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The American consumer has changed a great deal since 1811, when The Pfaltzgraff Co. was founded in York, Pa. The tableware industry has had to keep pace with these changes to maintain its customer base.
Within the past decade, a new consumer—the “new” bride—has become a valuable customer to tableware manufacturers, and new products have been introduced to meet the needs of that customer. Larger dinner plates and bowls with greater capacity have replaced their smaller counterparts, and the cup-and-saucer has gone the way of the dinosaur, being replaced by a mug.
Consumers today are in much more of a hurry than they used to be. People no longer look at a job as a lifelong career, but as a step to “something else.” They ask for everything “to go,” including tableware. They don’t want something formal to place in a china cabinet—they want something functional and practical.
There is also a greater need for diversity in the marketplace. No longer do the “Smiths” want to be like the “Joneses.” Everyone wants something different.
Developing New ProductsWhen developing new products, identifying trends is of utmost importance. It is important to be able to distinguish between trends that will have longevity and “fads” that will fade quickly. Customer testing can be valuable in this effort. While the investment is high, the payback in developing a well-received product that will last in the marketplace is almost always worth the money and effort.
Reduced development time is also critical to react to new, faster changing trends. In-house resources are becoming increasingly difficult to develop and maintain, and reliance on vendors for technical support has increased dramatically over the past few years. It has become necessary to work with vendors from the earliest stage possible—even at the risk of divulging sensitive information to the wrong person. The alternative is being limited solely to in-house development, and thereby possibly missing an opportunity or hitting the market post-peak.
Demographics will predict the future in tableware design. By the year 2010, it is predicted that Caucasians will be a minority, and Spanish designs will be the trend. It will be important to address these changing markets and lifestyles. The culture is changing to one of more casual meals, requiring inexpensive, casual dinnerware, and tableware manufacturers must be ready to meet these needs.
Companies should be challenged to come up with something new, something that will set them apart from the competition. At Pfaltzgraff, for instance, the focus at the York, Pa., facility is on the once/twice fired decorated product that the company is noted for. The company will continue to explore innovative decorating methods and techniques for both the once and twice fired products. Ceramic materials suppliers will be challenged to step “out of the box” of current thinking and support the development of new ideas and techniques, no matter how bizarre they may seem at first.
Challenges for the New MillenniumTableware manufacturers will need to address a variety of questions in the next few years. How can small production runs be profitable if the assortment of new patterns dramatically increases? How can the cost of making place settings be decreased? Can a textured plate be created with a decal? Textured fabric (micro-fabric) is popular in the marketplace. Part of it is color, but most decorations are glossy or matte—all visual—and not actually textured to the feel.
Can non-slip surfaces be added to plates such as some form of rubber or fabric, to prevent cracking, chipping or breaking? What about vending machines for decals? Some ideas may seem out of reach, but they’re worth pursuing in today’s highly competitive marketplace.
From an engineering perspective, how can the cost of new products be reduced to keep new patterns at home instead of being sourced overseas? Cellular manufacturing is the wave of the future. Combining cellular manufacturing and automated decorating of decalled products is an avenue that must be explored. But can the decorating equipment manufacturers offer new and improved ways for automated decorating to keep machine capital costs down?
Tableware companies will also be looking for vendors that can provide “one-stop shopping” and can supply combinations of decorating materials, such as glazes and decals, glazes and colors, and inglazes and overglazes. Suppliers will also need to find ways to innovate glazes with regard to reactives and wax resistance.
To survive within the marketplace, all companies must be proactive in addressing their needs and demanding new materials and solutions as we move into the new millennium.