For a number of reasons, Wood said, the majority of bed-in-a-box designs are 100% foam only. There is often one mattress construction per brand, so the feel of mattress has to be high quality and universally appealing. Vita, as an example, has developed a number of foams, including the ReVo brand. Wood said this 'crosses all of these comfort requirements: highly resilient (spring-like), highly breathable (for a cool sleep), with excellent durability characteristics.'
The demands from the bed-in-a-box market for universally appealing comfort has driven their mattress designers, and their foam suppliers to innovate. This is happening faster than the traditional market has needed. Altering construction materials and methods traditionally gives different mattress properties.
Sustainability – or recyclability?
Sustainable raw materials have yet to make much of an impact in the mattress market. ‘We see very little consumer interest,’ Dow’s Penrice said. ‘Even if you have a polyol from a renewable source, you still have an isocyanate from hydrocarbon. Where I see a lot more interest is recycling. This is particularly true in Europe where the 2020 EU directive will reduce the ability of consumers to dispose of mattresses in landfill.’
Dow is working with German manufacturer H&S Anlagentechnik to recycle post-consumer mattress foam into polyols. New polyurethanes can be made from these. ‘There is still a lot to be done, but we think that’s the biggest sustainability question, rather than just where does the polyol come from,’ Penrice said.
A foam-only bed-in-a-box mattress is significantly easier to deconstruct at the end of its life than more traditional mattresses.
Vita's Wood said: ‘As is the case with any recovered material, any hygiene risk has to be removed prior to that material being reprocessed into another product. At Vita, the R&D of techniques for reprocessing foams derived from post-consumer sources is a priority.’
He adds that the company has several foams in its portfolio containing material from more sustainable sources. ‘Origin is a well-established brand used in a number of products throughout Europe. I think we would be surprised if the appeal of and demand for these products didn’t increase,’ he said.
Eve is open to more sustainable materials, Lobkowicz said. ‘But with consumers, it’s always a tricky story,’ he believes. ‘Do you want to say this is more sustainable than other foams, or do you want to focus on the fact that it is the best possible product for their back, for durability, for sleep climate? It’s a balance.’
Purple does everything it can to be sustainable while maintaining product quality, Whatcott said. ‘We try to make sure we are conscious of what our impact is,’ he said. ‘With the naturally sourced materials, we want to make sure they don’t kill the rebound and the foam remains functional. At one point there was an upsurge in soy-based foams, but the soy content was so low then it almost didn’t seem to matter. We don’t want to do something out of a fad, we want to participate in things that make a difference.’
Sustainable materials are more important in Europe than the US, according to Latexco’s Limer. ‘A sustainability story is a differentiator, but that will only help with a percentage of the market,’ he said. ‘We aim for zero landfill, and try to recycle all scrap waste into different products. We have a division in Europe that recycles our waste and scrap but that from other manufacturers, into products.’
Back to the future
It is impossible to try a bed-in-a-box bought before purchase online, so the makers have to explain the product on a web page. ‘One of the stories the mattress companies can tell is the technology. They come to us and ask for an explanation of how the technology works,’ Penrice said. ‘It is definitely changing things on the material science front.’
Eve’s Lobkowicz believes that trial and return is a pretty good solution for both the business and the consumer. ‘Only a small proportion of people send it back. I think having the product at home and sleeping on it is better than just lying on it in a shop,’ he said. ‘We are a direct-to-consumer business, so the concept makes sense. If you have a lot of stores it is less important, but I think the experience works for the customer.’
Feedback from customers who return bed-in-a-box mattresses is used by Eve to help optimise the product. Some returns are sold as refurbished products at a reduced price. ‘Some of these products will have only been with the customer for a night or two, and you’re giving it a new life and get some of the costs back,’ he said. ‘It’s a win–win.’
Purple’s Whatcott agrees that there is some risk from returns. It has recently started introducing mattresses into Mattress Firm stores in the US, so people can try them out in person.
And what of the future? Geeraert thinks that we may see more intelligent mattresses in coming years. Monitoring heart rate or moisture might be possible. It may be possible to automatically tailor hardness and ventilation for better comfort. ‘You could make your mattress more intelligent. If it decides there is too much moisture, it can put some ventilation in,’ he said.
‘That, in my opinion, is in the future in the bedding world – the integration of some types of electronics in the mattress. The mattress could respond in an intelligent way to the environment or to the person sleeping on it. But I don’t see a replacement for foam in the very near future – we will still be sleeping on foam.’