During 2002 and 2003 the Australian Cotton Industry through the then CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology Division with the support of the Australian Cotton Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) and the Australian Cotton Shippers Association (ACSA) conducted a survey of 31 international and domestic spinning mills to determine what their needs and perceptions were of Australian cotton. Spinning mills in Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Korea and Australia were surveyed. This survey  found that Australian cotton was generally well received with all countries rating neps and Micronaire, along with short fibre content as properties that needed improvement. The low level of contamination, colour, grade, spinning ability and staple length of Australian cotton created the best impressions.
The information collected by the survey was very valuable from a marketing perspective and assisted in shaping directions in research from breeding and growing through to ginning and classing.
In 2007 a further survey was carried out by Technopak (a management consulting firm in India) on behalf of the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) and ACSA. Thirty four companies in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, India and Pakistan were surveyed. This survey’s  findings were similar to the findings made in the previous survey conducted in 2002/03.
The aims of the current survey described in this report were to:
1. Review / benchmark the perceptions of Australian cotton against baseline data collected in the 2002/03 survey.
2. Identify / quantify potential emerging trends with regards to raw fibre / textile demand.
3. Quantify mills’ value perception of various licensing / branding programmes (e.g. Cotton USA/BMP Cotton / Supima etc.)
4. Identify points of differentiation / value perception of Australian cotton versus other cotton origins and fibres.
5. Establish the demand potential for higher quality Australian cotton.
Thirty five companies that purchase Australian cotton and a management consulting firm were interviewed, during 2009 and 2010, in regard to its quality in yarn production. A survey-interview approach, which entails person-to-person interviews conducted around a set of scripted questions, was used. Spinning companies from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong/China, India and Indonesia were surveyed as well as the last remaining cotton spinning company in Australia. The survey consisted of a series of background questions about each spinning company’s production, raw fibre use and spinning facilities followed by a series of more open-end questions about the quality of Australian cotton fibre. Information gathered during the survey interviews was enhanced by objective measurement of fibre samples gathered from bale lay-downs in mills of more than half the spinning companies surveyed.
As expected the 30-39 Ne yarn count range was the most important for the spinner’s surveyed, accounting for 42% of their production, followed by the <30 Ne yarn count, accounting for 39% of the production and the 40-59 Ne yarn count, accounting for 15% of the production, with 4% in the >60 Ne yarn count range. Australian cotton made up 32% of the blend in the 40-59 Ne range, 19% in the 30-39 Ne range and 5% in the <30 Ne range. There was negligible use of Australian cotton in yarn counts >60 Ne, with this market dominated by US Pima and Egyptian cotton. However with the price and shrinking of Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton there is a potential for Long Staple Upland cottons to be used in greater quantities in the 50-70 Ne count range providing they meet certain specifications. It is felt that this is an area where the Australian Long Staple Upland (ALS) fibre could be used;supported by the fact that the surveys demonstrated significant usage of the premium Upland SJV Ultima fibre in the 60-80 Ne market.
Despite the range of spinning systems and yarns produced in the spinning mills surveyed, the average impression of Australian cotton fibre properties was quite consistent. All countries rated neps and short fibre content as properties that needed improvement. The low level of contamination and stickiness, colour grade, spinning ability and staple length of Australian cotton created the best impressions.
Whilst it is difficult to be accurate about the exact proportion of Australian cotton that meets preferred specifications, from the 2009/10 bale lay-down test results it can be said that in general less than 50% of Australian cotton bales met spinner’s preferences with regards to short fibre content and less than a third of Australian cotton bales met spinner’s preferences with regards to nep values. Australian cotton was better in regard to Micronaire, strength, length and uniformity.
As far as contracted specifications are concerned, US Upland cotton from the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) cotton was still superior to competitive growths particularly in terms of strength and Micronaire, with Micronaire values typically lower and occurring in a narrower band of values. Australian cotton was ranked second after SJV with staple length and grade similar to SJV. Encouragingly, Australian cotton scored particularly well for key non-contracted specifications; particularly contamination, trash content and spinning ability where it was considered vastly superior to competing growths.
In regards to licensing programmes, product quality, marketability and traceability of product were the three most important characteristics of a branded raw cotton product, followed by social responsibility and environmental credentials, according to survey respondents. If these characteristics are translated into consumer brand recognition, which subsequently generates demand pull for a licensed product, then barriers to participation such as legal/compliance costs, increased paperwork and cost of raw material are negated.
Overall, the preferred method of bale packaging was clearly cotton bags, followed by polyethylene film, jute/hessian and lastly woven polypropylene. Plastic bale strapping was considered the most suitable method to tie bales followed by wire ties and metal straps.
Across all markets, Casual Attire was clearly identified as the key product growth category for both downstream textile demand and raw cotton demand. Street attire and Home Textiles also showed moderate demand growth. Inner attire and Sports attire showed strong overall demand growth; however their cotton usage was low, primarily due to replacement by manmade performance fibres. Formal/Business wear showed the lowest overall textile demand with cotton being replaced by easy care manmade fibres.
Across all product categories, and across all markets, comfort was clearly identified as the most important textile property by survey respondents. Handle and breathability were also considered important. Interestingly, within the Home Textiles segment, natural attributes and eco-credentials were seen as more important than in other market segments.