GLOBAL EXITS HIGH-END ACRYLIC TABLEWARE

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CHICAGO — Low-priced knockoffs have prompted a San Diego housewares supplier, Global, to drop out of the market for high-end clear acrylic tableware.

But an official at another firm, Grainware Co., said the business remains solid for thick-walled acrylic products that resemble fine crystal pieces.

The acrylic tableware market is divided into two categories. The lower-end segment includes glasses, plates and accessories mainly used outdoors, by the pool or on the patio. Those items often carry colorful decorations. The high-end products usually are clear and have much thicker walls. Manufacturers promote them as unbreakable, yet classy, substitutes for crystal and glass on the dining room table.

Up until the 1997 International Housewares Show, Global had been selling products injection molded by its partner firm, Guzzini of Recanati, Italy. But that relationship began winding down last year and now has ended, Sacks said.

Although Global has exited the market, Guzzini President Jeffrey Sacks still likes acrylic. He said the company may get back into acrylic products for the kitchen, instead of the tabletop.

At this year's show, Global was displaying tableware made of glass, ceramic and wood, plus stainless steel cookware—not acrylic.

Global began offering indoor acrylic products 16 years ago, when acrylic was known as a product for poolside, ``but it wasn't something that people thought of to use in their homes,'' Sacks said at the company's booth at the housewares show, held Jan. 12-15 in Chicago.

For the first 10 years, the Italian-made products sold well, but then competitors began copying the Guzzini design, Sacks said.

``What everyone started doing was making it thinner, making it lighter and making it out of polystyrene,'' he said.

Sacks said U.S. consumers appear to be turning back to hand-crafted serving products made from traditional materials.

``America's in a trend of nostalgia now, going back to ceramics and wood and glass,'' he said.

Grainware, on the other hand, successfully has focused on the giftware niche, especially the bridal market, according to Jeff Rohe, national accounts manager.

``We try to create items that look like crystal, that have the weight of crystal, but are plastic,'' he said. ``Our niche is that it's a very functional product. It can be used on a day-to-day basis.''

Grainware, a unit of Carlisle Cos. Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y., produces some of its tableware in Freedonia, Wis., and has some products made at joint venture factories in China and Taiwan, Rohe said.

Grainware products are made by injection molding, thermoforming and fabricating. The company has been making acrylic tableware since 1948.

Because the process requires a large investment for tooling and technical expertise, and has long molding cycle times, Grainware has very little direct competition, he said.