Waitrose said farmers were struggling to find buyers for their wool, with the price paid often not even covering shearing costs, leading to the material sometimes being burned or buried. The tough market conditions have been made worse by the pausing of exports to China, a key buyer, during the pandemic.
The retailer said the tie-up with its sister chain would prevent this waste and hopefully stimulate interest in wool products. The own-brand John Lewis mattresses, which go into shops this week, start at £600, while the “luxury” version made by the bed manufacturer Hypnos costs upwards of £900.
Jake Pickering, Waitrose’s senior agriculture manager, said the employee-owned group was in the fortunate position of running both supermarkets and department store, so it could prevent “quality wool being wasted”. Wool had “declined in value so dramatically that British farmers are now in some cases having to dump it”, he said.
Patrick Loxdale, whose farm in Aberystwyth supplies Waitrose and is now being used to make mattresses, said he hoped the move would stimulate interest in British wool. “The wool market has been tough for a long time and now, with exports to China halted because of the pandemic, it’s even tougher,” he said.
Duvets, pillows and mattresses made out of wool have become a fashionable alternative to mainstream synthetic ones, with specialist brands such as Woolroom gaining ground in the market. Chris Tattersall, Woolroom’s managing director, said wool helped with getting a good night’s sleep because it absorbs heat and moisture. It is also biodegradable.
British Wool, the cooperative owned by 35,000 sheep farmers that was formerly known as the British Wool Marketing Board, said that in the past year it had heard of isolated incidents of wool being dumped or destroyed.
“But our feedback from across the UK suggests that producers understand the unprecedented situation the sector found itself in as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” a spokesperson said. “With markets recovering, British Wool is now gathering this year’s wool clip and has already received over 800 tonnes of wool this season from producers that chose not to send it in last year due to low prices.”