Panini Clarifies Product Plans for 2009

Virtually all of the company’s representatives at last week’s Hawaii Trade Conference were the same as they’ve been the past few years. Yet in some ways, the staff on hand from Panini America seemed like first-time attendees.

The longtime employees of Donruss, who were now wearing the colors of their new ownership, fielded many questions from retailers who were looking to get a sense of Panini’s plans for the familiar Donruss Playoff brands in the upcoming football and basketball seasons.

“Everybody is genuinely interested in seeing what we’re going to do, and hopefully we were able to start answering some of those questions,” said marketing director Scott Prusha. “One of the hot topics was the branding issue, and we started to touch on that and we even threw it out to the group to get their feedback. We’re glad everybody’s so passionate about our product lines, as we are, and we’re hoping we can take a lot of this information back and start developing the best products.”

The company used its Retailer Roundtable session on Tuesday to give attendees a detailed look at Panini’s history in the collectibles market overseas, which has largely been centered around low-priced collectible stickers and sticker albums, as well as the corporate distribution programs for those products. It was the semi-formal introduction of the company’s new CEO, Michael Eisenstein, to the industry.

After two days of meeting with retailers and distributors, Eisenstein said he was encouraged by the interest in the company’s future. “The words of encouragement from everyone about Panini and the people at Donruss were very energizing,” said Eisenstein, who started managing the Panini America operations almost immediately after its purchase of Donruss was complete. “I’m encouraged by the passion and intensity of the people in the business and their caring about the future.”

The product lineup for the next few months includes familiar football offerings such as Prestige, Elite and Donruss Classics, a third series of Americana, and the return of the $1-per-pack Score Football product. As for its new lineup of NBA products, VP of sales Mike Anderson said brands such as Prestige, Elite, Absolute Memorabilia and Certified Materials were all in the works, but specific details on product content, or even the number of brands, have yet to be finalized. Anderson said 17 basketball products was a likely – but not official – estimate for the coming season.

The first of those basketball products is a little more than six months away, which isn’t much time in terms of set creation and design for manufacturers. “We’re in the process of growing and trying to get as much done as we can, with the workforce that we have, and we’re getting some help from the Panini side,” Prusha said. “We really don’t have a lot of time, but once we get these bigger issues like the branding out of the way, the rest of that stuff’s going to fall in line pretty fast.”

Company officials also assured retailers they will fulfill all of the redemption cards from Donruss Playoff products still on the market if they are submitted within 18 months of the product’s release date.

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