17131 Thu, 10/08/2009 - 4:41pm
By Andrea Lillo
Heading into the last quarter of a troubling 2009, manufacturers of cookware/bakeware, gadgets, and kitchenware believe products that promote convenience, entertaining and value will be drivers for the housewares category.
Though the prevailing thought is that the worst is behind them, some vendors believe that a difficult road lies ahead.
“I’m hoping that next year will not be as tough a time as the first half of 2009 was,” said David Holcomb, founder and chief executive officer, Chef’n. “I think the waters have calmed down a bit, and the retailers are saying to themselves, ‘Okay, we’re still in business, so now let’s try to stay in business through 2010.’”
As parts of the economy are slow to heal, housewares will still be affected, vendors said.
“I feel next year will continue to be soft—the first half especially,” said Mark Harris, vice president of sales and marketing, consumer division, WMF. “As long as unemployment continues to grow and as long as home sales are off, the business won’t be expected to grow.”
This will also be the time for cost/retail corrections, said Barbara Ayon, product development and sales director, cookware, TTU. Prices of aluminum, steel and oil, for example, “dipped below previous historical lows and therefore produced false price points,” she said. Now, “we are now starting to see things level out and costs/retails will become more in step with today’s economic conditions.”
Several categories within housewares perform better in this environment. Products that make “feel-good” food, such as panini makers and slow cookers, will be among the drivers for the category, said Holcomb, along with gadgets that combine “value, function and fun,” such as the Chef’n GarlicZoom.
In addition, because of the value special occasions bring to family and friends, “occasion-based baking is something that is resonating well with the consumer,” said Eric Erwin, executive vice president of marketing and product development, Wilton Food Crafts, which will soon introduce its Ultra Gold bakeware. “Every party needs a cake.”
And serveware. Lodge Mfg.’s restaurant quality serveware have become more popular due to more at-home entertaining, said Mark Kelly, marketing communications manager. Its foundry-seasoned cast-iron line, in addition, attracts new customers as well as loyal ones adding to their collections, he added.
Lodge recently showed its new glass lids at the Gourmet Housewares show, which were developed because some customers didn’t like the weight of cast-iron lids, said Kelly.
And as the demographics within the population change, companies will adjust their lines to address them. The growing Asian and Hispanic markets are a focus at TTU, which “successfully launched” its Asian Fusion line of Asian cookware and accessories this past spring, Ayon said. Next spring will see the release of Casa Maria, a line of cookware and accessories targeting Latinos.
“These two lines are focused on the authenticity of the product, not the gimmicky,” Ayon said.
As interest in the environment becomes more mainstream, consumers will be looking for products that reflect those values as well.
“As a global community we are also gravitating back to tried-and-true materials and goals,” Ayon said. For example, “glass as opposed to plastic, natural fibers as opposed to synthetics, repurposing items, looking toward making fresh foods last longer, [and] saving instead of spending.”
Due to health concerns with plastics, Harris said storage “will continue to be strong as consumers are looking for alternatives to plastics.”
But business has changed as the consumer is more hesitant to buy than ever. “We believe that there has been a fundamental change in consumer behavior,” Erwin said. “Never before has ‘value’ taken on such importance as a key word.”
The average consumer looked to “improve their own balance sheets and improve their household cash flow,” said Harris, resulting in reining in expenses. “This shift in shopping mentality will probably have an impact on the retail industry for another 5 years if not 10.”