Rethinking the Block Set
The newest Cuisinart block style will be a crate style with slatted sides. lifetimebrands.com
By Allison Zisko
Cutlery block sets are not static. They evolve and change--in size, shape and configuration--according to consumer needs and expectations.
In recent years block set footprints have shrunk slightly, because it lowers the price point and because consumers now prefer less bulk on the countertop, vendors said. Prep sets that include three or four basic blades are also gaining strength, partly for the same reasons. They are marketed to novices like college students and people who are just learning to cook, as well as seasoned home chefs who prefer a small block with essentials only.
What are those essentials? It varies slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, but most top-selling knife blocks include one or two sizes of chef's knives, a parer, a knife with a serrated edge, and a santoku ("You have to have it, it's so popular right now," said Cathleen Zeman, director of housewares new product development for Robinson Home Products).
Equally important are shears and some type of sharpener. "The shears are definitely considered part of your core block. Consumers look for it," said Zeman. "Two years ago you may have put two more knives in the block, but consumers want the shears. And the steel is gaining in popularity as consumers become more knowledgeable about caring for their knives."
As ceramic knives become more popular, expect to see more blocks of ceramic blades. Ceramic blades also lend themselves to more color fashion statements, and blocks are being designed to highlight them.
Although well known to butchers and other culinary professionals, the Victorinox brand is still relatively new at retail, according to Rene Stutz, president, Victorinox Swiss Army NA. Block sets are not currently a big part of its business, though they would like them to be, Stutz said. Its best-selling block is a seven-piece set that retails for $99.99. The company also offers smaller starter sets that include the 8-inch chef, a slicer and a parer. Swiss Classic is a revamped version of a popular food service collection, designed for homeowners. The line, pieces of which are shown here, includes several blocks and starter sets, as well as a two-piece santoku set. victorinox.com
Lifetime Brands makes sure it provides a good-better-best assortment for each of its retail partners across its three main cutlery brands: Farberware, Cuisinart and KitchenAid. Variation is achieved through handle design, block design and piece count, said Alanna Mazeika, vice president of business development for cutlery and cutting boards. A 16-piece set for $99.99 is a best-seller across Lifetime's brands.
Two years ago consumers wanted "mega blocks," big footprint blocks that were at least 9 inches wide with approximately 18 to 21 pieces, according to Mazeika, but "nowadays, consumers are more concerned about the size of the block on their countertop so we're downsizing to blocks that are 4 1/2 to 5 inches wide, with the same piece count."
Lifetime also offers prep sets across its brands, which include a 6-inch chef, a 5-inch utility, 3 1/2-inch parer and shears, as well as smaller piece counts. "I think people are moving more toward 14 and 16-piece sets because of value," Mazeika said. Consumers are interested in the block's design and its color. The newest Cuisinart block style to be introduced at the International Home & Housewares Show next spring will be a crate style, shown, with slatted sides. lifetimebrands.com
Wusthof-Trident of America
Wusthof's number-one-selling block set is its Classic 7-piece, shown here.
"Over the years, our extensive and varied range of sets has grown and evolved," said Annette Garaghty, vice president of sales and marketing. "For more than 10 years, we have included the santoku knife, which is our third best-selling style, in many of our sets. Beyond this, the essential knives have remained the same."
Wusthof offers starter sets made up of two and three knives. A two-piece set includes a cook's knife and a paring knife, while the three-piece starter sets include either a carving or bread knife. "We have seen the starter sets grow in popularity during the current downturn in the economy," Garaghty said. "However, another trend has been growth in our larger sets. We offered a 36-piece block set this year and the sales have been amazing." wusthof.com
Robinson Home Products
Robinson Home Products manufactures knife blocks and open stock assortments under the Oneida brand, and open stock knives for the Culinary Institute of America.
Two Oneida blocks that are performing well at one mass merchant are a 13-piece set with POM handles and a stainless steel blade, and a 14-piece set that is all stainless steel, according to Zeman. The company will soon introduce an Oneida starter set, which includes a 5-inch cook's knife (which is smaller than a chef), a 5-inch utility, a parer and a 5-inch santoku in a bamboo block for $29.99 (pictured).
The company has had success with its open stock ceramic knives, according to Zeman, and is considering offering a ceramic block set. But consumers are currently testing ceramic blades and therefore still prefer the open stock option. "Consumers are much more educated than they used to be," Zeman said. robinsonus.com