BLUEBIRD OUTSOURCING ALL MOLDING

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Bluebird Toys plc, the British manufacturer of the globally popular Polly Pocket collectible plastic play set, is closing its last plant in the United Kingdom to outsource all production from molders in China and the United Kingdom.

The Swindon, England, firm said it will shut down its big Welsh plant at Merthyr Tydfil, in June. That plant used to make plastic teapots in the 1980s, and recently has been used only for assembly and distribution.

Until now, Bluebird has sourced 80 percent of its toys from outside molders. Its products also include a Superheroes miniature play set with Batman and Spiderman.

The company used barely one-third of the Welsh plant, according to Chief Executive Chris Burgin. It has a work force there of 88.

The remaining 20 percent of its toys, made at Merthyr Tydfil, including Bluebird's Big Yellow Teapot and Big Red Fun Bus, will now be contracted out to custom molders. The company uses as many as four British custom molders who contribute chiefly injection molded parts.

One successful product area has been the Disney Tiny Collection, a range of high-detail miniature play sets featuring classic Disney characters. Best-selling items in 1996 were Cinderella's Enchanted Castle and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The line, which features 13 different characters, is being expanded during 1997.

Bluebird has suffered from excess stocks of Polly Pocket toys during 1996.

The company reported pre-tax profit, before exceptional charges, of 11.03 million ($17.9 million). Sales were down from 87.2 million ($141.3 million) in 1995 to 67.6 million ($109.5 million).

The firm reported that sales of Polly Pocket now have improved. The toy, today the world's top girls' collectible, benefits from being a long-term core product for Mattel, which distributes it abroad.