After-effects of September 11 continue to strengthen the "cocoon boom" as Americans retreat to home in greater numbers. In fact, home as haven was the No. 1 trend at the 2003 International Housewares Show, sponsored by the Rosemont, Ill.-based International Housewares Association.
If housewares trends reflect consumer desires and buying patterns, as they have in the past, get ready for mini. Not Minnie Mouse, but mini refrigerators, stoves, temperature-controlled wine coolers, microwaves and cookware. Stressed-out consumers also want to reward themselves with mini desserts and other small luxuries.
Prepare for the Asian invasion as exemplified by the many woks, square dishes and sushi kits; fondue (meat, seafood and vegetables rather than cheese); creature comforts (ice cream/smoothies, specialty coffee and exotic teas); nostalgia (popcorn poppers); slow-cooked meals (made with sophisticated crock pots that shut off when the food is cooked); grilling with an ethnic twist; microwave oven sensors that take the guesswork out of timing frozen foods; and value-added products with more than one function, or, as I like to call them, multi-tasking gadgets (such as a juicer that also grinds seasonings and coffee beans, and makes pasta and sorbets). The only thing they can't do is answer your cell phone.
Although a sluggish economy hurt many industries in 2001, the worldwide housewares market grew nearly 6 percent to $283.2 billion, with 87 percent of the spending in North America, Western Europe and Asia.
"Consumers are showing a greater inclination to prepare home-cooked meals," says A.J. Riedel, senior partner and founder of Phoenix, Ariz.-based-based Riedel Marketing Group. Although casual dining remains strong, Riedel notes that newly married Generation X consumers now want two sets of dishes -- one for every day and the other for special occasions.
"Comfort food, rustic cooking , these are the trends that make people feel warm and fuzzy," says Bob Coviello, president of Vernon, Calif.-based Housewares Tabletop International.
Industry expert Eleanor Hanson, co-editor of FoodWatch, a consumer food trends newsletter, predicts that the casual living, "home comfort" and comfort food trends will be redefined this year.
"The term comfort food is overused and losing some of its appeal," says Hanson. "The underlying premise is still valid because there is a place in the industry for comfort appeal. However, it needs a new twist, such as cozy, soothing or homespun, to get the consumer's attention.
While comfort food is an overriding trend, consumers are still pressed for time and not willing to sacrifice convenience. "The world has become a string of mini meals and snacks," says Hanson.
There's a yin and yang approach to cooking, varying between dummies , those who hate to cook or view it as a chore -- and sophisticates , those who love cooking and live to eat, says Hanson. "Cooking dummies are not so much dumb as they are disinterested -- perhaps even antagonistic , about cooking," she explains. "It is of no interest to them." Sophisticates tend to be aging baby boomers, who have time and money to devote to learning about and enjoying food, and young adults, who view cooking as a creative outlet.
Although they have not abandoned their craving for indulgence, American consumers say they want to eat healthier. "There is a lot of attention being focused on the epidemic of overweight kids and adults," says Sandra Hu, vice president/director of the San Francisco-based Ketchum Food Center. "This need for weight control provides opportunities for steamers, grills and any new appliances that can cook foods with low or no fat."
Hu also says, "The desire for ethnic flavors in cooking is transforming the grilling experience. "New grilling opportunities -- from Latin to Mediterranean , keep grilling exciting. It's not the same old food and flavors. Grilling is simply the technique; the new flavor profiles take grilled foods around the world, and mainstream consumers are introducing these flavors into the home. Ingredients like balsamic vinegar, cumin and soy sauce are now commonplace in the United States."
Faced with warnings from Homeland Security and the threat of war with Iraq, consumers want to hide by cocooning at home with family and friends. Perhaps the proliferation of crystal-clear cooking pots, coffee pots and freezer tops in some small way reflects their desire to control their destiny and solve problems before they get out of hand.