By Andrea Lillo
The comforts of the kitchen may be where consumers head to this year, to counter their woes of the economy and possible recession. Though the category has not been immune from raw material costs and other troubling issues, manufacturers feel the kitchen is where consumers are willing to spend money, as they cook for themselves or entertain others.
Celebrity chefs also continue to influence the category, which has seen the eco-friendly trend gain momentum.
Hugh Rushing, executive vice president of the Cookware Manufacturers Association, for one, believes consumers will be more conservative this year. “The so-called ‘cocooning’ effect, which we have seen in recent economically uncertain times, will potentially aid the cookware and bakeware industry.” Restaurants are predicting a tight year for sales, he said, and “reducing the footprints of many dining options. All these trends will aid cookware as consumers look for better value in preparing their meals.” As a result, “home food preparation may reverse its slide of recent years as more consumers choose to cook for themselves.”
Allan Wolk, president of Global Marketing Corp., which distributes Swiss Diamond cookware in the United States, agreed. “The housing market may affect such categories as furniture and appliances, but not kitchenware. It doesn’t matter what happens in housing—people still entertain.”
But it won’t be easy. “The housing market does not really affect the kitchenware market as much as the total economy does,” said Chris McCarthy, vice president and general manager of M.E. Hueck, which will introduce its Hamilton Beach line of cookware in March. “Kitchenware typically does not break, it wears out, and so if their disposable income has been affected by gas prices, for example, then this will hurt kitchenware sales.”
E-tailer Cooking.com hasn’t seen many downtrends in any cookware classifications, said Mayur Shah, cookware, cutlery and bakeware buyer for Cooking.com. In fact, cookware continues to climb, with its largest categories in cookware sets and skillets. “Recently, with some of the partnerships we have taken on (Cooking.com runs multiple “powered-by” online stores, including foodnetwork.com and starbuckstore.com), we have experienced a significant spike in chef-backed product,” he added.
The popularity of celebrity cooks overall “continues to invigorate the cookware market with new collections,” said Suzanne Howard, vice president of marketing for Meyer Corp. U.S. “We’re also seeing more interest in nostalgic comfort foods, such as hearty stews and casseroles, which has heated up sales for cast iron, an ideal material for slow cooking.”
Rushing believes inflation will cause prices to rise in 2008 on almost all consumer products as well, though “consumers will gravitate toward value in good times and uncertain times.” Though stainless-steel prices have seemed to level off, he added that “challenges for stainless steel due to rampant price inflation may result in more polished aluminum product being offered. There may be a move to a nickel-free stainless steel, but this is still very uncertain.” These price increases affected lower, entry-level stainless-steel products last year, he added, and will continue to do so in 2008.
“I think that consumers will also remain active but that they will be more selective with their planned purchases,” said Peter Braley, vice president of sales and marketing for WMF/USA Retail Division. “In order to achieve our goals in 2008, we will need to be more aggressive in attracting the consumer to increase their purchases of impulse products.”
And, of course, as with other categories, green is a continuing trend, but will extend beyond products. “Consumers will be taking a closer look at what companies are doing to not only make it easier for them to adapt greener ways of living, including cooking meals at home, but also what companies are doing to make the environment better for everyone,” Howard said.
And adapting a more wholesome lifestyle is part of it, Howard added. “Eating healthy and adapting healthier cooking styles and techniques is boosting sales of non-stick skillets, non-stick grilling pans, steamer inserts, etc.” Induction cooking is another trend that’s making its way to the home from restaurants, she added, leading to more induction-ready cookware.