Color, Convenience and Connoisseurship
It's an exciting time to be a buyer – and seller of small kitchen electrics.
Clogged aisles and a sold-out 2014 Housewares Show suggest exuberance in the marketplace that hasn't been seen in years. Redesigned juicers, blenders, coffee brewers and soda systems debuted, some technologically advanced and in blooming color.
Sales of small electrics increased 10 percent to reach $5.9 billion in 2013, says Debra Mednick, executive director, home industry analyst of The NPD Group. And she is optimistic for 2014, anticipating 6 percent sales growth, which could be "conservative."
A look at the breakdown suggests changes in the types of products consumers are buying. Last year, food preparation devices comprised 40 percent ($2.2 billion) of small electric sales according to the Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm. This category, which includes stand mixers, hand mixers, countertop blenders, hand blenders, juice extractors, citrus juicers, food processors, and ice cream makers, overtook coffee and beverage makers for the top spot. It is not that coffee dropped, clarifies Mednick, but that the blender product category grew. Where once there were just hand-held or standard countertop blenders, she explains, now the consumer can choose from a number of blender devices with mixing and chopping capabilities. In fact, the blending/mixing /chopping device segment represented half of the sales in this category in 2013, about $900 million.
The high-speed blenders sold through infomercials that came to market around 2005, explains Mednick, "completely changed the marketplace." Non-traditional advertising such as home shopping networks and infomercials expanded awareness. Online, where consumers can be educated, and social media spread the high-performance blender message. Today brands are coming in at $300 to $500 – and up – and mass retailers as well as Whole Foods Market carry premium blender lines.
Trends Powering the Surge
A number of overlapping trends are driving the surge in small electric purchases. Mednick cites consumers seeking "little luxuries" and ways to bring the restaurant experience home. If the consumer skips a trip to Starbucks or Jamba Juice, then he or she can "rationalize the spend" on a new appliance, she says. Health and wellness are shaping the market for small electrics, whether it is the consumer seeking a weight-loss aid or a way to eat better. "Americans know when they eat at home or in fine dining, they can control [what they eat]," says Mednick. Kitchen electric sales grew 12 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, a sign of the importance of "giftability" to housewares sales, she says.
Here's a look at the year's new products.
According to a Vitamix survey, Americans prepare 3 billion blended drinks at home each year, which goes a long way to explain the increase in high-performance blenders shown at the 2014 International Home + Housewares Show (IHHS). The Dash Health Cube (SRP: $699.99), with eight preset functions, incorporates a cradle and USB port for charging a smart phone or tablet.
KitchenAid's blender introduction (SRP: $599.99) stands out because it uses a magnetic drive to connect the motor to the pitcher, eliminating the standard locking system. The smooth-bottom pitcher slides into a housing that resembles a coffee maker. These magnetic stirring devices have been in use in scientific laboratories for a number of years. It is exciting to see such innovation reach home appliances.
In the battle of the blenders, marketers are fighting not only for consumer dollars but counter space. Positioning blenders as juicer substitutes makes space and economic sense. Blendtec's new Designer 725 ($649.95) includes six presets – juice, smoothie and ice cream among them – and a touch screen interface for changing functions.
Allison Baker, publicist for Vitamix, said that 30 percent of consumers surveyed take their blender beverage to-go, hence the company's new Model S30, ($399) the company's first high-powered personal blender with multiple 40- and 20-ounce containers.
The health message is reaching consumers who use blenders to "bury the flavor of kale" in their smoothies, says Mednick. She expects a "sea change" in the messaging around juicers, which represented around $263 million in sales in 2013. Because juicers traditionally remove pulp from juice, manufacturers are responding with new accessories that maintain some/all the pulp.
The Hurom Elite Series offers versatility; its adjustable pulp functions deliver juice or more texture for smoothies.
Slow press or masticating juicers prevent oxidation, retaining the nutritional value of foods. Keuvings Whole Slow Juicer (SRP: $429) has a brush cleaning tool and a three-inch-wide feeding chute to accommodate larger pieces of fruit. The Maximum Extraction Juicer (SRP: $499.99), KitchenAid's new entry into this crowded field, processes foods in two stages; it incorporates stainless cutting blades making it easier to push foods through the main juicer. Juicepresso (SRP: $449.99), a compact newcomer made by Korean manufacturer Coway, has appealingly few pieces – a lid, drum and a dishwasher-safe three-in-one extraction screw that merges the auger, strainer and rotating brush components into one piece.
The Bottomless Cup
Proprietary coffee brewing technology was a theme at the IHHS where Keurig Green Mountain unveiled its new brewer capable of making single cups or a full pot of coffee from K-Carafe packs. In response to the 2012 expiration of its patent, Keurig Green Mountain has designed the Keurig 2.0 Brewing System to operate exclusively with new 2.0 interactive K-Cups, which are embedded with electronic reader technology. The product, which is already the subject of multiple lawsuits, is expected to launch this fall. The company's all-in-one coffee and soda making system is expected to launch in 2015.
Other manufacturers working to bring the barista experience home include Remington. Its iCup (SRP: TBA) promises to reduce bitterness by steaming and stirring the grounds before brewing. The brewer, scheduled for a third-quarter launch, is compatible with all types of K-Cups including the 2.0. A hidden magnet holds the drip tray in place, another example of modern industrial design seen at the show.
Nespresso is banking on and heavily promoting its VertuoLine (SRP: $299), which is capable of delivering a head of crema that rivals the foam on a glass of stout. Their research indicated that the American market demanded new flavors, hence vanilla, hazelnut and half-caffeinated pods were introduced to the collection sold with the machine, which brews single and 12-cup pots. The larger brew size expands their market reach beyond espresso.
DeLonghi's success with its Latissima Plus – it was a 2013 best seller – prompted a sleek redesign called the Latissima Pro (SRP: $599). Housed in a brushed aluminum case, the machine offers six pre-programmed espresso and milk beverages brewed from Nespresso capsules.
From Jarden's Draftmark, a draft beer system that fits into a home fridge, to the all-in-one hot, cold and carbonated beverage station, manufacturers are finding new ways to quench consumer thirst.
According to The NPD Group, the home soda making category saw 30 percent growth in 2013. The firm says the demand is driven by environmental concerns as well as consumer desire for custom beverages. KitchenAid is betting on home cooks willing to upgrade to its Sparkling Beverage Maker (SRP: $249.99) that features four carbonation levels and comes in eight colors. KitchenAid expects its customer to use the device as a culinary tool making their own infusions and syrups, said Kim Roman, its public relations representative.
In terms of functionality, the multi-drink maker from Bevyz is a breakthrough device. It terms of brand recognition, Bevyz is nearly unknown. But be prepared to hear more about the company, which is based in Malta. According to Forbes Magazine, Pepsi has chosen Bevyz to launch its soft drink flavors. The "Cuisinart powered by Bevzy" Multi-Drink System (SRP: $299) will debut in the fourth quarter. It is a hot, cold and sparkling beverage station made by Bevyz that Cuisinart will market and sell. An internal boiler and thermostatic cooler enable the machine to dispense both hot and cold beverages. Because the beverage capsules never come into contact with the water and the water comes from two separate spouts, there is no flavor contamination. The marketing challenge will be obtaining retail distribution for yet another proprietary beverage pod.
The Connected Kitchen
Small appliances are getting smarter.
Bar code readers installed in coffee machines ensure precise brew time and temperature. The digital readout on Blendtec's Designer 725, which tracks the number of blends, displays a coupon code for promotions redeemable on its website or app.
Wireless Bluetooth technology connects iDevices Smart Cooking Thermometers (SRP: from $39.99) to a free app that sounds an alarm when the selected temperature is reached.
Most intriguing of the season's launches are internet-connected devices that function like fitness activity trackers. When the team at the Orange Chef discovered that 50 percent of iPads are used in the kitchen, said company rep Michael Tankenoff, they were inspired to develop the PrepPad (SRP: $149). It is a "smart food scale" designed to help people eat better, he added. It consists of a sleek aluminum and composite base, an iPad stand and the countertop app. Place food on the device, type in the ingredient on the iPad and the nutritional values in the food are displayed in a circle chart. Add another ingredient and watch the composition change.
Escali's Smart Connect Kitchen Scale (SRP: $99.95), available since the fall of 2013, pairs with its own app but also functions as a standalone scale. What remains to be seen is whether home cooks feel comfortable feeding their personal data to the cloud.
Connecting with Today's Consumer
With changing market demographics, manufacturers and retailers have to be irresistible, giving consumers a "reason to buy," said Tom Mirable, consumer trend forecaster for the International Housewares Association and senior vice president of global trend and design Lifetime Brands, at his IHHS and Gourmet Insights seminar "The New Normal: How to Survive and Thrive in Our Erratic Marketplace." (See Gourmet Insights recap on page 90.) In his presentation, he defined demographic groups and outlined ways to reach them. Increasingly health-conscious and aging Baby Boomers represent 44 percent of U.S. wealth and 46 percent of consumer spending, he said. While active Baby Boomers, aged 48 to 68, have the wherewithal to trade up, they buy "experiences not objects." Features that promote the experience may entice Boomers to buy. Boomers also help support their cash-strapped Gen X children. The latter, aged 39 to 47, fared poorly during the recession. These family-oriented nesters seek ways to promote community and the family meal. The important Millennial consumer has been fickle when it comes to buying housewares. Soon this group of 19- to 37-year olds will earn more than Boomers and Gen X combined, said Mirable. These design-savvy, early tech adopters demand customization and love to reuse and repurpose, a challenge to retailers trying to sell the new. Born into the foodie culture, Millennials love space-saving, multifunctional devices.
One way to reach these targets is with color, suggested Lee Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. "Not since the '70s have we seen such an emphasis on color," she said in her annual color forecast at IHHS. As previously reported in TGR, Radiant Orchid, evoking the sky at dawn, is the 2014 Pantone Color of the Year. Retailers need to know the shade and color palette that "engages your customer to stop and touch" a product, she said.
Color, which appeals to Millennials' rebellious side, suggested Mirable, may engage them to purchase. Marketing tactics such as limited edition releases of product colors, are one approach. Bodum's anniversary color collection, for example, speaks to this. Bodum's Caffettiera, a twist on the company's signature Chambord coffee press, will be available in several perky color combinations such as a pink lid, red handle and blue top, during 2014.
Mednick cites Keurig's college decal program offered on it mini plus brewer as a way the company is trying to attract Millennials.
To appeal to today's wired Millennials, Dash Brand is using social media such as 15-second Instagram videos. On its Unplug Your Food Instagram channel, a perky Ms. Dash uses the company's products in short recipe videos. The housewares company also bought the social media marketing firm Video Meals hosted by Instagram personality Slim Geransar to expand its video content.
Putting Up with the DIY Consumer
We now have a "maker culture," Tom Mirable said in his lecture. And there is a greater diversity to what people are eating at home, where 65 percent of consumer entertaining takes place. Whether it is a supersized vacuum machine for the hunter/gatherer or a major appliance-sized dehydrator, consumers who grow, prepare and preserve their own foods are a hot market. Several home grain mills were offered at the show.
The gluten-free consumer is one market but so are the consumers who want to know where their food comes from, said James Unwin from Bosch. Bosch showed several innovations in its Nutrimill line including the Classic Grain Mill (SRP: $259.99) in a bamboo casing.
Lisa Holderness Brown, a food writer and recipe developer for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, cited the dehydrator as a favorite appliance and one to watch. For Brown, the dehydrator is easier than canning, which takes time and requires the freshest produce. With dehydrating, you can use things that are not prime, she says, such as bananas or tomatoes for tomato sauce.
Among innovation in the category is the Bosch Infrared Dehydrator (SRP: $429), which has a sun setting for raw foodists and claims to be 30 percent faster than standard models. Dough proofing and yogurt trays expand the device's capabilities.
Excalibur's EXC10EL (SRP: $899), a stainless steel French-door dehydrator with 10 metal shelves, may be overkill for the average consumer, but it speaks to the increasing popularity of jerky making and the raw food diet.
Space-saving, multipurpose and problem-solving small electrics targeting first time purchasers, those living in tight quarters or experimental cooks, debuted at the show. A folding stand mixer from Salton (SRP: $129.99) and the Collapsible Ice Cream Maker ($39.99) from Hamilton Beach are but two examples of compact if quirky designs for 2014. (The latter was a gia Awards finalist.) Bodum's Bistro Sandwich Toaster and Waffle Makers (SRP: $39.95 each) fold up like a mini handbag, an appealing impulse purchase. And the retro styling of Maxi-Matic's 3-in-1 Breakfast Center (SRP: $79.99), which evokes a vintage EZ Bake Oven, drew foot traffic.
Some intrepid promoters think the U.S. market will warm to the "thermal blender", an all-in-one cooker popular in Europe and Asia. German-made Thermomix, sold in the U.S. through home sales, is one of the better known brands of these pricey devices. Newwave Kitchen International, an Australian company that has seen some success with a tabletop pizza maker sold at Sur La Table, has hope for its ThermoChef (SRP: $499). The device weighs, chops, purées, whips, cooks and steams food, promising to replace as many as 10 countertop appliances. Cedarlane Culinary, a Canadian firm, unveiled a similar device, the Bellini Kitchen Master (SRP: $599). Metal Ware Corp. introduced a redesigned Jet Stream Oven, which roasts, grills, bakes, steams, broils and air fries. (SRP: $149.99).
Modernist chefs, NW Kitchen Appliances company director Marco Di Pietrantonio said, use these devices, which promote "hands-off healthy cooking." Perhaps they will find a following among gear-obsessed home cooks.
"We love multifunctional," says Mednick, but she feels multicookers with a smaller footprint like Phillips Air Fryer will fare better in the American market. "Multicookers took off in Europe but are leveling off."
Ready to Trade Up
The blender/mixer/chopper category will continue to see sales growth, predicts Mednick. And accessories that bring the specialty coffee and milk beverage experience home will help keep the hot beverage segment growing although at a slower pace than in the past. Price points for small electrics above industry average suggest manufacturers are aware that consumers are willing to trade up. The exciting sales performance for small electrics in 2013 and the enthusiasm with which manufacturers are introducing new products suggests optimism that consumers are ready to shop.