One of the biggest trends in the U.S. housewares industry is the rise of the so-called "gastro-sexual," said Tom Mirabile, vice president of global trend and design for Lifetime Brands.
"The old saw about 'can she cook' is being applied to men now," Mirabile said during an interview at the International Housewares Association trade show at McCormick Place in Chicago. "Men are using food to impress women. Celebrity chefs have made it cool."
Mirabile said there are six main trends that will drive the industry in the near future. Aside from the rise of the gastro-sexual, manufacturers will have to recognize the needs of each succeeding generation now that baby boomers are heading for their golden years, the importance of the kitchen as the "new living room," the twin importance of going green and the wellness craze, and the recognition we must live within our means.
"Kitchens are arenas now," Mirabile said. "They're not just functional workspace. Generations X and Y are buying basic-to-good (quality items) to stock their kitchens. Boomers are looking for durability and quality.
"Companies with multiple brands need to make sure each brand speaks to a generation."
Consumers are shifting away from a use-it-and-toss-it mindset to actively fighting planned obsolescence.
"It's a smaller pie. People want more for their money," he said.
That shift to durability also is reflected in increased interest in green cleaning products. Kurt Kober of Clorox' Green Works brand said there's been a marked increase in interest in cleaners made from plant-based materials as opposed to harsh chemicals. The next step will be to convince consumers to buy concentrated products that need to be mixed with water to save on packaging materials.
IHA spokeswoman Lisa Casey Weiss said a big trend in housewares these days is the rise of money-saving products, whether in-home steamers like those produced by Haan and Rowenta to reduce the necessity of heading for the dry cleaner to more personal care products to eliminate trips to the salon. Products that do double duty are also big.
Weiss said she doesn't expect this trend to fade much once the economy rebounds.
"Face it. We all like to save money," she said.
The drive to meet needs we didn't even know we had brings out the creativity in those bringing products to display at the annual trade show, which is not open to the public.
Styled & Simple has come out with Fit & Fold, a system that makes it easier to fold fitted sheets neatly. The product consists of four snaps -- labeled top left, top right, bottom left and bottom right -- that go in a sheet's corners. Just match the snaps and press. They remain on the sheet even through washing but are also easily removed and can be reused.
Ever go to a barbecue and ask for a medium-well steak but wind up one rare or well-done? Charmed Life Products wants to help avoid that situation with its Grill Charms. Leslie Heywood said the idea stemmed from an incident at her home where her husband made two kinds of grilled jerk chicken -- one really spicy and one mild. By the time the chicken got to the table, however, no one could tell which was which. So Heywood designed steel charms that can be screwed into a piece of meat.
Recipes on the computer are old hat. But what about an iPod-like electronic cookbook? Key Ingredient is producing the Demy -- a touch-screen e-cookbook that can be flipped around in any direction. It comes downloaded with a full range of recipes and cooks can add their own. Not only that but Key Ingredient will take all those little pieces of paper filling up the kitchen junk drawer and scan them in.