of Sleep Savvy.