Housewares: Design, health top of mind among consumers

By MARCELLA S. KREITER  |  March 4, 2013 at 10:43 AM
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CHICAGO, March 4 (UPI) -- American demographics are changing -- and not just because the baby boom generation is moving into its golden years, says Tom Mirabile, a trend analyst for the International Housewares Association.

With 8,000 boomers turning 65 every day and still directly controlling 41 percent of the spending in the United States, it's easy to see how what was the biggest generation -- 80 million members ages 47 to 67 -- in U.S. history has molded the nation's consumption habits. It turns out though, boomers actually have a hand in more than 60 percent of total spending because 59 percent of their offspring, the 84 million members of generation Y ages 17 to 36, are still spending their parents' money, some because they're still dependents, others victims of the economy.

"The industry is really at a crossroads," Mirabile, senior vice president for global trend and design for Lifetime Brands Inc., said in an interview in advance of his Monday forecast on trends reshaping the $305 billion housewares industry.

An example: "When boomers have a dinner party, we generally get all the prep work done in advance. I recently went to a dinner party given by a much younger friend. To be polite, I asked him if there was anything I could do. He handed me a peeler and a knife and a bag of carrots and asked me to cut them. I really didn't want to do that."

For generation Y the cooking itself is part of the entertainment experience and guests are expected to participate, Mirabile said.

"It's cooking as social action," he said, adding that means sleeker and prettier kitchen gadgets that become conversation pieces. Whereas boomers came of age in a throwaway society where paper plates and plastic silverware were de riguer for get-togethers, generation Y is harking back to a time when the good stuff came out for dinner parties -- even the temporary tableware on display at the International Housewares Show trade show at Chicago's McCormick Place, which runs through Tuesday, showed a design elegance and quality absent a generation earlier.

Several companies offered a theme on the ubiquitous red plastic beer cup. Trudeau, a Canadian firm, displayed a double-walled, insulated, dishwasher safe, red party cup while another company displayed a partially crushed ceramic version.

Along the food prep as entertainment line comes iCoffee, a new brewing system Bruce Burrows touts as "French press without the mess" -- a slogan he said he can't use because very few people know what French press coffee is. The iCoffee looks like a large drip coffeemaker but instead of just heating water and letting it compact the coffee grinds, the appliance injects steam into the beans to make them pop and then swirls them with jets of water, much the same way you would stir the grinds in a French press before you let it steep. The result is a smooth cup of coffee without much of the acid that makes a brew bitter. It is expected to be available in May for $149.99. To go along with the new brewer, Nesco showed a coffee roaster that allows you to roast beans a cup at a time for the freshest, most flavorful cup of java.

Healthier was another theme at the show, from Prepara's herb preservation system (you put the leftover stems and leaves into a vertical plastic container that sits in a base filled with water) the company says will keep the herbs fresh for three weeks, to numerous air and water purification systems to a new wrist band -- the LifeTracking Monitor C200 from Smart Health -- that uses your heart rate, height and weight to measure your activity level (I found I walked more than 19,000 steps the first day of the show and more than 10,000 the second, and used about 300 calories sleeping). The basic monitor is to sell for $59.99, with a Bluetooth version to be available in June for $89.99.

Aquasana will be offering a $100 countertop water filtration system that can produce a half-gallon of water in 30 seconds, removing 99 percent of the chlorine and 97 percent of the chloramines that form when ammonia is added to chlorine-treated water, along with 61 other contaminants, said Derek Mellencamp, Aquasana's vice president of marketing. By contrast, he said, Britta, the most popular pitcher filtration system removes only six.

Kishu has another take on cleaner water. Just drop its charcoal into a quart to half-gallon pitcher of water to absorb the toxins, including heavy metals. Kishu spokeswoman Judith Bershof said the charcoal is good for six months of water filtration and then can be used in the refrigerator to absorb smells for several more. The charcoal comes in a case of 12 for $81.There are also sizes for water bottles and 3-5 gallon pitchers as well as Christmas stockings marketed as "not just a lump of coal."

With concern growing about the health effects BPA -- bisphenol-A -- manufactures have been looking for something to replace polycarbonates. Enter Tritan from Eastman, a new polymer that is more durable, BPA-free and able to survive 3,000 dishwasher cycles.

Robots are also a growing presence. They may not be Rosey, "The Jetsons'" maid, but now they not only vacuum the floors, they'll clean windows and barbecue grills. Ecovacs introduced the Winbot, which uses suction to stick to glass and little rubber tractor treads to crawl around the area to clean off dirt. A special ammonia-free cleaning solution is sprayed on the cleaning pads, which can be thrown into the washing machine for cleaning. Thirty-foot, screw-in extension cords are available for the outdoor cleaning chores.

Grillbot is a cute little device with three wire brushes that scrub the barbecue clean. It was the brainchild of Ethan Woods who when he arrived at his cabin in Upstate New York discovered his grill was a mess and needed a thorough cleaning before he could do anything about dinner. Woods went to his shed and pulled out a power drill and attached a wire brush, and an idea was born.

Like your soda pop but don't want to keep buying all those plastic bottles and cans? Hamilton Beach is introducing the Fizzini to compete with SodaStream's countertop device that makes about 10 litres before the carbonation canister has to be replaced along with a handheld version that will use single-use cartridges.

When it comes to floor-cleaning, the cutest entry was the Footsie Towel from Evri Products -- a towel with what look like open-toed, fabric sandals on each end for gliding over a floor while remaining upright and hands-free -- not to mention the workout for the outer thighs.

And let's not forget Fido. Enchanted Home Pet has a line of dog and cat beds that look like fine furniture -- only smaller.

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