Replacement is fairly frequent, keeping the market buoyant, but the availability of cheap, functional glassware means that value growth of retail sales is limited. At the other end of the price spectrum, demand for fine crystal is erratic with fewer people now seeing crystal stemware as relevant to their lifestyles. Nevertheless, attempts to modernise the image of crystal ware by introducing contemporary designer collections have met with some success.
There have been several casualties in UK glassware manufacturing in recent years. In April 2004, it was confirmed that Edinburgh Crystal Glass Company Ltd had acquired Caithness Glass Ltd from the receivers for an undisclosed sum, but not before one of its factories had been closed. Caithness Glass blamed changing market conditions, particularly cheap imports from the Czech Republic, for its recent difficulties. The UK glass manufacturing industry, as in other UK manufacturing sectors, is renowned for its quality and has a number of prestigious brands with traditions spanning centuries. However, the UK industry remains hard-pressed to compete with the low overheads of overseas operators.
While most households would regard some glassware as a necessity, any drop in disposable household income rapidly affects expenditure on such items. Many economists argue that the days of low inflation and cheap borrowing are now in the past. There have been four rises in interest rates since November 2003 and it seems likely that the base rate will be at least 5% by the end of 2004. These are hardly the double-digit figures seen in the past but high enough to cause a problem for some consumers who may have overstretched their budgets. Higher oil prices immediately affect the consumer's wallet in that transport and factory running costs spiral and need to be recouped from the end user of goods and services, who is also paying more to fill his car with petrol. It seems inevitable, therefore, that household expenditure on items such as tableware will suffer as people pay more for necessities and, for this reason, growth in the value of retail sales of glassware as covered by this report is expected to be modest.
In common with other industries, glassware manufacturing faces the challenges of increasing globalisation, possible problems with the cost and accessibility of energy and raw materials and the need to meet environmental demands cost-effectively. Of particular importance is the issue of recycling. The glass industry must meet a 60% glass-recycling target by 2008 under the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. Although levels of recycling have improved, the UK still lags behind other European countries in its recycling efforts and it is generally accepted that more must be done to encourage the UK public by providing a greater number of bottle banks and kerbside collections and by communicating the message that glass is infinitely recyclable.