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On-trend and sophisticated, plastic is cool again

By Jessica Harlan

Plastic dinnerware and drinkware have long been the choice for parents of young children as well as for alfresco entertaining. And while it’s appreciated for its light weight and durability, the choices of designs often left much to desired.

But that’s no longer the case. Housewares and tabletop brands are translating the myriad benefits of plastic into dinnerware, drinkware and kitchenware that is stylish, colorful and on-trend.

It’s a movement that is perfectly timed to take advantage of the increase in homeowners who are creating and enjoying outdoor living. More than 70 percent of U.S. households have outdoor living spaces, and more than two-thirds of those people use those spaces at least once a week during the warmer months, according to research from the American Home Furnishings Alliance.

And with outdoor spaces becoming more upscale, consumers are seeking options for serving food and drinks that are just as attractive as their surroundings… but which won’t break if they fall on a flagstone patio.

“Durability has always been a major advantage of melamine dinnerware, but people today are also recognizing how practical melamine is,” says Tom Otstot, sr. vice president of Zak Designs. “From backyard barbecues and poolside parties to family meals and large gatherings, melamine dinnerware is functional enough for outdoor use but it’s also fashionable enough for any indoor occasion.”



Otstot says it’s an exciting time indeed for plastic tabletop. “I’ve been in this business for 35 years and the renaissance of traditional materials like melamine and other plastics, combined with the cutting-edge innovation in new material development, underscore a bright future for this category.”

The company incorporates design elements previously only seen in ceramics, such as reactive glazes, hand-painted designs, embossing, rustic finishes, and metallic details. “The list is endless in terms of what we can now accomplish,” says Otstot.

Plastic and melamine tabletop has had ups and downs, but Vern Bliss of sales rep company Dugan Bliss & Associates, says it’s making a comeback. “Melamine for kids caught legs again. And the influx of outdoor living spaces has played a big part in what brought it back.”

Among the trends Bliss cites is a heavier gauge plastic with more heft. “When you look at it, sometimes you can’t tell if it’s stoneware, ceramic or melamine,” he says. It’s also easier to create molds for plastic in detailed shapes, such as a leaf or a shell.

At TarHong, the company sees plastic as a steady alternative to glass or ceramic. Hollie Stoyles, specialty account manager, says a resurgence of trendy patterns and colors has helped the category grow. In 2017, the bestselling color was turquoise/aqua, and Stoyles says products with textures tend to perform better than those without.

Meanwhile, Tervis has provided durable and stylish drinkware since the 1940s. The company does not disclose the proprietary composition of its plastic drinkware, other than stating that it is BPA-free and sourced and manufactured entirely in the United States. But the design of its Classic Insulated collection sets it apart: it’s basically two tumblers ultrasonically welded together, which keeps the contents hot or cold for longer, and also minimizes condensation. The Classic collection comes in different sized tumblers, mugs, sippy cups, wine glasses, and ice buckets.

And with 90,000 designs available, there is a motif for everyone. The company’s signature emblems look like embroidered patches and come in a range of motifs, from sports logos to flowers. Amanda Eyer, senior director of marketing for Tervis, says entertainment properties, as well as collegiate and professional sports licenses, are among the most popular designs.“People get excited with any design that corresponds with a major movie,” says Eyer. To this day, Harry Potter is one of the company’s bestselling licenses of all time.



The Govino company rose to success with its PETG stemless wine glasses, which oenophiles appreciate for their striking similarity to crystal. The shatterproof glasses have a patented design: a thumb-knotch and contoured base, which provide an ergonomic grip and make it easier to swirl wine. The notch also minimizes one’s contact with the glass to avoid overly warming it with body heat.

Beyond its original collection, a Tritan glass, called Top Rack, is dishwasher safe and a more durable. New shapes include whisky glasses, red and white wine shapes, pilsner glasses and Champagne flutes. There’s also a decanter with a lid, and glasses available in colors or with themed sayings.

The company is also testing the waters of customizable products: a new web app will enable customers to decorate their own Govino glasses, and a kiosk program to design glasses in stores is in the works. Tervis, too, offers customization: on its website, customers can create tumblers adorned with their own photos and designs.

Of course, one benefit of plastic dinnerware and drinkware is its ability to be used in settings where you might otherwise use disposable plastic goods, such as at a picnic or while camping. This is the focus of D’Eco Housewares, a division of SCS Direct. “D’Eco Housewares makes practical products that have an eco-friendly initiative and reusable design. Our Unbreakable Glassware allows you to have the look and feel of real glassware without worrying about breaking or shattering it,” says a spokesperson for the company.



In addition to drinkware and dinnerware, plastic is an important material in housewares, and for good reason. “Plastic kitchen tools are dishwasher safe, resistant, transparent, light, inexpensive, and can be made into any color,” says Caroline Dierickx, marketing manager at Mastrad. “They’re the perfect material for everyday use.” Mastrad uses plastic to make brightly colored utensils, serving pieces, and other items, including a salad bowl, vegetable cutlery items, and a new line of egg cups.

Stoyles at TarHong says that retailers can promote plastic products by displaying them in a tabletop setting, and communicating selling points. “It helps to provide benefits of the product, such as dishwasher safe and BPA free,” says Stoyles.

Dierickx of Mastrad suggests creating colorful displays of unboxed plastic items in a rainbow of colors, especially if the same item comes in multiple color options. “Bright colors are eye-catching and have a direct impact on sales,” she says.



One thing that’s important to understand is that high-quality plastic and melamine is safe to use. While recent concerns have been raised about BPA, a chemical used to make certain types of plastic products, reputable suppliers ensure their products don’t contain this chemical, and undergo testing to ensure their products are safe to use.

“Our company is affiliated with a foodservice company, so we’ve always been held to a high standard of what goes into our products,” says Stoyles of TarHong. “We’re constantly tested for BPA and other harmful chemicals, and are proud to say our products pass quality testing for these chemicals.”

Adds Otstot, “At Zak Designs, the safety of our products has always been, and always will be, our number one priority. All of our products are BPA free and adhere to all applicable health and environmental guidelines and regulations.”


Sidebar: Know Your Stuff

Acrylic: this very clear plastic is a good substitute for glass. It will not yellow over time, and is resistant to scratching. It is BPA-free.

Melamine: A polymer made of the combination of melamine and formaldehyde, Durable, shatterproof, and chip proof, it is usually dishwasher safe but not good to use in the microwave unless indicated. Some melamine products contain BPA, but other companies have eliminated that chemical from its composition.

Tritan: This durable plastic can be bent without breaking and is often used in blender jars. It has glass-like clarity and is heat resistant. It’s BPA-free.

Polypropylene: A safe plastic material, it is nonporous and can safely be used in the microwave or dishwasher. It’s stiff, heat-resistant, and resistant to grease and oil. It can be found in BPA-free formulas.

Polycarbonate: This clear plastic a bluish or purple hood and a tin sound when tapped. This type of plastic contains BPA, which consumer avoid because of reported heath concerns, so it is being used less and less in housewares.



For more information:Dugan Bliss & Associates - or 800.659.2467; Govino - or 949.332.1178; Mastrad - or 800.358.0608; TarHong - or 855.303.9339; SCS Direct/D’Eco Housewares - or 855.297.9516; Tervis - or 866.886.2537; Zak Designs - or 800.331.1089.

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