Natural fibres should be recognised as a consumer need, say experts

Tuesday, Feb 3, 2015,20:11 IST By metrovaartha A A A

Alappuzha | Promoters of coir and other plant fibres are being urged to Centre their marketing strategies to the fact that these natural materials constitute a consumer ‘need’ not just a ‘want’ because they are the only alternatives to the widespread, environment-damaging synthetic materials.
Experts speaking at the international seminars along the sidelines of the Coir Kerala 2015 trade expo focused on how to create a global demand-supply chain for natural fibres; how to create international brands for agro-commodities like coir and how to integrate plant fibres to create value-added products.
The core theme of the series of international and national seminars being held over three days from February 2-4 at Coir Kerala is ‘challenges and opportunities in integrating coir and other natural fibres’. Ms Ama Agyewa Agyei, the Executive Chairman of Coco Dourado Company in Ghana and a coir sector entrepreneur, spoke on how to create a sustainable global demand for coconut fibre and other products.
She said businesses must position themselves strategically in each industry, for instance in agriculture, health, cosmetics or construction and pitch their product as an essential commodity to create demand.
Ms Agyei cited many uses of coir and derived products that consumers globally are not aware of.  In Ghana, for example, burnt coir is used as a mosquito repellent and coco peat as a substitute for soil has been found to speed up the plant growth. She said coir ply can be a replacement for timber to reduce deforestation; coir logs used to stablise receding shorelines and rooftop gardens created out of coir mats can help insulate homes in hot, tropical regions.
‘Use these needs as campaign strategy to increase global demand and create a domino effect of demand-supply that will draw more and more people to coir,’ she said. Mr John Nicholas Hahn, the Managing Director, Hahn International, and a global expert on commodity branding and marketing, spoke on the need of branding agro ingredients used in products, a strategy that has been very effectively used in countries like the US for products like cotton, meat, milk, bananas and even almonds and cranberries.
‘When components are branded, it tells the consumers they are buying a quality product,’ he said. ‘If you walk into a supermarket in the US, nearly 90% of the floormats are made of coir, but you don’t see any brand on them; so it does not get identified as a quality product that comes from a particular region,’ he said.
‘Kerala produces some of the world’s best coconut and extracts products including oil, milk and coir from it. A branding programme that stands out in the minds of both consumers and industrial users will make Kerala the preferred source of coconut fibres worldwide,’ he added.
Mr Hahn cited the example of the silver fern leaf national logo of New Zealand, which is used in every product exported by the country, from milk and wool to apples and even in their national airlines and by the All Blacks ruby team to illustrate how an entire nation can be branded to stand for high quality.
‘Kerala is a small state, it has the administrative infrastructure in place and it produces quality products. You have to educate people about this ‘miracle fibre’. Develop a modern dynamic kind of logo, put R&D behind that logo and develop a tagline that connects with the consumers,’ he suggested.
‘When you have an established trademark, retailers all over the world want to use it, so they can tell consumers that the product has a high-quality ingredient.’ Prof. Carlo Santulli, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Design, University of Camerino, Italy, delivered a talk on engineering eco-friendly plant composites as replacements for synthetic materials.  He pointed out that coir is only one of the number of plant fibres around the world that engineers are experimenting with; these include jute, hemp, flax, cotton, sisal, abaca, banana, roselle and palm.
‘It is important to be aware of the larger picture not only to know the competitors, but to know what are the fibres you can interact with to create composites,’ he said. Plant fibres, for example, can be mixed with bioplastics to make materials with new properties. Prof Santulli noted that composite materials are a very effective way of reducing waste. ‘We have put waste office paper into a jute composite and it actually improved the properties of the material.
In the US they are doing this with chicken feathers and even non-marketable wool,’ he added.  ‘Also we can extract nanocellulose from waste and put it to a number of uses such as making packaging material. So waste instead of being sent to landfill or incineration could be given some value.’