Tools of the healthy cooking trade

As shoppers strive to eat healthier, they also need to stock up on all types of gadgets to help them make the most of the nutritious ingredients in their carts.

By Allison Zisko

As shoppers look to retool their eating habits by choosing healthier options to assemble better-for-you meals, many are finding that their cooking equipment needs an overhaul as well.

Savvy grocers are appealing to this growing demographic by adding a number of items—from fruit slicers to baking pans to make bite-size treats to help with portion control.

“Our industry is evolving quickly to adapt to healthier lifestyles which has influenced gourmet food trends,” says Bill Booth, vice president of sales and marketing at Toastess, a maker of small cooking appliances that recently introduced a stainless-steel food steamer and rice cooker “to respond to a fresher and healthier way of preparing meals.” The appliance can steam rice, vegetables, fish, meats, poultry, eggs and more, say officials for the Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada-based company.

“When we look at new categories to develop or design we look at what’s happening in the marketplace,” said Laurie Licht, marketing manager, housewares new product development at Robinson Home Products, based in Williamsville, N.Y. A few years ago, she says, baking was big, but healthy eating has emerged as a strong driver with its emphasis on fresh, organic foods and farmers’ market produce. It prompted the company to focus on items like its Chop and Slide Cutting Board and its Squish line of collapsible colanders, both of which help in the preparation of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Lifetime Brands, based in Garden City, N.Y., has a similar approach. “The enhanced availability and variety of fruits and vegetables available year round, combined with the emphasis on healthier eating, has driven the demand for solution-based produce kitchen tools and gadgets that have very specific uses,” says Jim Wells, president of Lifetime’s kitchenware division. He pointed to the company’s Strawberry Slicer and Banana Slicer as examples. “In addition to solution-based designs there is an opportunity to bring the vibrant colors of the category into the product itself.”

“Local isn’t a trend but I’m glad it has become a central part of our conversation,” says Marcus Samuelsson, the celebrity chef who has partnered with Macy’s on an exclusive cookware collection. “We designed this set with Macy’s based on the diverse American palate and to offer people from all over the country the chance to steam, braise, cook or fry using their local ingredients.”

“Many restaurants promote local farmers and emphasize healthy, pesticide-, hormone- and  antibiotic-free ingredients in menu items,” says Manny Gaunaurd, president of Imusa, based in Doral, Fla. “This observation supports an awareness, interest and commitment that is resonating in all housewares categories with healthier cooking and meals prepared with less canned or preserved ingredients and made with more fresh, locally sourced foods. More people cooking at home is leading to stronger sales in virtually all housewares categories.”

To that end, Gaunaurd noted growth in the juicing category as well as in the gadgets and cookware needed to make tortillas, empanadas and tamales at home.

Debra J. Mednick, executive director of client development, home for Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group, says that generally the trend in the U.S. has moved away from scratch cooking, but the poor economy and growing consumer desire to make their own food using “my ingredients, my way” has led to more home cooking. “We see food prep appliances in general doing well,” Mednick says. “There is definitely more food prep going on, or the intention of food preparation.” The growing Hispanic population in the U.S., Mednick says, is contributing to that growth because it is an ethnic group that embraces food prep.

Holstein Housewares’ Fun line, which includes the Empanada Maker and 2 in 1 Multi Maker, “allows you to do it yourself and make delicious food the healthy way, without frying and by saving electricity since you don’t need to use the oven,” says Natalie Correa, marketing coordinator for the Miami-based company. And for those who want a break from all the healthy eating but still want to control their portions, Holstein’s Cake Bites Maker and Brownie Makers can prepare 14 miniature snacks in just seven minutes.

Mednick says a resurgence in baking at home is a trend that has strength because it allows consumers to control ingredients and make things their own way. And according to Wells, the trend is driving retailers to “expand their selections beyond the very basics and into broader assortments that can meet the needs of serious baking related projects.

“Consumers are watching these incredible baking creations on the various food programs like Cake Boss or Cupcake Wars, and they want to emulate that at home,” he says. Items like cake decorating sets are becoming popular again, according to Wells, and the company will introduce a collection of baking tools and gadgets for 2013 that address the needs of the more serious home baker.c

—Andrea Lillo and David Gill contributed to this story.

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