Walt Disney Co branches out into furniture, linens and even wine

Walt Disney Co., aiming to attract adults, is branching out into furniture, linens and even wine.

Starting in the fall, Burbank, California-based Disney will unveil a line of home goods such as lighting products made by the Minka Group. Disney also plans to market a fashion bath and bedding collection with Dan River, and outdoor table tops and entertaining products with Zak Designs next year.

Next up: Disney is launching a wine label via Issaquah, Washinton-based Costco Wholesale Corp. that is based on its upcoming animated film "Ratatouille," the tale of a rat who wants to become a French chef. The chardonnay, from the Burgundy region in France and bearing the Ratatouille name and likeness, will sell for $12.99 (9.65 EUR).

The licensed products, targeted at adults and devoid of mouse ears, underscores Disney's push to gain a deeper foothold on more sophisticated consumer products. Last fall, the company partnered with Drexel Heritage on an upscale furniture line based on the decor of Walt Disney's home and office during the 1930s and 1940s.

Marketing items based on Disney characters "is the biggest part of our business because that's our heritage. But the non-character (segment) is growing very, very quickly," Jim Fielding, executive vice president of global retail sales and marketing for Disney's consumer products, told Dow Jones Newswires.

He said the company projects that its non-character branding will be between 10 percent to 15 percent of Disney's licensed business over the next five years. Disney's consumer products arm also said last week said it expects its retail sales by the company and its licensees to rise 13 percent to $26 billion (19.32 billion EUR) in fiscal 2007, double the level seen 5 years ago.

"If we truly want to double the business again...which is what our goal is in the next five years, we need to branch into different parts of the market that we're currently not...in, and that's where non-character" comes into play, Fielding said.

In the apparel arena, Disney recently launched a line of bridal gowns designed by Kirstie Kelly, and the company is in final negotiations with a major retailer to launch Disney Jeans in the United States, probably by fall 2008. Disney Jeans was first launched in 2005 in France, Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe. The line, designed for kids and teens, is also sold in Mexico, Japan and China.

"I think that the private label arena in denim wasn't as developed overseas as it was here in the United States," Fielding said. "So the market for Disney non-character jeans was just more apparent in the European market than it has been in the United States."

Fielding said the company is also looking to launch a sporting line in 2008 in Europe for kids, which will have a combination of character and non-character branding.

"When you look at the corporate structure it's a natural extension for Disney to look to other avenues of growth beyond characters," said Tony Lisanti, editor-and-chief of License! Global magazine.

"Their character business has been so strong for so many years. As their consumers ... continue to get older, this creates pockets of new markets" for the company, he said.

Angela Pruitt is a correspondent for Dow Jones Newswires.