The race to sell New Zealand wool carpets to affluent Americans stepped up a notch yesterday, with the unveiling of Wool Partners International's (WPI) version of a clean, green wool brand.

Laneve will promise United States customers a pure New Zealand wool carpet that has been produced to specific standards of farming practice, animal welfare, sustainability and traceability.

It follows hard on the heels of rival Elders Primary Wool's Just Shorn brand, revealed at the National Agricultural Fieldays in Hamilton last month.

Both branding strategies are designed to reposition New Zealand wool carpets as a luxury, sustainable product which discerning American consumers will eventually pay a premium for.

Both organisations aim to secure long-term supply contracts with farmers and sell wool meeting their standards directly to carpet manufacturers and retailers. As such WPI has signed agreements to sell Laneve wool to San Francisco-based Bellbridge Carpets and Glen Eden Wool Carpet in Calhoun, Georgia.

Wool prices have steadily declined over the last two decades to the point where some farmers shear only for animal welfare reasons. There is so little value in wool that growers are switching to meat breeds, with the result that wool exports for the year to April fell 17 per cent to 115,665 tonnes.

Chaired by former Telecom chief executive Theresa Gattung WPI was set up last year as a joint venture between rural services company PGG Wrightson and farmer co-operative Wool Grower Holdings to try to revive the industry.

WPI absorbed the Wools of New Zealand carpet industry group, and Laneve replaces the old fern mark.

But unlike the fern mark, Laneve was a standard farmers must meet in order to be accredited to use it, and the brand would attest to the origins and quality of our wool, WPI chief executive Iain Abercrombie said yesterday.

He said Wools of New Zealand had been "pretty much put on life support" in the last five or six years after the demise of the Wool Board, and this was the opportunity to kick-start the marketing effort.

Deals with other overseas carpet makers would be announced in coming months, along with promotional and selling tools.

Abercrombie said Laneve was a top-end brand and WPI would keep it "within a favoured few who can add value and maintain the integrity of the label."

Stewart Hay, the expatriate New Zealander founder of Glen Eden Wool Carpet, said the market would decide where the value was.

He said the last two years in the United States market had been "brutal" and carpet manufacturers had been beating prices down.

"As much as we love you guys, our survival depends on being as cost-conscious as we can.

"However, over time that will change."

Elders managing director Stuart Chapman said Just Shorn farmers also had to meet high environmental, sustainability and farming practice standards.

Elders uses technology which puts a traceable fibre in the wool that can be detected by a hand-held scanner which verifies the origins of the wool.

Last year the group signed a deal to directly supply giant US carpet retailer CCA Global Partners and five carpet manufacturers.

Chapman claimed the difference in what Elders was doing was that the Just Shorn brand was linked right through to the retailer, as opposed to the carpet manufacturer.

"So many times before this has failed because it doesn't link with the consumer."

WOOL WARS
LANEVE
* Launched by Wool Partners International.
* A joint venture between PGG Wrightson and farmer co-op Wool Grower Holdings.
* Incorporates Wools of New Zealand.
* Has direct deals with US carpet makers Glen Eden Wool Carpet and Bellbridge Carpets, with more to come.

JUST SHORN
* Launched by Elders Primary Wool.
* Owned by Elders Rural Holdings and farmer co-op Primary Wool Cooperative.
* Has direct deals with US retailer CCA Global Partners and five US carpet manufacturers.