Generation Y, also known as the echo boomers, number 84 million and range in age from 15 to 34, making up 22 percent of U.S. households and eclipsing boomers, ages 45 to 64, by 4 million. Because Generation Y is marrying later, their spending power has the potential of being even greater than their predecessors' once the economy recovers, offering makers of consumer goods a juicy target.
By the same token, Tom Mirabile of Lifetime Brands notes younger consumers are more concerned about living within their means, eschewing the throw-away mindset of the past half-century and demanding not only durability but techno-savvy products that perform multiple tasks and look good while doing it.
"There is a renewed expectation and renewed demand for durability," Mirabile said in a recent interview. "We are seeing a different kind of consumer."
The recent International Housewares Association trade show in Chicago indicated manufacturers are going back to simpler designs that work out of the box rather than trying to introduce technical marvels that demand a learning curve to operate properly. Who needs an electronic rotisserie for chicken when a beer can tucked inside the bird or a vertical roaster that goes into the oven will do?
An example of the proliferation of simpler products is the French press coffee maker -- essentially a beaker with a handle, top and plunger-screen -- that takes up little room and gets tossed into the dishwasher, unlike its electric brethren that make coffee, espresso and steam milk, and take up a large chunk of kitchen counter real estate. For the dieter, there was the portion-control plate that pictures where each component of a meal belongs, sized to prevent overeating.
While some older consumers relished the formal living room and separate dining room, Generation Y appears to be the kitchen generation, harking back to a time when everyone congregated in the kitchen, not only to eat but to socialize.
Lifetime Brands's survey, "Top Trends for 2011," found the kitchen is becoming a multipurpose room where the host demonstrates cooking skills, the kids do their homework and myriad other activities take place. The trend presents a challenge to architects and construction companies to rethink design to reflect usage, rather than forcing buyers to conform behavior to design.
A recent Better Homes and Gardens poll indicates consumers realize the real estate party is over and it's time to look to the practical. The home office, for example, should double as a craft or hobby room. Houses also are getting smaller, with four or more bedrooms and three or more bathrooms going the way of the garret. By the same token, the survey found kitchens getting larger, with the market being driven by first-time buyers rather than move-up buyers. The National Association of Realtors notes 46 percent of sales in 2009 were to first-time buyers, with a median age of 30 to 32.
On the savvy front, the Better Homes survey found the kind of high-tech these young buyers are into is the kind that saves on energy and other utility costs.
And for those who don't want to start their search with a Realtor, iPhone has an app for that.