Plastic is gaining some high-style design attention in the housewares industry, with companies positioning products not just as a rough and tumble option to glass or metal, but something that can stand on its own merits.
This isn't just making something from alternative materials, but about creating something better, said Jerry Lee, CEO of US Acrylic LLC of Libertyville, Ill., which introduced its new line of Clarus beverage products during the International Home + Housewares show in Chicago, March 14-16.
Clarus uses Eastman Chemical Co.'s Tritan-branded copolymer in its wine glasses, beer mugs, pitchers, tumblers and other glasses. While Tritan came with the BPA-free label that's needed in consumer products these days, it was the design elements and an ability to stand up to wear and tear that drove development, rather than simply picking any bisphenol A-free material, Lee said.
From a company standpoint, we've always been in the higher end of the marketplace, he said. Clarus is expected to fill that same niche.
Its glasses use thick- and thin-wall molding to mimic fine crystal. Lift up a wine glass, and it has a heft to it along with a point of balance and shape that encourage wine swirling.
Our intention is to have really high-quality drinkware that you would use in places where, for practical reasons, you can't use real glass, he said.
Lee said US Acrylic is positioning the line for use outdoors for consumers who want something more than inexpensive cups. At the same time, it wanted something that would stand up to dishwasher use. It considered competitors such as styrene acrylonitrile, but during testing at a restaurant found that Tritan showed less wear.
US Acrylic is not alone in taking plastics into a new design level.
Vallejo, Calif.-based Meyer Corp. is using Tritan copolymer in its Bonjour brand French press coffee maker. The eight-cup version of its Ami-Matin press is one that the company expects will be used and seen at the dining table during dinner parties, and the materials had to stand up to close inspection, said Meyer communications director Chris Woodward.
This has value, he said.
The company plans to switch all of its plastics to Tritan, but Eastman's resin is not the only plastic using new design cues.
Both the Aladdin brand of Seattle-based Pacific Market International and the Copco brand of Wilton Industries Inc. of Woodbridge, Ill., are offering double-walled cold-drink cups aimed at use for smoothies and iced-coffee drinks.
This is moving the needle in terms of what we're offering, said JoAnne Anderson, senior marketing manager for PMI.
Aladdin's drink cup is manufactured from SAN with an integrated straw made of Tritan. Copco's cup is injection molded Tritan. Thermoplastic elastomer is used for the cup's hand grip and polypropylene for an integrated straw that has small paddles molded into its base to help stir up the drink.
Copco also used PP for a travel mug designed to mimic the look of a paper takeout coffee cup.
The company looks at a variety of materials including copolymers, PP, ABS and PET to find the right one to fit new products, said David Starr, director of design and product development for Copco. Consumers have a lot of choice, so it becomes a matter of finding a way to stand out.
We've been pretty rigorous in using design to come up with new products, he said. When you look at [the PP travel mug], people could go out and buy just a stainless-steel mug, but this is a way of playing with the product in a very tongue-in-cheek way. It's fun.
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