• Covid, Sustainability und expanded online business as source of revenue
  • Idea of the circular economy guides product design
  • Supply chain transparency established for the consumer

3rd industry survey of the Association of the German Down and Feather Industry (VDFI)

The last few years have been characterized by a variety of crises for the German economy: Covid-19 with lockdowns and disrupted supply chains, war in Ukraine, exploding energy costs, rising inflation coupled with falling consumer confidence and, last but not least, the escalation of the Middle East conflict following the major attack on Israel by the terrorist organization Hamas have left their mark.

Industrial production in Germany fell for the fourth time in September 2023 and, with a drop of 1.4% compared to the previous month, shrank much more significantly than forecast. In the meantime, the trend towards migration is no longer stopping at SMEs - companies are urgently calling for relief in terms of energy prices, a reduction in bureaucracy and business support for investments.

The survey conducted by the German Down and Feather Association VDFI at the end of the year on the economic situation in the bedding and feather industry over the past five years paints a heterogeneous picture.

Sales factors
The majority of participants agreed on the positive assessment of sales development since 2018 - whether down & feathers, man-made fibers, natural fibers or fine hair. Various trends and factors took center stage as boosters for industry growth. In particular, the coronavirus crisis has not only turned home trends on their head, but has also given the industry increasing sales in times when celebrating and traveling have become foreign words through cocooning and hygge, which went hand in hand with a growing appreciation of the home, where people wanted to feel safe and secure. The trend topic of sleep and the shift towards increased health awareness, sustainability and a move towards environmentally friendly materials triggered sales growth alongside the growing individualization of products. Further positive impetus for many association members resulted from the expansion of online sales channels, while for some it was also the energy crisis that fueled the purchase of warm winter beds with reduced heating. Condensed into a ranking, coronavirus, sustainability and online retail took the top spots as sales drivers.
had a particularly inhibiting effect. And the loss of Ukraine as a procurement market for down and feathers tore a larger hole in the supply chain in some cases.

When asked about new trends and developments in bedding - materials, design or technologies - the industry had to pass for the time being. The preference for natural materials, especially when in contact with the skin, is still very popular with consumers, with down & feathers and natural fibers often outperforming petroleum derivatives. New gadgets such as sleep trackers etc. do not yet play a central role among the mostly somewhat older clientele.

Supplier countries
The top supplier countries for loose down and feathers continue to be China, Poland, France, Hungary, Taiwan and Ukraine. China once again leads the field for ready-made bedding products, followed by the USA, Germany, Taiwan and Poland.

The industry's commitment to sustainability
With consumers' shift towards natural materials and sustainability proving to be a sales driver, the VDFI asked about the activities that companies have already undertaken or are planning to undertake to become more sustainable. Two thirds of the survey participants stated that the idea of the circular economy already determines their product design today. The measures already established by all participating association members included the use of sustainable materials - be it fibres or recycled down, the reduction of chemicals, the minimization of packaging and certification in accordance with international sustainability and environmental protection standards. In terms of standards, OEKO-TEX 100 was particularly important, followed by the DOWNPASS animal welfare and quality standard and OEKO-TEX STeP. The companies were also able to impress consumers with their commitment to supply chain transparency. Improvements in the area of energy efficiency are a priority and have been implemented by two thirds of the member companies. The commitment to recycling and upcycling is still uncharted territory in some cases and is on the agenda for the future.

Distribution channels
The importance of stationary retail has decreased significantly over the last five years. Wholesale was also considered less relevant by many companies, while the furniture trade was able to maintain its position. Teleshopping and B2B were also able to hold their own - in some cases even with growth - as were mail order companies. The evaluation of the licensed or private label business, the importance of own brand boutiques and factory outlets was very heterogeneous. The clear winners in terms of distribution channels were online marketplaces and the association members' own online stores, which continue to grow in importance.

Forecasts & innovation outlook
The participants were discreet when it came to forecasts: stagnation, unchanged industry prospects under difficult political and economic conditions - that was the general tenor. The shortage of skilled workers is not currently a threat. Hardly any innovations are expected on the product side, but the situation is different in terms of technology on the production side and sales concepts for shortening the value chain.

Even if "consistent" does not seem very sexy, this future forecast paints a reliable picture of a crisis-resistant, stable industry. However, the threat of changing international political and economic conditions remains omnipresent in an industry as globally active as the bed feather and bedding industry. Even if the companies themselves are not among the most energy-intensive branches of industry, the energy input in the production process with washing and drying processes should not be underestimated. SMEs are the backbone of the German economy - let's hope that the bottom line remains positive after another five years in 2028.

Mainz (Germany), November 2023