Not Standing on Formality
July 28, 2016,
By Allison Zisko
Mikasa’s new Naya Blue pattern is sold as a four-piece set. mikasa.com
This November, tabletop executives from around the world will gather in Arita, Japan, for a two-day meeting on the state of the tabletop industry. The Arita Ceramics Symposium will address how price competition and changing consumer lifestyles have negatively affected the business, and what can be done to remedy that.
It will be a small group, limited by space considerations at the Saga Ceramics Research Laboratory where the symposium will take place, and attended primarily by leaders from Europe and Asia. But the issues of price competition and changing consumer lifestyles have challenged the American tabletop industry for years, particularly the formal dinnerware category. According to HFN’s most recent State of the Industry report, retail dinnerware sales in 2014 inched up 1.4 percent over the prior year, and much of that growth was credited to casual goods. At trade shows, casual patterns draw the spotlight while more formal ones take a backseat.
There’s nothing traditional about Lenox’s Passion Bloom, which has bold color, fun applications of gold and is dishwasher- and microwave-safe. lenox.com
Yet formal dinnerware remains an integral part of the business as well as an entré to the category for brides. In discussing business at its home store in Greensboro, N.C., where its tabletop business is particularly strong, Jan Clevenger, executive vice president for home, told HFN that tabletop brands like kate spade new york and Vietri are a great lure for millennial customers who are marrying and registering for dinnerware. “That’s an investment in our future,” she said.
Dinnerware manufacturers have addressed lackluster formal dinnerware sales by experimenting with new set configurations and rethinking the whole idea of “formal.”
“I guess you could say formal dinnerware is a bit more challenging today, but that just sounds like an excuse,” said Sherri Crisenbery, vice president of Lenox brand. “It is our job as the market leader to protect that business by being more creative in our designs and our messaging.
“The first issue is the old world terminology ‘formal dinnerware.’ We actually don’t separate our offerings that way anymore because to the consumer it is all just dinnerware or dishes. So our product offerings run the gamut from very casual to very formal and everything in between.”
Bial said casual dinnerware outperfoms formal and is growing, so there is more investment in the casual business. But “casual is defined as anything that is for everyday use no matter the design or material,” he said.
In the past, formal dinnerware was typically identified by its primary material—namely, bone china or porcelain. Vendors are trying to change bone china’s reputation from one of delicacy and refinement to one of strength and beauty. “Millennials lean toward product that, though superior quality, is approachable, adaptive and easily incorporated into their daily lives,” said Maureen Preville, director of marketing for Herend USA. “That’s why we position Herend as top-quality, durable and fun to mix and match both within the brand itself as well as with other brands.” “It is important to clarify that better-made dinnerware isn’t necessarily out of fashion, but that for many people traditional formal settings are not fitting their lifestyle today,” Crisenbery said. “Fortunately, there are other better-made dinnerware choices—other than traditional formal settings—that we are making available for those consumers. Customers definitely choose their dinnerware based on the pattern.”
Contemporary designs with metallics have performed well among its newest introductions, according to Bial. Among the Mikasa patterns picked up by retailers after the New York Tabletop Show in April are Trellis, an all-white design with a simple embossed trellis motif along the border; Haley Gold and Haley Platinum, two simple white banded designs; and Naya Blue, a coupe-shaped design with a blue ombré effect.
“Traditional banded designs are not dead by any means—we still sell things like Vintage Jewel, Venetian Lace and Lace Couture—but they are not growing,” Lenox’s Crisenbery said. “The growth is coming from the trends—gold (all gold patterns are up), increased color (Westmore is our fastest growing pattern) and improved functionality.”
Lenox recently began offering three-piece place settings of its most popular patterns, in an effort to lower price points and acknowledge the fact that most consumers do not use a tea cup and saucer. The program is coming along nicely, Crisenbery said.
Trend-right, contemporary designs and attractive price points are the key to this category, vendors said. “We are promoting the category like any other year by developing new exciting designs to attract the younger consumers and by keeping the products affordable,” Bial said.
“Our new product market offerings each season have a fresh point of view that can help the stores update their tired dinnerware walls,” Crisenbery said. “There is no question that the consumers, and especially the brides, are responding to our newness infused with more color, with fresh uses of gold and to new designs and shapes that give more of a lifestyle feeling.
“Overall, there continues to be terrific enthusiasm for Lenox made-in-America bone china as a couple hundred thousand bridal registries tell us. There is definitely continued opportunity with our new directions and strategies.”