'The Things Last Forever' Moans One Retailer With Few Repeat Sales

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CINCINNATI ( -- S.C. Johnson & Son's biggest launch ever is turning into one of its biggest flops as several retailers prepare to delist Ziploc TableTops, a line of semi-disposable plates launched in April with $65 million in marketing support.

Not even steep SCJ-funded markdowns have done much to move the pricey blue covered plastic plates and cups, said one retail executive. "If they don't delist it, we'll do it for them come first of the year."

Retailers offered price break
Another retail executive said he delisted TableTops earlier this month after SCJ canceled a planned shipment of holiday-themed plates. SCJ didn't have much of an argument to make against the delisting, he said, though it later offered retailers 50% off the wholesale price.

An SCJ spokeswoman said the company is not discontinuing TableTops and was unaware of any cancellation of holiday items. TableTops had sales of $23.1 million through Nov. 3, according to Information Resources Inc. That's less than half what the company spent on marketing for the brand, although the sales figures don't include Wal-Mart Stores or club stores.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, Chicago, handles Ziploc and all SCJ brands.

No repeat purchases
Even if SCJ could get people to try TableTops once, it's not clear the brand can survive, a third retail executive said, because the products are less "semi-disposable" than billed. "There are no repeat

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purchases," he said. "The things last forever."

The cups in the line have done better than the plates or bowls, he said, but added: "Everything has been disappointing."

Tabletops were originally priced at $22.99 for a set of four-place servings, more than Wal-Mart or Target charge for four-place servings of some regular tableware. The retailer said he believes TableTops would have done better merchandised alongside plates or Tupperware-like items. But SCJ paid top dollar for space alongside paper plates and cups priced as low as a penny apiece. Slotting fees in disposable tableware run twice as high as those in the food storage section, said one industry executive.

Cheaper offering
Compounding TableTops' problems, Clorox Co. launched a cheaper and far less lavishly marketed version in September. Gladware Store 'N Eat plates sell for $2.59 for three, compared to TableTops' $5.99 for four.

Consumers generally appear to be resisting ponying up for pricey plates, said one of the retailers, noting that premium lines such as Georgia-Pacific Corp.'s Dixie Rinse & ReUse and Pactiv Corp.'s Hefty Elegantware also have been slow movers. Dixie, however, recently got a reprieve from delisting for Rinse & ReUse from the buyer, vowing a total restage next year with new items, packaging and marketing. A Dixie spokesman was not able to comment by press time.

Rinse & ReUse had sales of $11.4 million, up 28.4%, while Elegantware had sales of $11.1 million, down 15.2%, in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 3, according to IRI.

Despite slow going for premium plates, Clorox and Procter & Gamble Co. last week finalized an agreement for a joint venture combining Clorox's Glad brand and P&G's intellectual property for food storage products. The deal includes technology for disposable dishware that has been under development by P&G, according to executives familiar with the deal.

Improved food wraps
The bigger prize in the deal may be P&G's food wrap technology, which doesn't tangle yet sticks to itself or other surfaces when pressed. But Japanese consumer products marketer Unicharm has a similar product, which executives familiar with the situation said may be licensed by one of Glad's competitors in the U.S.

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