The Right Fluff: Today’s pillows provide an array of comforts and price points that are sure to please

Today’s pillows are as multifunctional as mattresses, using many of the same materials and constructions to provide support and comfort to sleepers. Pillows offer temperature regulation, allergen protection and more, while newer hybrid constructions combine the benefits of two components, say memory foam paired with feathers and down, for new feels.

The advancements allow consumers, with retailer assistance, to build a complete sleep ensemble in which all parts — from protectors to sheets to pillows to duvets/comforters/quilts — complement the benefits of the mattress. And the latest pillows and mattresses are working better together than ever before.

“I know people like to say that 25% of a bed’s comfort comes from the pillow,” says Sean Bergman,  quoting a percentage often cited in the mattress industry. “But it can be 100% of the comfort if the pillow isn’t right.” Bergman is chief marketing officer for PureCare, a sleep accessories maker based in Phoenix.

Elizabeth Dell’Accio, vice president of Blu Sleep, a sleep products manufacturer based in Pompano Beach, Florida, agrees. “The right pillow makes the right mattress feel better,” she says. “When I travel, I travel with my pillow. I’ll even take clothes out of the suitcase to do it because I know having my pillow will improve my sleep.”

The importance of the pillow to sleep isn’t just anecdotal. Adriana Galván, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles who specializes in adolescents, says her research into teenagers’ sleep deprivation has pointed to a simple solution: “Provide teens with a good pillow.”

“Adolescents who reported greater satisfaction with their bedding and pillows were the ones who had greater sleep quality, and greater sleep quality was associated with greater brain connectivity,” she says in an article in The Conversation published Nov. 13. Although bedding overall is important, for teens, better sleep habits are most strongly linked to pillow comfort, Galván found.

What makes a pillow comfortable varies from person to person, pillow makers say. While consumers have strong opinions about the feel of their mattress, those preferences tend to fall along the same soft to firm continuum. But when it comes to pillows, people can be downright picky.

And Galván’s research with teens backs that up. “We found that one size doesn’t fit all. For some people, a flat pancake pillow soothes them into a sound slumber,” she says. “For others, only a super puffy cloud will do.”

Given that, most pillow makers offer a variety of options and hope their latest introductions will prevent what turned up in some informal research done by Protect-A-Bed.

“We did a quick survey and found that the average home of four bedrooms has up to 50 pillows in that home — not decorative pillows, that’s 50 bed pillows. They are constantly buying pillows to find the right feel,” says John Rachid, president of the sleep accessories maker, which is based in Wheeling, Illinois.

New feels and fun colors

Blu Sleep lifestyle
Known for its colorful foams, Blu Sleep is expanding its pillow line with an Essential Gels collection featuring foamed gel constructions and aromatherapy essential oils.

Blu Sleep’s colorful foam pillows are so important to its success that when the company revamped its mattress line last year, it took a cue from its Nature pillow collection, streamlining the bedding assortment to five boxed mattresses that coordinate with the pillow group.

The company’s newest pillow collection, Essential, also was introduced last year and includes five pillows retail priced at $99. Like the Nature pillows, which are priced at $129, the Essential pillows are created with Italian-made, water-expanded memory foam and include the same cooling ventilation channels. But the Essential covers are made with rayon from bamboo and each pillow is infused with an aromatherapy essential oil linked to its color: The tangerine-hued Elevate model features orange oil, the mint-colored Refresh is made with green tea oil and so on.

“They smell so good and don’t have a bad chemical smell,” Dell’Accio says. The scent is part of the chemistry of the foam and will last for months, she adds.

All of Blu Sleep’s pillows come compressed and packaged in a mylar bag coated with aluminum, similar to those used for some coffees to “seal in the freshness of the pillow,” Dell’Accio says. When consumers get them home from the store or receive them shipped to their house, she says, they unseal a valve in the back of the package to expand the “fresh, hygienic pillow” inside.

Now Blu Sleep is adding an Essential Gels collection of foamed gel constructions featuring aromatherapy essential oils and covers made with high-tech cooling fabrics. “Foamed gel has a quick response but also conforms well and has more of a latex feel but not quite as bouncy,” she says. “It’s a very luxurious feeling.” Pillows in the new collection, priced at $170, will be introduced at the Winter Las Vegas Market Jan. 27-Jan. 31 at the World Market Center.

Cooling and coils, too

Rachid of Protect-A-Bed says that these days, “the cost of entry to being successful” in any type of sleep product is offering cooling features, so last year the company, which recently was purchased by SureFit Home Décor, added cooling features across its line of sleep accessories, including pillows, which all have covers with cooling features. Another recent change: The company bumped up its pillow sizes. Protect-A-Bed still offers standard pillows (16 inches by 25 inches) but now makes and promotes every model in queen size (20 inches by 30 inches), too. “We’re seeing better responses to queen sizes,” Rachid says. “They’re bigger, beefier pillows that customers are really liking.”

In its line of 43 pillows, the company sells a wide range of constructions, from polyester fill at the

Protect-A-Bed pillow
Protect-A-Bed recently added cooling benefits to all its sleep accessories, including giving all its pillows covers with cooling features.

promotional end to memory foam (solid or clusters) to pocketed coils. Protect-A-Bed’s best-selling pillow is a $99 down alternative, but Rachid is pleased with the success of higher-end pocketed coil pillows, which feature a 3 ½-inch-tall pocketed innerspring core wrapped with either down alternative ($179) or memory foam ($199).

“The response to the pocketed coils has been great because it’s something different in pillows and has a unique feel. We’re constantly trying to bring new technologies to market,” Rachid says.

The pricing window for pillows is wide open, with big boxes and discounters selling polyester fill versions for a couple of bucks and high-end specialty retailers carrying feature-laden hybrids for as much as $350.

Pillow producers like Protect-A-Bed continually tweak their lines to find their own sweet spot, and Rachid sees an opening for furniture retailers and sleep shops to introduce more consumers to higher-end pillows.

“It’s about changing mindsets and training retail sales associates, showing them how they can move to $139 to $179 price points,” Rachid says. So, instead of the $99 figure some sleep specialists see as a top price point, a realistic high end could be $249 in the future, he says.    

“I think price points will go up and the consumer will pay virtually unlimited dollars for the perfect pillow,” he says. “People are passionate about finding the right pillow because it really makes a difference. If you get the wrong pillow — even if the mattress is right — you’re tossing and turning all night.”

Creating Sleep Addict(s)

Waterford, New York-based Soft-Tex International, a sleep products manufacturer that does the bulk of its accessories business with big-box retailers, is introducing a premium line of sleep accessories aimed at furniture stores and sleep specialists at the winter Las Vegas show. The new Sleep Addict brand augments the company’s Dream Smart line, which targets those same retailers, but with higher price points. Sleep Addict pillows will run from $49 to $199, with most in the $79 to $149 range, says Jeff Chilton, chief executive officer.

“The idea behind Sleep Addict is to offer a better sleep product experience that’s more luxurious and customizable,” he says. “We’re creating a variety of offerings designed to give consumers a lot of options that fit their needs — and their wants.”

Soft-Tex Sleep Addict pillow
At the Winter Las Vegas Market, Soft-Tex International is introducing Sleep Addict, a line of pillows and other accessories aimed at furniture stores and mattress specialists. Sleep Addict will be priced slightly higher than the company’s successful Dream Smart line.

Sleep Addict pillows will feature latex clusters, gel-embedded memory foam, molded foam and specialty fibers, often in hybrid constructions. A Soft-Tex foam-and-fiber fill blend called Elevation now adapted for some Dream Smart pillows also will be used in the Sleep Addict introduction. “It’s a very pliable, moldable composition that has almost a gooey feel,” Chilton says. “When you put your head on it, you get the support but also the softness that is the Holy Grail in pillow design.” Sleep Addict pillow coverings, a mix of knit and woven designs, will incorporate luxury cottons and plush fibers like Tencel.

“Sleep Addict is built around wellness, to be highly sensory and therapeutic,” Chilton says. To those ends, various models will include cooling features, infusions of aromatherapy essential oils and ingredients like charcoal, silver and copper.

Packaging, which is designed to evoke the idea of a gift box, will help elevate the image of the products in-store. “We built it around the idea of ‘gift with purchase,’ ” Chilton says. “The packaging is really pretty, so it feels like the customer is getting something special.”

“Quality and value”

While some pillow makers are pushing price points higher, PureCare, already a maker of several lines of premium pillows, is unveiling in Las Vegas a five-model collection of Fabrictech-branded pillows that “focus on quality and value” for the customer who is not as obsessed with the health and wellness benefits of the company’s higher-end products, Bergman says.

PureCare Fabrictech pillow
In Las Vegas, PureCare is unveiling a new Fabrictech line of pillows, including a reversible model with its Identically Down alternative in individual pockets on one side and unbaffled Identically Down on the other side.

The new Fabrictech pillows, which harken back to the original name of the company, will retail from $30 to $70. Among the collection is a cooling “memory fiber” model with a 100% cotton cover that’s filled with spiral-shaped polyester designed to mimic the responsiveness of memory foam. The company also created a new version of its popular reversible SoftCell pillow, which is available in hybrid and customizable versions in other PureCare lines. The Fabrictech model is a reversible pillow featuring the company’s Identically Down alternative in individual pockets on one side and unbaffled Identically Down on the other side for two feels.

Rounding out the group are three foam pillows — a version filled with memory foam puffs for a contouring feel and covered in a soft, moisture-wicking fabric made with bamboo rayon fibers; a model with a temperature-neutral solid memory foam core for responsive support and a cool-to-the-touch cover; and a U-shaped sculpted version filled with memory foam puffs and covered in a breathable mesh fabric. 

“We’re trying to hit these very special price points, but want to stress the quality of the product we’re offering our customers. Quality means everything in terms of your equity as a brand,” Bergman says. “Our customers need a place to go for a value accessories program for their consumers who aren’t in the market for a $100 pillow. We think these are going to be fast movers.”

In building on the market for specially shaped pillows with specific uses, PureCare also is adding a body pillow to its SUB-0° collection. The pillow features a fill of cooling gel memory foam puffs and a cover made with the company’s FRÍO rapid-chill cooling fibers and Tencel for plushness. It comes not only with a zippered washable cover but also an enveloping pillowcase to give it a neat and tidy look, both in use and when the bed is made. It retails for $69.

A pillow with a higher purpose

Malouf, a sleep accessories producer headquartered in Logan, Utah, offers nearly 50 pillows in a broad array of constructions that hit an equally wide range of price points.

“For most retailers, it’s nice to offer $29, $49, $79, $99 so customers don’t come in and see $99 as a base price and think, ‘Well, I saw a $5 pillow at Walmart.’ Retailers don’t have to push the $29 pillow but they have to have options to offer consumers, not just pillows at $100 and $200,” says Mike Douglas, vice president of sales.

Current strong sellers for Malouf include those with both shredded and solid latex cores, plus ergonomic pillows with zoning or cutouts to improve body alignment during sleep.

Malouf shoulder collection pillows
Malouf makes nearly 50 pillows and among the most popular are ergonomic versions with zoning or cutouts, like the shoulder cutout shown here, that help improve body positioning during sleep.

The company also has had success with aromatherapy pillows made with its ActiveDough proprietary foam, which Malouf says provides the “quick-response feel and superior support of latex, plus the just-right cushion and contouring relief of memory foam.” They are available infused with three scents — chamomile, lavender and peppermint ($99).

Because people tend to go “nose blind,” meaning they get used to certain scents over time, each scented pillow comes with an oil spritzer that consumers can use to refresh the fragrance. “We recommend spraying the pillow once a month with just one spritz at a time,” Douglas says

Douglas notes that Malouf recently convinced a long-skeptical retailer to try one of the scented pillows, which quickly became the strongest seller in its stores. “Now they’re taking the entire line,” he says.

Malouf’s newest pillow is the TripleLayer Down Pillow. Its outer layer is made of 90% down and 10% feathers for softness and its inner layer is the opposite — 90% feathers and 10% down — for support.

“A lot of people love down and swear by it, but some people who love the feel of a down pillow choose not to buy one because after a few hours, the pillow goes flat and surrounds their face,” says Jake Neeley, communications director. “This gives you that moldable, soft feel with added support.”

The pillow has other nice features, Neeley says. The process used to wash the feathers and down eliminates dust and allergens. And, to keep with the natural theme, the pillow has a 100% unbleached cotton cover, plus a packaging bag made of the same cotton and a nifty wood button closure. It retails for $99, with $5 of every purchase going to the Malouf Foundation’s efforts to rescue and care for survivors of child sex trafficking.

“I thought it would be a niche product, with maybe 10% to 15% of our retailers picking it up, but we’ve had 40% adoption already and are doing well on reorders,” Douglas says.

Pillows made in partnership

Danican 3DFlo Flex pillow
Advancing the idea of shredded memory foam or latex, Danican is cutting the components into X shapes. The tidy pieces work well in customizable pillows and improve airflow.

Danican is able to make pillows in virtually any construction and at any price point as it works in partnership with retailers and mattress manufacturers to make private-label lines of sleep accessories.

Memory foam, whether molded or shredded, remains a popular option among Danican’s customers and their consumers, says Jonathan Weingarten, sales manager for the sleep products maker, which has headquarters in Atascadero, California. Danican’s latest take on shredded memory foam and latex is to laser cut them into X shapes. “It’s clean and organized, so it’s perfect if you’re going to do a customizable pillow where consumers can remove some of the fill and it creates good airflow for cooling,” he says.

Danican also is making hybrid pillows, for instance, a solid or laser-cut memory foam core surrounded by a cover padded with duck feathers or goose down. “It has a really nice feel that’s not typical, getting the support effects of the memory foam and then the comfort level of the duck feathers or goose down. So, it makes a nice higher end for a good-better-best program,” Weingarten says. Such a pillow would retail for about $99, he says.

And Danican can add features such as cooling or aromatherapy to a variety of constructions, Weingarten says.

“Our whole goal is getting into a conversation with the client to see what they’re looking for in terms of price points and the number of pieces they want to do,” he says. “And, of course, we’re always coming up with new ideas and products on our own to show them for inspiration.”