By Andrea Lillo
Though the good news is that more consumers seem to be cooking at home, the bad news is the continuing economy.
While manufacturers know this will be another tough year at retail, they look to stick to their niches and differentiate themselves at market in order to sell.
And to entice the consumer, companies find that pieces of specialty and multifunction cookware resonates, as do larger sets.
Though business is still good at TTU, “Retailers are rethinking their purchasing strategy,” said Barbara Ayon, product development and sales director for cookware. However, because of TTU’s placement as an opening-price-point supplier, “we’re fortunate. It’s what the customer can afford now.”
“There is no denying that the first quarter this year will be difficult overall for the housewares industry,” said Frances Ro, president of Fissler. “But vendors and retailers focusing most on the high-end market will experience less hardship than those in the middle dealing with severe price competitions.”
Fissler hasn’t changed its price points, Ro said, and the company continues to offer freight support plans. “We feel that due to the overall challenging economy, we cannot make things more difficult for our dealers,” she said. The company has lowered minimum-order quantities and more than doubled its investment in consumer advertising and public relations this year, “all as efforts to help the independent specialty store,” she said.
Last year, if the retailer promoted the product, it did well, said Allan Wolk, president of Swiss Diamond USA. “People are looking for value, but that doesn’t mean inexpensive; it could be good quality as well.” He works with independent stores and small chains, where they are looking for something different to sell, so “you mean something to them,” he said. “Anyone can sell price.”
In product, the word will be versatility this year, Ro added. “Consumers are not in the state of mind to be looking for luxury items or things they feel to be unnecessary,” she said. “By offering and focusing on the multi-uses of some of our products, consumers feel more confident in investing in a product that does double or triple duty.”
That’s been the case at TTU, which is seeing multifunctional cookware pieces that can be used for more than one dish, as doing well at retail, said Ayon, and include jumbo cookers, casseroles and stock pots. Larger sets of cookware have also been a strong driver, and that’s the “lion’s share” of its business, Ayon said. Though she once did a set of 84 pieces, usually the larger sets are more than 20.
“As in all consumer goods sectors, we are seeing sell-through slower than we had originally anticipated. However, we continue to gain new placement with our recently introduced cookware lines,” said Randy Schickert, senior vice president of custom brands and retail for Regal Ware. That includes its cookware with chef Marcus Samuelsson and the American Kitchen line, which will add a 13-piece set at the International Home & Housewares Show. “We feel that consumers are looking for high-quality cookware at an affordable price that allows them to experience the art of professional cooking for their family and friends.”
Another advantage for Regal Ware is that it manufactures in the United States, as it allows the company to offer “high-quality cookware at an affordable price while allowing our customer lower inventory levels through more frequent replenishment,” Schickert said. This is especially helpful as “we see continued price point pressure at retail to drive sales in a slower economic time,” he added. “The excess inventories and retailer liquidations have contributed to put downward pressure on price points.”
For Lifetime Brands, “anything that shows good value” at a good price does well, said Jim Gibian, senior category manager for cookware and roasters, and the key price point is less than $20. In addition, sets of 16 to 30 pieces that include cookware, gadgets and food prep items have seen growth. And sets that target a particular food, such as soup or chili, are another strong player. “It adds another marketing piece,” he said. “It identifies it for the consumer.” And that’s something that Lifetime Brands can do very well, as it has the resources and product to pull together such sets.
For Lodge Manufacturing, its line of 120 pieces in cast iron alone makes its a leader in cast iron, said Mark Kelly, marketing promotions manager. “No one has the depth of product that we do,” he said. As cast iron is so durable, that plays into the sustainability movement, he said, and it can be used for many purposes, whether it’s in the kitchen or out on the grill. Due to requests for smaller items, the company has added a 5-inch skillet and 5-inch cover to its Logic line. Beyond cast iron, the company is expanding its porcelain enamel line with a grill pan and panini press.
Innovation is another significant element right now, and is something Lifetime does well, Gibian added. “It’s important to add new product on the floor—but at the right value statement,” he said. Among new innovations that will be shown at the Housewares Show will be its odor-absorbing splatter screen, which absorbs the pungent odors and splatters of cooking with a carbon fiber filter.
“We are told that customers are finding more and more retailers are providing almost the same merchandise in different stores,” said Marciano Kim, vice president of sales and marketing for Berghoff. “What consumers are finding is that both retailers provide the same tired brands with just few adjustments made for that particular store.”
To counter that, Berghoff will introduce its Earthchef line at the Housewares Show, for which it won the Eterne award in Canada. The line is more than cookware, also including cutting boards and cutlery, bakeware, induction cooktops and other categories.
Eco-friendly cookware company Green Pan will also launch its new line, Dubai, at market, which will be its top-end collection. One of its new features will be the ability to interchange the handles between the pans. The company will also show the “next step in ceramic coating,” said Wim De Veirman, chief executive officer. Now 2 years old, the company launched its first line in the United States last year, and it hopes to be in 12 different retailers by the end of the year, he said. For each of them, Green Pan works to give them differentiated product that targets their particular consumer.
Introductions from Fissler in March will include the Induction Pro, a multifunctional appliance, and the Pro Collection Wok, which has an extra-large flat base, a high-quality glass lid and a steaming rack.
Swiss Diamond will be debuting a new stainless-steel line, with diamond-reinforced non-stick coating.