As the demand for organic sleep products continues to grow, category experts worry about an uptick of brands mis-using the term—and the risks that mislabeling may pose to consumer health and trust. More than a market trend, true organic products offer safe sleep for consumers—many of whom experience chemical allergies and sensitivities, which is part of why diligence in accurate labeling continues to be an essential concern. But no matter their reasons for buying, all consumers deserve to know what really goes into the products they purchase and use.
The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted many to focus on health and wellness more than ever before—and that includes examining what is inside their sleep surface. As a result, the number of shoppers looking to sleep on organic products has risen. While the pandemic has certainly accelerated the interest in sustainable sleep, the trend has been growing exponentially for years. Across the board, consumers have become more aware of how organic products may contribute meaningfully to their health and to the health of the planet. At the same time, the price difference between organic and conventional products has also decreased over the years— eliminating what was once a key barrier to consumers purchasing organic.
As such, more and more manufacturers are looking to capitalize on this demand and capture some of the growing market share. But unfortunately, as interest in organic continues to expand and manufacturers seek to make the category more approachable, diligence in proper labeling and thorough certification has waned.
“The fact is that use of the term organic is regulated, and to label a mattress ‘organic’ it must earn that status,” explained Jeff Bader, CEO of OMI. “Organic manufacturers are awarded a certificate annually, after a comprehensive audit. Substituting some natural and organic materials for conventional components does not in and of itself make a product organic.”
The average consumer may struggle to fully understand what exactly category buzzwords mean: what’s the difference between organic and natural? What does it mean for something to be sustainable or green? The confusion is compounded when these terms are used interchangeably. The inaccessibility of labeling practices and lack of consistency in the use of terms can at best confuse the consumer—and at worst foster mistrust and pose health risks.
“Over the past two decades, I’ve seen the term ‘organic’ used disingenuously and watched regulating agencies water down what was once the gold standard, especially in mattresses,” said Angela Owen, owner of Suite Sleep. “A decade ago, a certification frenzy ensued on our industry and it seemed like every agency wanted a piece of the mattress industry pie—GOTS, GOLS, GreenGuard, CertiPUR, EcoCert, OekoTex, just to name a few. Instead of clarity, we ended up with more confusion, misinformation, and abuse as it relates to sustainability. Savvy marketers seized on the opportunity to use this new tactic, further deepening the mistrust in our industry.”
But this issue goes beyond a marketing or branding problem. Mislabeled products ultimately betray the original organic consumer. While organic products offer a positive choice households can make for both their families and the environment, many consumers need to know exactly what is inside their mattress and sheets for health reasons.
“Proper identification of organic sleep products is critically important for consumers seeking and organic sleep environment,” Bader explained. “Many of our customers suffer from chemical sensitivities, allergies and more, or are recovering from serious illness. The organic seal and moniker for our customers, and for any consumer seeking out organic, is very meaningful. We urge diligence in the proper use of the organic label.”
So what exactly does organic mean? According to the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, in order for a product to be marketed as ‘organic,’ at least 95% of the materials used in that product must be certified organic and cannot be processed with potentially harmful chemicals. Alternatively, a product that is marketed as ‘natural’ does not have to be backed by any certifications—though many of them do include a number of organic components. This discrepancy is important for numerous reasons, but first and foremost it is important because consumers deserve to know what is actually in the products they use.
Barry Cik, founder and technical director of Naturepedic, an organic brand that offers a robust portfolio of mattresses made for babies and toddlers explained, “We are fighting to disrupt the industry from the top down, but we also want parents to not only have access to trustworthy information to assess what’s at risk, why it’s important and what chemicals to be aware of, but to understand that they have power in this, too. We want parents to be better equipped with how to create safe, optimal conditions for their child that, by effect, can lower internal toxicity levels and may prevent their risk of disease.”
It all comes down to gaining consumer trust and having respect for the welfare of consumers both young and old.
“In the end, the most important thing in the sustainability conversation is trust,” Owens continued. “Consumers look for brands with authenticity and transparency when choosing to whom they are going to give their hard-earned dollars. They look at the people behind the product. Who are they? What do they really stand for? How are they giving back? People make product, not private equity firms, not marketing agencies. Seeing the people behind the product helps consumers make better choices for their families.”