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Royal Wedding Sprouts Teacups as Retailers Exploit Sales Boost

Prince William Engaged to Marry Kate Middleton
Kate Middleton and Prince William. Photographer: Indigo/Getty Images

Within a day of the announcement of Britain’s next blockbuster royal wedding, Paul Hirst stepped up production at his factory in northern England.

The managing director of Marvelpress Ltd. in Sheffield had received an order for “thousands and thousands” of commemorative engagement mugs for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda supermarket chain. His workers needed to deliver in record time.

“When the news broke, Asda were straight on the phone and it was all hands to the pumps to get everything done in time,” Hirst, 48, said by telephone. “We’re looking at making iPhone covers, champagne and wine boxes.”

Prince William’s proposal to Kate Middleton and her decision to accept fired the starting gun in Britain for a race by companies to profit from what probably will be the biggest royal event in the country since the marriage of William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, in 1981.

The royal wedding may add 620 million pounds ($995 million) to the U.K. economy as consumers spend more on food and drink and tourism revenue increases, according to Verdict Research, a retail analysis unit of Datamonitor Plc.

Tesco Plc, Britain’s largest retailer, will sell a replica of the designer dress worn by Middleton when the engagement was announced on Nov. 16, the company said. Telephone sales of a ring resembling the one worn by the late Princess Diana that was given to Middleton by William soared by nine times on Nov. 17 on the QVC shopping channel, Marketing Director Sue Leeson said.

British Style

“As the media intensity increases in the run-up to the wedding, it will be interesting to see what impact she has on British style,” Leeson said in an e-mailed statement.

The ring on QVC sells for 34.42 pounds, she said. Asda is selling its first commemorative mugs for 5 pounds each, according to the retailer’s website. The “look-a-like Kate dress” will sell for 16 pounds, Tesco said in an e-mailed statement. The original, designed by Daniella Issa Helayel, cost 385 pounds, according to London boutique Matches.

The U.K. economy could do with the boost. The Bank of England predicts growth of 1.8 percent this year and 2.6 percent next, according to Bloomberg News calculations, after slumping 5 percent last year.

Historically, the biggest events for the U.K. monarchy since World War II have coincided with tough economic times. After the coronation in 1953, silver-jubilee celebration in 1977 and royal wedding in 1981, the economy expanded more quickly.

State of Nation

“Prince William and Catherine are very mindful of the economic situation,” Amanda Foster, a spokeswoman for Prince Charles’s office, said in a telephone interview this week. “It’s something they will bear in mind -- the state of the nation; it is something that will be considered.”

Foster declined to comment on who would pay for the wedding and how much it would cost.

With the U.K. still struggling to recover from the worst recession since at least World War II, public spending has been pruned more than ever, with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s budget cuts set to lead to 490,000 job losses.

“The royal family is better advised now than it’s ever been in terms of how to manage these things,” said Charles Tattersall, managing director of Citypress, a public-relations firm whose clients include Lloyds Banking Group Plc. “I’m not sure whether we’ll see as many golden carriages and footmen. It might be on a slightly scaled-down basis compared to the 1980s wedding of Charles and Diana.”

1980s ‘Fairytale’

When Charles married Diana in 1981, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, said it was “the stuff of which fairytales are made.” William, the eldest son of Charles and Diana and second in line to the British throne, will marry Middleton in the spring or summer of 2011, the royal family said in a statement. Both are 28 years old.

Verdict Research said the royal wedding may add 360 million pounds to food and grocery sales as well as a further 216 million pounds to travel and tourism.

“If, as expected, it is a big set-piece event, it could well capture the nation’s imagination and provide a fillip to the retail sector,” Neil Saunders, Verdict’s consulting director, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Sales of commemorative merchandise might be as much as 26 million pounds, he reckoned.

The U.K.’s monarchy already generates more than 500 million pounds a year in tourism spending, according to research by the state-funded tourism board, VisitBritain.

“The monarchy is a major element of the reason why overseas tourists come to this country,” VisitBritain spokesman Paul Eastham said by telephone. “In a royal wedding year, that figure is going to be massively exceeded.”

In Sheffield, the city that was the center of Britain’s steel industry, Hirst said his company printed pictures of Kate and William on the mugs for Asda in record time, turning round the order within 24 hours. Marvelpress also makes mousepads, key-rings, T-shirts and covers for phones, its website shows.

“I don’t do very much sleep at the moment,” said Hirst. “I’m a four-hour-a-night man.”

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