Consumer Corner: Housewares looking to innovation to boost holiday season

By MARCELLA S. KREITER  |  July 25, 2010 at 5:25 AM
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CHICAGO, July 21 (UPI) -- Despite recent iffy retail sales reports, U.S. housewares manufacturers are optimistic about the coming holiday season, a spokesman for the International Housewares Association says.

Perry Reynolds, IHA vice president of marketing and trade development, said exhibitors at the recent Hot Housewares event in New York expressed confidence the coming holiday season would post gains over last year based on sales performance in the spring.

"I don't think anybody is unconditionally optimistic," Reynolds said. "The people I'm talking to, they have moved one notch above cautious optimism."

Despite the spring numbers, overall retail sales dropped 0.5 percent in June over May, but were up 4.9 percent from June 2009.

"Consumers continue to take a cautious approach toward shopping," National Retail Federation President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Shay said in a release following the U.S. Commerce Department report. "However, growth in key areas such as electronics, apparel and department stores is an encouraging sign."

Reynolds said it's difficult to quantify how many manufacturers are coming up with radically new products, and whether they're absolutely necessary, but technical advances are evident.

Among the new products displayed were Zoku's ice-pop maker, which can turn out frozen treats in 7 minutes and Base Brands's trash can, which has a compactor in the lid.

"As it has been good times or challenging times, product development and innovation that brings new products to market still get the customers' notice. The consumer still sees it and the consumer responds," he said.

The marketing research firm NPD said brand names likely will play a role as holiday shopping gears up.

"As we emerge from the Great Recession, retailers and brands have been repositioned in the consumer's mind," said Dee Warmath, NPD senior vice president retail insights. "As such a new playing field has emerged and new action plans need to be devised."

Lisa Casey-Weiss, IHA's lifestyles expert, said the trends at the Hot Housewares event were hot and cold -- warm weather and cold weather fun.

On the cold weather side was Hernan's tools for making authentic Mexican hot chocolate.

"They actually sell the chocolate, not just the tools," Casey-Weiss said. The kit comes with kekua -- chocolate -- prep tools for grinding the chocolate and a ceramic pot called an olla de barro.

"A lot of foodies are interested in authentic, original chocolate," she said.

On the hot weather side was the Zoku Quick Pop Maker.

"Instead of having to freeze overnight, you have a base that sits in the freezer. You fill the molds, put the sticks in and it makes it on the counter top in 7 minutes," Casey-Weiss said. "It's kinda fun to do -- quick and convenient -- and it can be healthy. You can do different things with it, use fruit juices, make a core of fresh fruit. And it's almost instant gratification."

On the innovation front was Fagor America's halogen convection tabletop oven, a multifunction unit that grills, broils, bakes, roasts, steams and fries. The 12-quart glass container is see-through so progress can be watched.

As for convenience, Maverick displayed a roasting thermometer -- the Remote Smoker Therm -- that allows the cook to monitor progress from 100 feet away. The thermometer goes on a belt clip and uses a WiFi signal.

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