he kitchen linens market remains dominated by price with quality a low priority for many customers. It’s a trend that, regrettably, has been evident for several years and in the short term is unlikely to change.

Textile companies continue to sell them and even to offer a choiceof cloth types but the category is generally seen as high

volume but consisting of lines that are almost a commodity.

The reason for this is that the products are greatly misused by kitchen staff. If they need a cloth to mop up a spill, or wipe down a surface, or even mop up a flood on the floor then they reach for the nearest be it a waiter’s cloth, a glass cloth or oven cloth.

Everything is treated as general purpose. Staff need to be educated in how to use each type of cloth but while some laundries do seem to be trying to do this, it’s a slow process.

Essential line

However, as Andy Jamshidzadeh at importer and wholesaler, DG Textiles points out, kitchen linens still remain essential items. He says that any textile rental laundry that deals with hotels or restaurants must have supplies of kitchen linens.

He explains that If kitchen cloths are not available the staff will use napkins or even table cloths, which by implication, would be more costly for the laundry.

Other suppliers take a similar view. Gary Lomas at Sherry Textiles says that the market is much the same as last year. The quality aspect has gone, the items are virtually throw-away due to misuse by staff. He has seen cloths before they go back to the laundry and describes the condition as “disgraceful” and he feels that laundries must suffer high degrees of wastage on these items.

Extra charge

At Tonrose, sales director Chris Kingsford has noticed that launderers are getting better at demanding an “abuse charge” where the culprit can be identified but this change is a very slow one and he says the problem will never go away.

Lomas believes one answer might be to introduce a low quality, multi-purpose cloth that could be produced and sold even more cheaply than at present – but would the customer use it to an extent that better quality products would be kept for their purpose? He clearly has doubts.

Richard Yates, national account manager, for Linen Connect  agrees that the emphasis has moved from quality to price. The majority of customers add a bale of kitchen cloths of various types when they order bed or table linen to avoid the carriage costs these cloths would incur if they were ordered separately.

Cotton prices

However, Yates does says that in spite of the perceived commodity nature, the prices have had to increase this year as the price of cotton has risen. Linen Connect’s range is 100% cotton. As yet, says Yates, that has not affected sales but if the cotton price increases continue then a decline is inevitable as the customers are not getting the return they expect.

Tonrose’s Chris Kingsford also believes that the market will continue to be price-led for the forseeable future.

Customers used to request name woven products but only a few ask for these now. He believes that abuse levels are so high that kitchen linens are almost totally seen as commodity items. Suppliers are looking at ways of getting a better price, such as reducing the size of a cloth, but as yet he feels that such measures haven’t had much success.

Nevertheless, his company, like other suppliers, continues to offer a range of products in this category – it includes a kitchen cloth, waiter’s cloth and two weights of oven cloth: standard and heavy-weight for extreme heat conditions.

A more optimistic view of the market, is taken by UTC, perhaps not unnaturally as the company claims to be market leader in supplying kitchen linen items to the textile rental industry.

Managing director, Tony Filer says that in the financial year to May 2010, the company sold around 5million pieces, which represents an increase of around 20% on the previous year.

This may be surprising, he admits, but he attributes the increase to the company’s focus on supplying quality products, a large variety of designs, sensible prices and high support stocks.

The company also claims particular expertise in anti-fungal, anti-bacterial products and hopes to introduce further developments later in the year.

No ironing required

A recent innovative addition to the company’s range may also have helped sales to textile rental companies.

UTC can now supply checked, terry, non-iron cloths and this has added another dimension to its range.  A substantial number of plants do not have ironers so cannot offer a kitchen cloths’ service correctly. Now they can improve the presentation, says Filer.

He admits that some end-user customers will have a “use and abuse” attitude to kitchen linen products but while you may never get rid of this entirely there are ways to reduce it.

The first is to make sure that the customer is sold the right product for the job. UTC has a product that is 90% coloured and therefore will not show the dirt so it is suitable for environments such as canteens where it may get heavily soiled.

Design can also help. He realised that in a high-speed production line, laundry staff might confuse oven cloths and tea towels as both had thin blue lines at the edge and could sending out the wrong type of cloth as a result.

Filer changed the design of the oven cloth so that its line went down the middle of the cloth and the product could be more easily distinguished.