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Entertaining in focus at Housewares Show

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CHICAGO —This year’s International Home & Housewares Show featured a slew of new products aimed at one of the strongest and newest categories in the market. Some vendors called it ‘tailgating,’ some called it ‘going to potlucks’ and some called it ‘cooking for a crowd,’ but it all came down to the same trend—entertaining.

Nicole Chimenti, a representative of housewares conglomerate Jarden, characterized the trend as a way to continue living the good life in tough economic times.

“We like to call it taking a ‘steak-ation.’ To us, that means people who maybe won’t be taking a vacation this year or are trying to save money can put an investment, but a smaller one, in outdoor entertaining and grilling and making drinks and having friends over to their backyard,” she said.

The company unveiled a new large-sized, $399 frozen drink maker under the company’s Margaritaville brand. According to Jarden representative John Rotundo, the product is targeted toward “baby boomers who want to bring the whole family over and who entertain frequently.” Additionally, the machine features a specially made portable container, “so you can bring it with you if you want to tailgate with it.”

High-end retailers have featured the Margaritaville products, namely Williams-Sonoma, which has followed the entertaining trend with a section of its Web site called “Cooking for a Crowd.” The site includes instructional videos on how to organize beverage service, use a slow cooker to make steak fajitas or use a chafing dish to present what it calls “traditional tailgate foods” like chicken wings for a football party.

At Hamilton Beach Brands, a new 18-quart slow cooker in stainless steel featured innovations specifically for entertaining, such as a lid that stays attached while opened and a built-in serving tools organizer.

Steve Cummings, a representative for Hamilton Beach, explained that company research has shown “more than half of slow cookers travel. They go to church functions, potlucks, tailgates. This is a product for that market.”

Other vendors also hooked onto the portable-parties trend. Plastic products company Starplast introduced a new line of storage items made to carry various “party” food products, such as cupcakes or beverages.

“The line used to be three or four items—it’s now at about 15 items. We’re increasingly doing very well in the parties and entertaining category,” said Don Offir, vp-sales for Starplast.

Accessories for entertaining also were featured—Fulham Group launched a new line of Cuisinart-branded, professional-style grilling tools, including a spatula with grease channels, an integrated bottle opener and a handle with a serrated edge for slicing meat.

According to a recent study conducted by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a trade group representing manufacturers and retailers of outdoor entertaining items, more than 17.4 million grills were shipped last year, a record since the group started recording shipments in 1985. Additionally, more consumers use grills year-round than before, the group said, turning the category into an all-year event rather than a strictly summer occasion.

And according to research firm NPD Group, consumers are becoming increasingly enamored of outdoor entertaining. In a recent survey, 84 percent of consumers said they prefer entertaining outdoors to entertaining indoors, weather permitting. Respondents also displayed a preference for outdoor entertaining products, with 23 percent saying they owned a fire pit or outdoor fireplace and 14 percent saying they plan to purchase one.

Additionally, nearly one-third of consumers reported owning or planning to buy a gazebo or canopy in the NPD study, while another 14 percent either own or plan to buy an outdoor refrigerator, further emphasizing a long-term trend toward outdoor activities.

Color and ‘green’

Of course, entertaining wasn’t the only trend visible at McCormick Place during the Housewares Show held March 15 to 17. (Next year’s show is slated for the same venue, March 22 to 24.) Products in increasingly more vibrant colors and new offerings in the “green” category also were prominent.

In many ways, the two trends merged. Pantone, which produces a yearly preview of color trends, noted that colors from nature—particularly greens and blues—are showing a surge in popularity in the home because of their connection to the emerging green movement.

Annamarie Plass, a buyer for Adams Fairacre, a chain of three kitchen and outdoor products stores in New York, agreed.

“We’ve just updated our collection of cookware with some really beautiful colors, green colors and blue colors,” Plass explained.

Plass said as her customer base has grown younger, she’s decided to diversify her product selection to include more housewares, tools and small appliances, which was her primary reason for visiting the show.

“The bright colors have become very popular these days, especially with the younger crowd,” she said. “We’re opening a new store, so we’re also looking at stocking that.”

Other color trends included brash neon colors that invoke the 1980s—a new iron introduced by Hamilton Beach Brands included a black and neon pink, blue or green color scheme.

Mod colors, like chocolate brown and tangerine, were featured on new products including stick vacuum cleaners from Electrolux and kitchen storage products from Starplast Industries.

On the green side, Umbra featured a new line of ultra-colorful trash cans made from biodegradable plastic, and cleaning products company Simple Green unveiled a new line of to tally chemical free cleaners with ingredients like soy.

Marilyn Staples has served as owner of Green Eyeshade, a specialty retailer of household products in Port Townsend, Wash., for 37 years In that time, she’s seen trends come and go, but most recently has increased the selection in the store’s kitchen section to reflect a trend toward “green” products.

“Certainly, I think most [green products] really are green, but it is dependent on what your customers consider green,” Staples said. We’re hearing them ask for recycled materials—they don’t want the silicones and plastic packaging as much.”

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