Toops Scoops: The Housewares Show Is a Foodie's Nirvana

Trends – many of which transfer to food – include return to frugality, seeing green, simple and multi-useful for today's consumers.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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I love kitchen gadgets, care about the trendiest color of the year, want to find out what consumers think and what they want in their kitchens in the coming year. So I was first in line in Chicago at the recent 2010 International Home + Housewares Show, owned and operated by the Rosemont, Ill.-based International Housewares Association.

Apparently I'm not alone in my enthusiasm. Buoyed by double digit increases in both exhibitor participation (1,958, up 13 percent from last year) and professional attendees (60,254, up 10 percent) from over 100 countries, the show was a clear signal that the U.S. and global housewares and home goods business is in the forefront of the economic recovery. Aside from the gadgets, specialty food products and celebrity chefs, lots of innovative and multi-useful products were on display. Check out my favorites at www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2010/housewares-favorites.html.

Over the past decade, many Americans have turned their attention toward the home and activities such as home entertaining, healthy cooking and home improvement, marking a return to traditional values. Although they are entering the new decade with cautious optimism, many plan to focus on frugal spending and simpler lifestyles.

"Probably the biggest trend, and one that has been percolating for a few years, is the return to frugality," says A.J. Riedel, senior partner of Phoenix-based Riedel Marketing Group. She noted this trend has been growing, but it took the struggling economy to "kick it into high gear." Frugality is evidenced by the 35 percent increase in dollar sales of canning and freezing supplies to $162.4 million (including Walmart) during the 52 weeks ended Feb. 20. That followed a 19.5 percent boost for the previous 52 weeks, according to ACNielsen. 

They may be eating at home, but most consumers spend less time cooking, so convenience foods and speed-scratch cooking are percolating along with increased microwave usage (about 30 percent of meals) and less cooking on the stove top (33 percent of meals) than in prior years. It's a no brainer for houseware's manufacturers to provide appliances and gadgets for the time-and cooking-impaired. Just like the Apple I-Pad, the touch format is gaining steam. Ovens now come with buttons for chicken-nuggets, cookies, pizza, sausage and omelettes.

A panel of experts, led by Tom Mirabile, vice president of global trends and design at Lifetime Brands Inc., Garden City, N.Y., discussed the most important consumer trends coming down the pike. They considered four age groups — GenY, GenX, Baby Boomers, and Prime Timers — and provided recession-proof strategies for all of them.

Those age groups view the kitchen differently, and the panelists said one key trend was respecting the generational divides between them. Gen Y (aged 14-33), is completely connected and wired all day. GenX (aged 34-43) is raising a family, so the kitchen is a family communications hub for them. Baby Boomers (aged 44-63) are either entering the empty-nester phase or are experiencing children and/or parents moving back in with them. The panelists said the group is going to need to work longer than planned, but still is the demographic with the highest discretionary income. Prime Timers (age 64+) are concerned with safe aging-in-place. Ergonomics, product weight and visibility are key considerations for this group.

Other trends the panel identified:

  • Living Within Our Means (products such as pressure cookers, slow cookers, airtight storage products and canning products are gaining in popularity and are helping people to live within their means)
  • Live-In Kitchen (the average American spends 3-4 hours in the kitchen each day)
  • Green Kitchen (gaining momentum, being green is becoming a key factor in the way consumers view companies and each other)
  • The Wellness Kitchen (nutrition driven, an overall commitment to wellbeing
  • Cooking for Fun (creating shared experiences and enjoying life's simpler pleasures). That last one involves the Food Channel, kids as a new generation of cooking enthusiasts, celebrity chefs and "gastrosexuals," a breed of men who consider cooking cool and use it to impress friends and prospective partners.

Joining Mirabile in that panel discussion were Susan Yashinsky, vice president, marketing, Sphere Trending, a trend consulting firm; Sharilyn Ruckman, president, Ruckman + Co., a creative strategy and product development company; and Curt Bailey, president, Sundberg-Ferar Inc., a leading industrial design firm.

And in case you haven't heard, color guru Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Carlstadt, N.J.-based Pantone Color Institute, said turquoise is the color of the year. Combining blue and green, turquoise evokes soothing tropical waters and a languorous effective escape from the everyday troubles of the world, while at the same time restoring our sense of well being. In other cultures, "It's believed to be a protective talisman, a color of deep compassion and healing, a color of faith and truth, inspired by water and sky," she says. No doubt, it is ideal for today's uncertain times.

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