Mug Magic: category roundup | mugs

Gibson's Mr. Coffee mugsGibson's Mr. Coffee mugs

By Allison Zisko

Mug sales are up and the category, once an ancillary business, is now helping to drive sales in a tight economy.

Mugs make sense for a lot of reasons. With price points that hover around the $9.99 mark, they invite impulse purchases. Sales-per-square foot are higher than other tabletop categories, according to Gibson President Sal Gabbay, because these small items turn quickly. Mugs, especially those that are attractively packaged, make good gift items, and they have the ability to reflect the user's personality or point of view through design.

Travel mugs--whether plastic, double-walled or ceramic with silicone lids and/or grips - have become an important subset of the mug category and most manufacturers have ramped up their assortments in this area.

Mugs enjoy good sell-through in virtually every retail channel of distribution, from department and specialty stores to independents to supermarkets. Yet every retailer approaches the category differently. Some prefer private label, vendors said, while others like licenses. Most want open stock, but there is room for small boxed sets. Some cross-merchandise ceramic mugs with travel mugs or acrylic ones, and others merchandise them separately.

Scores of new mugs will be highlighted this fall, especially from those manufacturers exhibiting at the New York Tabletop Show this month. Here is what some manufacturers had to say.


Gibson Overseas

"Our mug business is a very healthy part of our business," said Gabbay. "That category has really taken off for us because of our acquisition of the Mr. Coffee business. That's through the roof. It's such a fantastic license." Gibson's Mr. Coffee assortment, which has been in production for about a year and includes ceramic and travel mugs, dovetails nicely with retailers' coffee maker business, Gabbay said, and has instant brand recognition. Gibson offers both a basic mug business and one that is design-oriented. Reactive glazes are among the most popular designs. "It's almost parallel to what sells in dinnerware," Gabbay said. Gibson also has an assortment of travel mugs with silicone lids and wraps. Although most of its business is open stock, the company offers gift sets as well - hanging mug trees and mug four-packs with ceramic teaspoons. It also offers a mug fixturing program that has been successful, according to Gabbay.


Creative Tops

Creative Tops is an English company that is building its business here in the United States with a collection of porcelain and fine dinnerware and accessories, including mugs. The company offers hundreds of design possibilities (along with multiple shapes and materials), as well as licensed looks from the British Victoria and Albert Museum, shown here, and Kew Gardens. The company has executed a significant mug assortment for one department store, according to Janet Donner, sales director for the U.S. market, and is in conversations with retailers from several other distribution channels. Although each retailer's plans vary, she said, most collections focus first and foremost on pattern. Price comes second. "The mug business is definitely coming back," said Donner. "They are great for gifts as well as self-purchase and are sometimes just things that can make people feel good ... with either whimsical sayings, fun or bright colors, or boxed beautifully for gifts. All at almost disposable price points."


The Zrike Company

Zrike's mug business has grown by 50 percent this year, said David Zrike, president. Travel mugs continue to be hot, he said, and the company is enjoying sales with its many licensed lines, Disney and The Beatles, shown here, among them. "We are finding mugs and travel mugs with our comfort brands are doing the best. Disney is especially strong," Zrike said. "We are also having great success with our celebrity designed program called Whatever it Takes." For the Fall Tabletop Show, Zrike is introducing mugs from Vera, Disney and the Beatles, along with a range of mugs under the Zrike brand.



ThermoServ's acquisition of MugWorld last year has been a boon to business. "Our sales have exploded," said Mel Abernathy, vice president, housewares. MugWorld's production has been fully integrated into ThermoServ's operations in Dallas, and that Made in the U.S.A. distinction "really resonates" with consumers, according to Abernathy. ThermoServ is known for its double-walled insulated beverageware and sells to grocery stores, department and big box stores, among others, while MugWorld is centered on ceramic mugs and sells to gift stores, and the combination of the two, as shown above, has expanded the company's distribution. "We've been able to cross pollinate each company's products to the other's core customer," Abernathy said. Other cross pollination has occurred. Coca Cola and John Deere, ThermoServ's two biggest licenses, are now available in MugWorld's ceramic offerings, while various ceramic mug designs are now available in plastic. MugWorld works with many licensees; the collegiate market is the biggest. Going forward, Abernathy said, the plan is to merge the two brands in terms of ceramics and focus more on tabletop.



Since its mugs underwent a redesign in January of this year, "we have definitely noticed a significant increase in sales," said Kim Livengood, marketing manager for Tervis. The redesign created mugs that are sleeker and more comfortable to hold. Tervis also recently introduced a universal lid program in which the same lid fits its 24-ounce tumbler or its mugs. It also offers a separate handle that fits over its 24-ounce tumbler. The company's clear tumblers have been a "huge success," according to Livengood. And any of Tervis' many embroidered patches, including its popular, sports-themed licenses like Major League Baseball and the National Football League, can be applied to its mug program. The mugs range in price from $15 to $20 retail, depending on design.


The Jay Companies 

"The mug business, under the American Atelier brand, is growing significantly at Jay Companies," said Melissa Schwartz Hinton, vice president of sales. "Once an add-on business, it is becoming a staple business with many retailers." The company's mug business varies among the various retail channels it serves. "We have retailers who run it as an assortment business in every door, replenishing based on sales monthly, as well as retailers who carry mugs as part of larger themes or stories they are telling, as well as retailers who use them as point-of-sale impulse gifts. It is a pretty versatile category." The mug business appears to be more gift-purchase driven, Schwartz Hinton said, while the travel mug business is more self-purchase. "The best scenario is when retailers merchandise both together," she said. Most retailers prefer open stock, but some want sets. Jay Cos. will offer more than a dozen new mug collections for this market (including those pictured): Jelly Belly, Saturday Evening Post and Waverly licensed looks; One-of-A Kind Girls; new inspirational designs; new latte and cafe tall mugs; and new travel designs. Within each collection, there will be up to 10 designs. 212-683-2727


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