LOOKING AHEAD: TABLETOP SALES ON THE RISE.
Total dinnerware sales rose 6 percent in the first half of this year, while the beverageware category -- which includes glass, crystal and plastic -- rose 16 percent. And while both categories were up overall, there were pockets in each that outperformed others.
Clark Johnson, vice president for NPD Group's HomeTrak division, cited a number of factors for the rise in tabletop product. A strong economy, a rebound in home entertaining, later and second marriages, and a continuing trend toward more casual living all are factors in the tabletop market's success.
In great part, "the robust economy, which provides the funds and the underlying consumer confidence that allows for continued purchasing," has spurred tabletop sales, Johnson said.
"Every part of the market is growing," he continued. "The economy has allowed people to replace old sets by upgrading or to work their way down from the finer goods they acquired when they got married. People are taking the opportunity to set their homes right, to get that dinnerware set they have always wanted. None of the items are incredibly expensive. And part of it is impulse."
The tabletop market will continue to grow in the future, Johnson said. "As long as the economy stays strong, we will see consumers taking advantage by continuing to replace old tabletop sets with new and acquiring new patterns for different purposes," such as outside dining. "At the same time, they want to coordinate the patterns, to the extent possible, with related bakeware, table linens, etc.
"Later marriages and second marriages, which create both the need for additional purchases of high-end tabletop items and the relative wealth to actually make the purchases," is a continuing growth factor in the market, Johnson explained.
The increasing trend toward home entertaining has also been attributed to driving tabletop sales this year, he added.
"A rebound in in-home entertaining, documented by NPD's Eating Patterns in America book, spurs the need for good-looking tabletop," he explained. "The number of annual meals with adult guests was fairly strong at the beginning of this decade, declined in 1993, and has bounced back. It's related to the economy. People want their home, and their table, to look good."
The continuing trend toward more casual living is also credited for the tabletop category's success, Johnson said. And consumers are looking at specific goods and more variety, as evidenced in the growth of sub-categories.
While overall beverageware sales for the first half of 1999 were up 16 percent, plastic sales have outperformed glass and crystal, according to NPD HomeTrak figures. Sales in the category rose 31 percent in the first half of this year.
"Beverageware sales continue strong, with plastic leading," Johnson said. "Crystal is undoubtedly being spurred by the millennium excitement. If so, then the growth should taper off going into next year. The plastic revolution should continue, however."
In the dinnerware category, housewares product, with a 9 percent growth rate for the first half of 1999, outperformed formal dinnerware and quality casual dinnerware, otherwise known as casual china, according to NPD HomeTrak.
Manufacturers, Johnson said, "are getting good quality or perceived-quality housewares out there. Quality casual dinnerware growth is slowing. This may reflect saturation, but it may also reflect the improving quality of housewares product. As the inexpensive [housewares] sets look and feel like the more expensive [casual china] patterns, we will see consumers trading down.
"The most vulnerable segment is probably quality casual dinnerware, which is a relatively expensive `feel good' purchase," he added. "It could be the first to suffer in an economic slowdown and is already feeling the impact of improving low-end competition."