The Indian mattress industry has a long and interesting history that is driven largely by changing consumer needs and technological advancements. In India, mattresses have been in use for centuries, with early mattresses being made from natural materials such as cotton, wool, and reed. However, with the advent of new technologies and modern materials, the mattress industry in India has undergone significant changes in recent years. Currently, the mattress industry is worth Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 13,000 crore, if we go by a Research and Markets report.
The numbers look impressive, especially, with the organized sector commanding a 40 percent share. But the big question is how did this industry start in India? We keep getting inputs on the current trends of the mattress industry but its journey in the past is less discussed. Today, the Indian mattress industry is highly competitive, with both domestic and international players competing for market share. The industry has also undergone significant technological advancements, with the introduction of smart mattresses and other innovative features. While we discuss this industry’s growth and future, it would be good to reminisce about the past events that have occurred in the Indian mattress industry. We are quite intrigued to explore the evolution of the Indian mattress industry and the challenges the market players have faced in every phase.
Today, the biggest concern for the market players in this industry is the ongoing dominance of unorganized market players who are taking advantage of a price-sensitive market like India. If we go back in time, the concerns of manufacturers were different. The primary concern is, getting people to sleep on a surface. The demand for mattresses began in the 1950s and 1960s. This period laid the foundation of the Indian mattress industry. It would be good to discuss each phase that acted as a stepping stone to the current state of the Indian mattress industry.
1950s to 1960s: The time when it all started with cotton and coir mattresses
As mentioned earlier, before 1950, people were not used to the idea of sleeping on any surface. A majority of them slept on floors, rolling mats or handmade quilts. The privileged ones got charpoys, which was rectangular frame that was strung with light ropes.
In the 1950s and 1960s, people were introduced to the idea of mattresses. During this period, the Indian mattress industry was largely characterized by the use of natural materials such as cotton, wool, and reed. Mattresses were handmade by small-scale manufacturers and were often sold by local carpenters or upholsterers.
However, owing to the low levels of urbanization and consumption in the country, the demand for mattresses during this period was relatively low. Most households used traditional bedding such as cotton quilts or charpoys, which were cheaper and more readily available. First, cotton mattresses came into existence, however, the surface of cotton mattresses was uneven. So, mattress manufacturers noted the limitations of cotton mattresses and then rubberised coir mattresses were introduced. “Cotton mattresses were not water resistant and did not offer a uniform level to the sleepers, then rubberized coir mattresses came in which was initially not accepted well by people but then slowly consumers started trying our coir mattresses. Rubberized mattresses gained popularity as they had a hard surface and provided a uniform level, says N K Mehta, Managing Director at Relaxspring.
Early mattresses were made from natural materials like cotton and wool, but the industry has evolved with new technologies and modern materials.
As the Indian economy got into the phase of industrialization and urbanization in the 1960s, the demand for modern beds and mattresses increased. This led to the emergence of a few small-scale mattress manufacturers, who supplied mattresses primarily to the urban middle class. Popular brands like Duroflex and Kurlon came into existence in the 60s.
These early manufacturers produced cotton and coir mattresses, which were affordable and durable. “When we started our factory in 1960, there was no idea about rubberized coir mattresses in India. Our factory was the first in entire Southeast Asia. Till then, coir was used as a padding material for buses. This padding material had only coir without rubber. We started our first factory in Tirunelveli that produced rubberized coir”.
These coir mattresses were primarily sold through small retail outlets and distributors, and there was limited marketing or advertising around mattresses during this period. “Earlier, we had to struggle a lot, in terms of, marketing our products. People could see only the coir product and the rubber was invisible. Customers mostly complained about, why they should pay only for coir products. We used to share a lot of samples to just market the product and up to 1970, our struggle continued,” explained R Raghuraman on the numerous challenges they had faced during their journey to introduce coir mattress products in India.
Coir came as an alternative to cotton, pig’s hair and horse’s hair and was primarily used to fill the mattresses during this period. Cotton mattresses had their own limitations as they could not provide a uniform surface. Pig’s and horse’s hair could not cater to the demand and supply dynamics of the mattress industry. When manufacturers started exploring other alternatives, they decided on coir as the next best alternative.
After a lot of research, coir was made out of dried coconut. Dried coconut comprises long fibre, short fibre and dust. While 30 percent of the dried coconut consists of long fibre, others are short fibre and dust. The experiment was done by twisting that long fibre into a coil and then this coil was kept aside for 40 to 60 days. During this period, moisture gets dried up and on untwisting that, loose fibre is obtained, which is called the vegetable spring. The resilience of the coil is stored in the innerspring. The fibre was then spread on a machine and natural latex rubber was sprayed on it, after which, it was pressed in a steam press of 120 degrees for 20 minutes and then taken out. Layers of rubberized coir are then taken out and then it is vulcanized for one or one and a half hours in a big vulcanization chamber. Once it is taken out, it is allowed to cool down and then its edges are cut down to give it a desired shape. The coir fibre is pricky and to avoid that, a cloth is put on it and then a quilted foam is put on that to make it user-friendly. This is the first evolution that happened in the Indian mattress industry.
“In 1960, the majority of people slept on floors. Only 2 percent of the total population used mattresses and slowly people turned to mattresses. Back then, coir was primarily used and coir was also given protection by the Government of India,” says S Sundaresan, Secretary at the Indian Sleep Product Federation (ISPF).
1970s: Polyurethane (PU) foam made an entry to the Indian mattress market
When rubberized coir had established its presence in the Indian market, PU foam made an entry into India. However, PU was imported from Germany, unlike rubberized coir which was manufactured indigenously. PU attracted attention for its technology, comfort and support and it had emerged as a good alternative. As people started importing PU mattresses, they were levied import duties and other taxes. Comparatively, Coir was taxed very low because that was a common man’s product. “During this period, 80 percent of the mattresses were rubberized coir and only 20 percent was PU foam,” says Sundaresan.
1980s and 1990s: Emergence of modern mattress industry
The modern mattress industry in India began in the 1980s, with the emergence of a few small-scale mattress manufacturers. These manufacturers primarily produced cotton and coir mattresses, which were popular at the time. In 1993, Sleepwell launched its first PU Foam mattress.
Meanwhile, as the Indian economy began to liberalize in the 1990s, foreign players entered the market, bringing with them new technologies and materials.
2000s: Entry of several new players with modern materials
In the 2000s, the Indian mattress industry saw significant growth, with the entry of several new players and the introduction of modern materials such as memory foam and latex. Now, the Indian mattress industry has various types of mattresses, namely, PU foam, rubberized coir, spring mattresses, air beds, and water beds. This period also saw the growth of speciality mattress segments, such as orthopaedic and luxury mattresses.
A demographic difference was witnessed during this stage, wherein, the rural market demanded more of cotton and coir mattresses, whereas, the high-income groups looked forward to buying spring and memory foam mattresses.
2020s: Growth of organized mattress market
Post 2020, the Indian mattress industry has been doing well. With the pandemic acting as a catalyst, people started realizing the importance of good sleep to benefit their health. The major growth drivers in the mattress industry at the current stage would be an increase in the disposable income of consumers, innovative products and effective sales and marketing strategies.
The growth of D2C brands, increasing omnichannel presence of established brands, innovative sales and marketing campaigns, increased focus on Research and Development (R&D), emphasis on training of sales personnel at offline stores and focused approach towards eco-friendly and sustainable measures are some of the reasons that are pushing the Indian mattress industry to the growth path.
Where does the industry stand now?
The Indian mattress industry has been ever-evolving. In the past, this industry was far behind its peers in the West. However, the industry players kept trying their best to deliver a better form of mattress by learning from their mistakes in the past. “With time, the mattress industry realized the shortcomings in each product and then they came up with new products to address the limitations of previously manufactured sleep products or mattresses. This way, they also utilized the wastage to create new products. For instance, the waste coming out of PU mattresses would get chemically treated to make bonded mattresses. This is how bonded mattresses came in,” explains Mr N K Mehta, Managing Director, of Relaxspring.
With changing times, the demand and market share of different types of mattresses have also changed. “In the 1960s and 1970s, 80 percent of the market share was commanded by rubberized coir and only 20 percent market share was commanded by PU foam. Then after 2000, the market share of PU foam was 30 to 35 percent and coir stood at 65 percent. After 2020, the coir’s market share has come down to 20 percent now and PU foam is standing at 50 to 55 percent,” figured out Sundaresan of ISPF.
As the mattress industry evolves further, we will witness an ingress of new technologies like 3D and 5D mattress technology, breathable memory foam, hybrid mattresses, natural latex and many more. Key market players and new-age D2C brands are already focusing on leveraging the Internet and e-commerce to offer seamless experiences to their customers. Despite so many innovations and developments in the past, there is still room for more innovative products to come to the Indian mattress market. We are quite intrigued to watch out for more developments in this industry.