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Trends on display at Housewares Show


By Lisa Girard

Show organizers of the 2009 International Home and Housewares Show point to a “back to basics” philosophy prevalent in America today. Some call it a "cocooning" effect.

This term, which came into prominence after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, describes how consumers are seeking refuge in their homes. “A lot of it is being driven by the economic downturn: when the economy becomes uncertain, people surround themselves with family and friends -- things that make them feel good,” said Lisa Weiss, a lifestyle consultant to the Housewares Show. “Americans are shifting their attitudes toward home, which means focusing on traditional values, more entertaining at home and dining at home.”

More than 2,000 exhibitors and 20,000 buyers are expected to attend the show, where some of the industry trends being highlighted include dining at home, storage and organization and cost-saving appliances.

A September 2008 Consumer Spending Survey by Booz & Co. found that 43% of respondents said they had been eating at home more often in the previous six months, while an additional 20% were planning to start eating home more because of the economy. Echoing those findings was a study by Riedel Marketing Group: Of the 100 members of Riedel’s HomeTrend Influencials Panel (or HIPsters), almost half reported preparing dinner at home more often now than two years ago.

According to Paul Leinwand, VP Booz & Co., some of the most important trends in housewares are about green, health and wellness and value. Products that combine some or all of these factors stand to gain the most in this market. For example, multi-functional kitchen electronics like rice cookers with built-in steaming trays are both health-driven and value-added. Or take water filtration systems: by eliminating the need to buy bottled water, these not only cover their cost in a relatively short period of time, but they help the environment by saving on plastic.

“As long as the consumer can see a payoff -- not four or five years down the road but within a reasonable amount of time -- those products should do well,” Leinwand said.

Peter Goldman, president of the home business unit of NPD Group, a leading market research firm, agrees that practical, multi-purpose items are more likely to do well in this environment, and manufacturers that focus their efforts in that direction are more likely to capture consumer loyalty in the end.

“Consumers are seeking convenience, and they’re seeking value in the investments they make,” Goldman said. “Take a single-serve coffee machine that has tea pods and hot chocolate pods. People are saying, ‘The kids can use it, too.’ So the fact that it’s multi-purpose makes it more appealing.”

Eric Erwin, EVP marketing/product development at Wilton Industries, said that sets will still sell, as long as they represent good value. “If there is a retail perception problem with kits or sets, as Mom sees it, it is putting things into a box that she doesn’t need or want,” he said. “If the set has what she needs, and it is a great value -- being the more you buy the more you save -- then she will respond to it. The consumer is really smart, and in tough times she is even smarter.”

For Fiesta brand of dinnerware, however, it’s single-product sales that are helping drive the company’s business, according to VP Rich Brinkman. For example, today’s consumer is more likely to buy a component such as a vegetable bowl as opposed to a whole set. Brinkman said it’s helping that his brand is also manufactured in the United States -- which fits in with the return to values -- and is lead free, as lead has become a concern with Chinese imports in the last 18 months.

Another area that seems to buck the trend, according to NPD research, is small kitchen electronics. The category has seen softening in the last year -- particularly the last six months -- but there’s still unit growth in the $150-plus category. Since people only need to make these purchases every three to five or five to seven years, depending on the item, they’re willing to stretch the budget a bit more to attain a certain lifestyle, Goldman said, adding, “There are still people out there who are gainfully employed and have the wherewithal to make that investment. The kitchen is the centerpiece for entertaining, and people want to have that fashionable brand.”

As far as the “green” trend goes, Weiss said it was big at last year’s Housewares Show, but the industry may see a slowdown in the growth of environmentally friendly products this year. The simple reason is they tend to cost more. “If there’s one product that’s green and another that’s not, if the cost is equal, consumers would tend to buy the green product,” she said. “But they might not want to spend the extra money, unless that’s a priority for them.”

The slowdown does not apply, however, to energy-saving appliances, which have considerable appeal for a lot of consumers looking for an immediate return on their purchase. “If you’re saving energy, you’re saving money, which will benefit household expenses,” Weiss said.

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