Making house(wares) calls

From food preparation tools to candles, housewares can thrive in the grocery channel if the category is properly planned and promoted.

By Craig Levitt

The tagline for this month’s International Housewares Association’s (IHA) annual show is “search, plan and communicate.” Presumably that tagline was not created specifically for the grocery channel. However, if supermarkets want to compete with other retail channels in the various housewares categories, observers say they would be wise to heed that advice.

When it comes to housewares sales at supermarkets, most perplexing to objective observers is not the languishing sales, rather the indifference to which many grocers treat the category—thus the need to plan and communicate—mostly with housewares manufacturers.

“Obviously, the primary mission of a supermarket is to supply food,” says Perry Reynolds, vice president, marketing and trade development for the Rosemont, Ill.-based IHA. “But if they broaden the mission just a little bit to satisfy the broader needs of their customers, it gives supermarkets the perfect entry into these [housewares] categories.”

To be fair, observers admit that not all food retailers can be painted with the same brush and that there are some that do a great job with the category. However, they also say that as an industry, the grocery channel simply does not pay enough attention to housewares. Many observers add that the lack of focus on the category is unfortunate because grocers are in a position to do well in numerous housewares segments.

The first—and most obvious—subcategory is food preparation tools. Observers say some of the more popular food preparation tools with consumers are in the baking arena. Last month Gartner Studios, based in Stillwater, Minn., marked the one-year anniversary of its line of baking products it developed with Duff Goldman, host of the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes.

“We have worked closely with Duff developing products, making sure that they work for him,” says Jan Dornseif, president of Gartner Specialty Products, a recently created division within Gartner Studios. “He basically took us through the bakery, telling us ‘this is what I like, this is what I don’t like,’ and we developed our own products around that.”

The current product line consists of spatulas, fondant smoothers, fondant cutters, a 15-piece decorating set, anodized aluminum cake pans, a full line of non-stick pans including cup cake pans and jumbo muffin tins and a pastry bag. A brownie pan, made up of individual squares so each brownie gets crust all around, is expected to be available in May.

Harnessing star power
Gartner Studios has also put plenty of promotional support behind the Duff line. A video loop was created for use at one chain and Dornseif says several store managers reported back that shoppers were standing in front of displays for five, six minutes at a time watching to see what Duff does and which products he uses. “He has got such great star power,” says Dornseif. “He resonates with [everybody]. With the whole push on reality TV people really feel like they know him and that really helps with our goal of taking the stigma away from baking and making it a fun and creative experience. There are people who are going to buy these products just because it is Duff, in some cases whether they need them or not.”

Of course housewares opportunities go beyond food preparation tools. According to IHA consumer feedback, Americans have spent more time at home over the past 18 months to two years and they are interested in making their homes more functional and organized. Reynolds says there are all kinds of new products in these areas that are designed to make consumers lives easier. He says that grocers should be focusing on home cleaning, home organization and storage.

Staying hydrated
Hank Roth, owner of Plymouth, Mass.-based Cool Gear International, says one of the strongest housewares categories at supermarkets are hydration products such as water bottles. While these hydration products are selling well, grocers must do more than simply display products on their shelves. It is important, say observers, that retailers pay close attention to the latest trends, ensuring that their product mix entices consumers. For example when it comes to hydration products, Roth says there has been a shift away from stainless and metal back to sustainable plastics.

Industry observers say it helps if a retailer can offer a product that provides added value as well. Cool Gear has multiple patents on freezable technology in their water bottles as well as their food storage containers that eliminates the need for ice.

“This technology keeps drinks colder longer,” says Roth. “On the food storage side we have freezable products that keep the food colder and fresher longer. All of these things work to our advantage because of the on-the-go trends where people are more mobile, taking foods with them.”  He adds that two other trends that are hot right now are ice coffee chillers and a plastic version of the take-out coffee cup.

On-the-go consumers are exactly who Mizco International had in mind when the Avenel, N.J.-based company partnered with Travelocity in creating a line of travel accessories.

“The idea behind the Travelocity accessories is to take a commoditized market place that has had the same product for the past  70 years, tweak it and make it fun and exciting,” says David Strumeier, executive vice president of Travelocity accessories for Mizco.

Mizco has used the Travelocity icon, the Roaming Gnome, as well as leveraged the assets of Travelocity to incorporate products that Strumeier says are unique and diversified to the marketplace. Those products include Roaming Gnome luggage tags, Roaming Gnome ear buds and Roaming Gnome tooth brushes. Sam Mizrahi, Mizco’s executive vice president says Roaming Gnome-shaped travel-size bottles will be introduced at the upcoming housewares show.

Mizrahi adds that Mizco has also had quite a bit of success in supermarkets with its iEssentials and Cellular Innovations brands.

The iEssentials line includes iPad and iPhone accessories, mice and mouse pads. And as consumer electronics users continue trend younger and younger, Mizco is targeting kids with the introduction of “creature ear buds,” ear buds that have “creatures” built into the cords that can be clipped onto clothing so the ear buds are not lost. The “creature ear buds” are being introduced at the housewares show and Mizrahi says there are six different “creatures” available. The Cellular Innovations line features cell phone chargers and cases.

Supermarkets can thrive with electronics accessories simply because today these products are consumable household items, says Mizrahi.

“We offer everyday items that people recognize they need, that they use for their consumer electronics—every day,” says Mizrahi. “And we sell the same quality product that a consumer electronics store does at a great value.”

Observers say another everyday item faring well in the grocery channel are candles. According to Mark Cunningham, vice president of sales and marketing for Candle-lite, a division of Lancaster Colony, based in Cincinnati, data from the Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group indicates that the food channel is outperforming other channels in the candle category.

“Candles are an impulse, home décor category driven by fragrance, color and value in the food channel,” says Cun­ningham. “Well-timed promotions like BOGOs have proven to be great sales (both unit and dollar) drivers for the home décor and fragrance candle department in the grocery channel.”

Though driven by impulse, new products are still important to the category. One trend that grocers should keep an eye on is candles with wicks made of natural wood that crackle when they burn. Cunningham says adding this extra sensory experience beyond traditional olfactory fragrance and visual flicker of a flame has drawn in consumers. To meet that consumer interest Candle-lite has launched its Landscape and Ember Wick natural wooden wick collections. The Ember Wick collection features six fragrances, all containing essential oils: Glazed Spice, Redberry Woods, Wild Seagrass, Bayside Harbor, Vanilla Fusion and Firelit Nite. Cunningham says Landscape is a collection of seven colors and fragrances inspired by the planets inherent beauty and is available in everyday, fall and holiday assortments.

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