Heading for Home

The annual Housewares Show promises a wide selection of new merchandise. Here is a sample of what may fit in supermarkets.

By Nora Caley

Could it finally be true? Is the worst over for the much-maligned housewares category and can retailers look forward to an uptick in sales on everything from kitchen gadgets to microwaves and refrigerators?

The answer, according to many suppliers attending this month’s International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago, is a definite maybe. A large number of suppliers say that the improving economy is helping to spur demand in the more expensive end of the housewares market. At the same time, many note that the less expensive end of the category, including many of the products that sell at supermarkets, have always fared relatively well, despite the rough economic conditions.

Optimism is high. According to Perry Reynolds, vice president of marketing and trade development for the International Housewares Association, exhibition space at the upcoming show at McCormick Place is sold out for most categories, and the number of registered buyers will be higher this year than last year. The show, which will take place March 10 to 13 will attract an estimated 60,000 attendees and 2,000 exhibitors.

Reynolds says those figures point to the fact that consumers are ready to spend on updating their homes, a positive thought that he acknowledges sounds familiar. “There were probably false dawns, false excitement to some degree over the past couple of years,” he says. “Suppliers were cautiously optimistic last year, yet they are very optimistic this year.”

He points to what he calls a free flow of new products as another example of overall optimism. This year’s show will feature 30,000 new items, including merchandise from 400 new exhibitors. “If we find room for them that number will grow some more,” Reynolds says. “Entrepreneurs are finding access to capital and bringing products to market.” Also new this year, the IHA will present awards for innovation.

Among the attendees will be approximately 15,000 U.S. buyers and 6,000 international buyers. All hope to find decorative items, kitchen accessories, and other products that will update their housewares assortments. Here is a look at what some housewares companies plan to showcase at this year’s event.

Wahl Clipper Corp.
One trend that is helping boost sales in personal care items is the fact that people are cutting their hair at home, and not just to save money, says Steven Yde, director of marketing for Wahl Clipper Corp., based in Sterling, Ill. “We see a marked increase in haircut bonding, which is moms and dads cutting their children’s hair, even adult children,” he says. “It provides a way for families to share an intimate bonding experience while feeling good about saving money and interacting, as opposed to non-interacting activities such as watching TV or going to a sporting event together.”

Wahl Clipper will highlight the Fade Pro, a combined fading and balding clipper. Wahl also has a new Total Care oil for conditioning personal care appliances, such as clippers, trimmers and shavers. The company will also feature its new Complete Hair Cutting Book.

Mizco International
People want to take their smartphones and tablets with them when they travel and sometimes that travel involves being around pools and beaches. To protect those devices, Mizco International, based in Avenel, N.J., is extending its Travelocity line with the Waterproof Series of cases. The cases are available in sizes for tablets, smartphones, cameras and e-readers.

David Strumeier, executive vice president of sales and marketing of the Travelocity division of Mizco, says grocery retailers are merchandising the cases on clip strips near the sun block and sun protection items. “It’s a very easy sale to create in a grocery store,” he says. “They are impulse items and they are priced in Travelocity brand prices, and Travelocity screams value.”

Cool Gear International
Cool Gear International will feature 25 new hydration products, including barware, single and double wall water bottles, glass bottles, coffee mugs, food storage, travel accessories, lunch bags and filtration products.

“During these challenging economic times, consumers are value and quality conscious, both in hydration and food storage,” says Hank Roth, executive vice president for the Plymouth, Mass.-based company. “Ease of function, design, quality and brand name are important.”

Bradshaw International
Bradshaw International will highlight four Good Cook products at the show.
First is the 3-D series in the Sweet Creations by Good Cook line. The 3-D cookie cutters can make cookies to be assembled into a gingerbread house or a standing Christmas tree, say officials for the Rancho Cucamunga, Calif.-based company. The 3-D bakeware is a two-piece baking mold that turns a cake mix into a solid edible Christmas ornament. Also in the Sweet Creations line is a collection of holiday cookie and cake pop molds, clamshell type molds that form cake batter into cake pops that the home baker can decorate.

Also new from Good Cook is the Peanut Butter and Jelly Tool, which features a soft silicone, angled tip to scoop and spread jam or jelly. The opposite end has a serrated blade shape to scrape the peanut butter and then cut the sandwich in half.

The newest addition to Good Cook’s TOUCH kitchen helpers is a baster with built-in functions. There is a cleaning wand that uses a squeegee concept instead of a bristle brush, a silicone basting brush tip, and parts designed to fit neatly into the baster itself for storage.

The newest candles from Candle-lite reflect various themes, says Mark Cunningham, vice president of sales and marketing for the Cincinnati-based company. What they have in common, though, is the filled jar format. “The filled glass product segment is the best vehicle to deliver fragrance,” he says.

Among the candles the company will present at the show are the Fresh Fruit collection, 10 colors and fragrances designed to conjure the smells of a farmers market. The scents include Apple, Lime, Mango, Plum, and others, and are available in 18-ounce jars with decorative lids.

The Escape collection offers six fragrances that offer a spa feel. “It’s somewhat inspired by the aromatherapy category,” Cunningham says. “It’s geared to appeal to a broader audience, to capture some of the under 35 consumer group.” The Escape candles are available in 7.25-ounce jars and in a three-wick 12-ounce jar.

The Sheer Simplicity collection consists of white candles designed to match every décor. “This speaks to the luxury trend,” Cunningham says. “They are clean, contemporary looking cylinders, an affordable elegant white themed program.”

Now Designs
The booth for Now Designs is going to be very colorful, if a little crowded. “We will have over 500 new SKUs in our booth including colored bar mops, new enhanced micro-fiber dishcloths and the scrub-a-dub dishcloth/scourer,” says Rodney Benson, for the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based company.

Kitchen textiles are hot these days, Benson says, especially aprons. “There is a strong trend for the retro look. Bright colors and updated cleaning products are selling well, especially tea towels and dishcloths.”

The company is also showing two new apron displays designed for grocery. There’s a 12-inch apron rack for aprons, tea towels, mitts and potholders. It attaches to a pegboard, slatwall or endcaps. There is also a 24-inch freestanding chrome spinner rack for aprons and kitchen goods.

Home Comfort
Home Comfort recently added more than 100 designs to its Jellybean line of rugs. Consumers do buy kitchen and laundry room rugs in the supermarkets, says Renee Ringstad, vice president of the Atlanta-based company. “Our grocery business is definitely growing,” she says. The machine washable, indoor/outdoor rugs are available in categories including Garden & Floral, Kitchen & Laundry, Pets, Coastal, Stripes & Patterns, Welcome, Country & Lodge, Fall, and Holiday.

Harvest Direct
The new products at Harvest Direct’s booth will be Grout Bully, which cleans and renews grout between tiles, and Just Pop It. Sean Cohen, vice president of sales for the Norwell, Mass.-based company, says the cleaner will be supported with $2 million in television advertising. Grout Bully began as a direct response item and is now available in the food, drug, and mass channel.

Just Pop It is a tabletop-size hot air popcorn popper available in basketball, baseball, soccer ball and football shapes. The cover, which is shaped like the ball, is removable and doubles as a bowl. Cohen says Just Pop It appeals to sports fans and to people who want to eat a more healthful popcorn. “It’s amazing how well hot air popcorn compares in health quality,” he says. “Microwave popcorn has chemicals added and butter and salt.” Harvest Direct will also present its Just Swirl It Cotton Candy maker at the show.

Whink Products Co.
Consumers know they should not use the same cleaner for every surface of the kitchen. Whink Products Co.,based in Eldora, Iowa, recently launched Countertop Cleaner, a salt-based cleaner that has a cream consistency and uses calcium carbonate. “Calcium carbonate crystals are long and round, not sharp,” says Steve Throssel, president. “Silicon, which our competition uses, is diamond shaped and very sharp, so it does leave minute scratches that wear down the surface faster.”

Whink will also highlight the 4-ounce Instant Spot Remover spray pump, which is environmentally friendly because it contains no CFCs. The company also has a sidekick for merchandising the product. There will also be 32-ounce value-size Cooktop Cleaner and Countertop Cleaner and a 6-pack size of Rust Guard.

Butler Home Products
Color is very fashionable now, even in cleaning cloths and floor mops, says Michael Silverman, senior vice president of marketing for Butler Home Products. “Colors and patterns have been good for promotions and impulse buying,” he says.

The Marlborough, Mass.-based company is introducing the Mr. Clean Breeze Mop, which features a large microfiber pad for a faster, easier cleanup. Butler is also relaunching a range of Mr. Clean gloves. “We are the new licensee of the Mr. Clean name for gloves and have totally revamped the program that was discontinued,” Silverman says. The line will feature new packaging and colors, and the SKUs will include reusable, disposable and fashion gloves. There will also be reusable wipes and sponge cloths.

Butler is also expanding the Magic Eraser Mop program into the bathroom with the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Toilet Scrubber. It is made from Magic Eraser material and features a toilet scrubber, caddy, and reusable magic eraser scrubbing pads.

To help merchandise the products, Butler offers a new semi-permanent display for stick goods. “It looks sleek, keeps the product where it needs to be and can be refilled and remerchandised by store personnel. It is a trade up from the traditional corrugate display,” Silverman says.

Just as a home chef multitasks, so too should a kitchen gadget. TruBamboo will bring to the show a new cutting board with knife sharpener. The sharpener is in the corner of the board, so the user does not have to dig through a drawer to find a sharpener. “We try to take products that are successful and innovate around those and create things that are useful,” says Rebel Negley, a spokesperson for TruBamboo, which is based in Boynton Beach, Fla. The cutting boards are made of bamboo, and are available in several sizes and in dark and light colors.

TruBamboo will also show its new Sushi Nite trays. The small trays are stackable and are available in a cardboard PDQ display that can help with cross merchandising. “These work well in the sushi section,” Negley says. One trend in grocery is to display kitchen items not in the kitchen gadget section but near the applicable foods. TruBamboo’s banana holder, she says, is merchandised near the bananas.

Big Time Products
Big Time Products signed a licensing agreement with the Soft Scrub brand, and will launch a line of Soft Scrub gloves at the show. The line will consist of 30 SKUs, including reusable and disposable versions and will include latex, vinyl and nitrile gloves.

Ken Weiss, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Rome, Ga.-based company, says there has been a shift from latex to nitrile over the past two years. “Nitrile has great characteristics for the consumer,” he says. “It causes no allergic reactions and has better durability attributes.” The advantage for retailers, Weiss says, is that the cost of nitrile, a synthetic rubber, is not as volatile as latex.

Wrap sandwiches and quesadillas are becoming very popular, says Manny Gaunaurd, president of IMUSA USA, an ethnic housewares brand based in Doral, Fla. “The tremendous growth in tortilla sales has been influenced by many factors, not the least of which is the increased Hispanic population in the U.S.,” he says.

To keep those tortillas warm, IMUSA will highlight its new cloth Tortilla Warmer, available in Sun Burst, Chili Peppers, and Stripe patterns. IMUSA will also feature the three-piece Sauté Pan Set of 8-, 10- and 12-inch pans, constructed of heavy-gauge aluminum, an interior of reinforced nonstick coating, and an exterior made of durable, easy-to-clean porcelain enamel. The company will also feature a 4-ounce masa scoop, a stainless steel with nylon handle masa spreader and a stainless steel with nylon handle bean masher.

Gaunaurd says espresso coffee is also popular now, and IMUSA will introduce its Nostalgia Collection of 3-ounce espresso cup sets. The Hospitality Set features retro graphics of famous Cuban hotels. When stacked, the handles spell “CAFÉ.” The Cabaret Set features graphics inspired by 1950s Cuban nightclubs such as the Tropicana, with handles that spell “CUBA.” IMUSA offers stackable displays for cross merchandising in the coffee aisle and also offers merchandising programs for the kitchen gadgets and other products.

Gartner Specialty Products
Last year Gartner Specialty Products, a division of Gartner Studios, launched the Duff Cake Decorating Airbrush Machine. Jan A. Dornseif, president of the Stillwater, Minn.-based company, says the item was so successful that Gartner is now introducing products that home bakers can use with the airbrush machine. At the show the company will feature the new line of gumpaste flowers. Dornseif explains that the flowers serve as a white canvas for airbrushing. “Once color is applied, you can place these pieces on your cake to add a three dimensional look,” she says. “You can use the same flower on many different themes just by using different colors or painting techniques.”

Dornseif says grocery retailers have been dedicating more space to baking pans and tools. “There really isn’t a specified area for just baking or just cooking. If retailers could bring all of the solutions together in one place, and inspire their customers with some visual imagery, that could change the shopping experience for housewares products in the grocery channel,” she says. She adds that Gartner has seen success with freestanding permanent display fixtures that house the cake baking and decorating solution in one area.

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