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When it comes to housewares, green is keen, but lifestyle rules the aisle


CHICAGO —The housewares industry has begun to address the sustainability issue with a passion. Yet, be assured, the influence of lifestyle remains the single biggest factor shaping the sector. That’s a major reason vendors count on consumer identification with chefs to sell cookware and now small appliances as more products are tailored to people who express specific interests through their purchasing. Also, while consumers seem willing to spend more for environmental enhancements to their housewares, they also are looser with their dollars online.

Peter Goldman, president of the home industry sector practice at The NPD Group, noted that sustainability was the most conspicuous trend at the International Home & Housewares Show, which ran from March 16 to 18 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. “Green is definitely a factor,” he said. “We saw quite a bit of it, particularly on the cookware side with several manufacturers introducing non-PTFE coated cookware and bakeware.” PTFE—polytetrafluoroethene—has caused some toxicity concerns among consumers, hence the introductions.

Given the nature of the housewares industry, many introductions, such as the non-PTFE cookware, had to do with purging the home environment of elements that might be considered harmful. Goldman said that NPD research indicated that the environment, both inside and out, was one of the things that could get consumers spending, even in the current economy.

At the Housewares Show, a range of initiatives addressed sustainability issues. Lifetime Brands, for instance, unveiled an initiative that it designated Eco World, which it will roll out across its various brands, starting with Pedrini. Quickie also debuted the Green And It’s Clean, line of eco-friendly cleaning tools that includes ‘Bamboo,’ featuring mop handles and brush blocks crafted from that sturdiest of grasses, and mop heads made of natural cotton or microfiber, a material that cleans well without chemicals. And Anchor Hocking actually introduced a sustainability element in its brand repositioning with its new logo featuring a green anchor to remind consumers of the natural origin and recyclable nature of its glass products.

Of course, sustainability has been a big issue with retailers, and they have begun launching their own product initiatives. Earlier this month, Wal-Mart Canada rolled out a new line of environmentally friendly cleaning products dubbed GreenLine. Products in the line are biodegradable, phosphate-free and contain no dyes or artificial fragrances, all at prices ranging from $2.78 to $7.43.

Yet, while the impact of sustainability has become more evident, the Internet is just getting recognition for its value in encouraging consumers to spend money. Goldman pointed out that sales in key housewares categories have been strong in the face of what might have been negative trends in consumer confidence, and that sales online have been particularly positive. Internet sales account for about 11% of all small appliance sales today, or $1.8 billion, he noted.

However, sales online are growing about three times faster than the overall category. Most of the growth in small appliances is coming at the high end of the market, NPD noted, and average price of small appliance purchases on the Web is $57.30, versus $29.71 for store purchases and $42.16 for catalog purchases. The numbers suggest that consumers who are looking to make serious small appliance purchases—and who might be more critical in their selections—are turning to the Internet.

The development of the Internet segment is in line with lifestyle purchasing. As they often have entertainment in mind, many lifestyle purchasers may want to find elaborate products that demonstrate a certain sophistication, and will search widely to satisfy their interest . Higher-end products have been more successful, in part, due to purchasing from consumers who are pursuing particular interests, whether cooking, barbecuing or wine quaffing.

Housewares vendors have responded by adding features that enhance distinct functions as consumer demand for products that matter more to them has become more task specific. On just the barbecuing front alone, recent housewares introductions have ranged from Corelle indoor/outdoor Simplicity dishware with a grip that makes for more secure portability, to the Grill Daddy, designed for easy, chemical-free cleanup.

In some measure, the prominence of chefs as developers and/or endorsers of cookware reflects the development of cooking as a lifestyle centerpiece to meet increasing interest. More chefs are getting involved in cookware, including Katie Chin, host of the PBS television show “Double Happiness,” who is working with Concept Housewares to introduce a new line of colorful woks and accessories constructed with silicone grips.

Now, however, chefs are moving beyond cookware and into small appliances. T-Fal, for example, has rolled out Emeril Lagasse to help launch a line of cooking appliances that includes a three-in-one food processor and a bread maker. Not to be outdone, Breville is working with TLC “Take Home Chef ” Curtis Stone to promote its Die-Cast Blender and Indoor BBQ and Grill and other items and, thus, mixing and matching the major trends that have stirred the housewares sector.

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