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Suppliers Bring Diversity to The Table   image

Suppliers Bring Diversity to The Table  

The tabletop industry, having gained strong sales with homebound consumers, is expanding with a focus on licensing. In many cases at the New York TableTop Show last week, that literally meant bringing diversity to the table.

Certified International signed a licensing agreement that will bring the late Black restauranteur and businesswoman Barbara Smith’s B. Smith brand to bowls, platters, and other serveware. It also launched a “Girlfriends” collection with Chinese artist Rongrong DeVoe in March featuring coffee and latte mugs, teapots, and plates carrying phrases like “stay fearless” and “building my empire.”

Zrike Brands, meanwhile, is bringing the minority-owned Black Paper Party brand, which got its start with wrapping paper featuring Black characters, into dinnerware starting with canopy plates in the fourth quarter.

And Lenox Corp’s agreement with New York’s Cote Korean Steakhouse sommelier Victoria James for “Signature Series” wine glasses features designs tailored to global regions—including a smaller opening for cooler climates where wine aromas are more delicate. That same series may be expanded to glasses in partnership with experts in whiskey or beer, said Andrea Page, chief digital and marketing officer at Lenox.

In many ways, it’s a departure for an industry known for porcelain and melamine dinnerware but it’s something that is increasingly required to attract younger consumers with whom diversity is a deciding factor.

Yet as tabletop suppliers broaden their designs, they—like every industry—are being hit with price increases that can weigh on licensing. Lenox, which once had a broad array of licenses including Colonial Williamsburg and home furnishings designer Thomas O’Brien, has narrowed its assortment to Kate Spade.

“We had a ton of (licensed) SKUs and did a lot of products, and I think we grew just by adding on,” Page said. “The business was a lot of newness and excitement, but it wasn’t necessarily profitable.”

Focus on the bottom line has become important amid rising costs. While Portmeirion Group has licenses for dinnerware with designer Sophie Conran and plates and mugs with artist Hannah Dale, there is “a lot more to justify why we pay a royalty rather than designing it ourselves,” said North America president Bill Robedee. Portmeirion’s costs rose 20% during the past year, causing it to impose wholesale price increases in January. For example, the cost of stainless steel for flatware, of which nickel is a key ingredient, has risen 20-30% in the past month. Prices “can’t be guaranteed for the next sixty days,” Robedee said. “What you do is order now and take the risk.”

Retailers have also begun to slow purchase orders due partly to holiday inventory that arrived in January, Robedee said. At the same time, many retailers have moved purchase orders for the 2022 holiday season up two months to April-May, with supplier deliveries expected in June and July as hedge against continued logistics delays.

Despite these logistical issues, tabletop suppliers continue to expand their efforts. An area of focus moving forward includes products using sustainable materials.

Lenox’s Hampton Forge, which it acquired last year, has a five-piece knife set with handles made from rice husks and many suppliers at the show were showing plates and cups that used bamboo fiber. There are limits to going green, however.

“We are trying to see where we can do something, but at the same time there are not a lot of recycled ceramics and what we do is already eco-friendly since plates are used over again,” Page said.

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