Stir It Up
By D. Gail Fleenor
More than just slotted spoons and spatulas, kitchen gadgets and tools are a sales opportunity for savvy grocers as consumers head back to the kitchen.
Brightly colored kitchen shears, chic gray measuring spoons and gadgets designed to pit or peel everything from avocadoes to mangoes are filling grocery bags these days. Category sales may have been flat in 2008, but consumers choosing to eat at home in this rough economy are discovering they do not have the kitchen tools needed to prepare a meal and are stocking up.
More than half of consumers report cooking more at home to save money, according to a study by Mintel, a leading market research company based in Chicago. Couple this with a recent increase in center store sales of pasta, canned goods, baking goods and spices (Information Resources, Inc.), and the opportunity for sales in kitchen gadgets and tools has rarely been greater for grocers.
Back to the Kitchen
"With the current economic decline, our customers are dining out less, which means that they are heading back to the kitchen. Good news for us? You bet," says Diane Meyer, category manager, GM/HBC merchandising, for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spartan Stores. Meyer notes that, as more couples work together to make meal preparation an evening event, it generates a marketable niche. "We have seen a recent spike in the sales of kitchen gadgets and accessories, driven by the desire for customers to restock or upgrade their current kitchen inventory. Additionally, the growing popularity of the Food Network Channel and its celebrity chefs creates the opportunity to offer product lines that consumers recognize."
Meyer notes that full-line sales to generate multiple purchases have been "very successful" for her company. "Our recent gadget promotion resulted in the sale of nearly 9,000 units. We will continue to focus on the food preparation categories to ensure repeat visits from our customers in what we believe is a growing market." Spartan Stores owns and operates over 100 supermarkets under five banners in Michigan.
"The biggest trend right now is the return to the kitchen for most consumers," says Frank Guglielmi, spokesman for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer. "Families are cooking more at home instead of going out to eat, so customers are buying gadgets and treating them as an investment that they will use over and over while cooking for their families." Meijer's biggest sellers are core items like can openers, spoons and turner spatulas. "We're also seeing interest in food prep items such as choppers and mandolin slicers." In addition to national brands, the supercenter chain offers Grand Gourmet and Grand Gourmet Pro, its private label tool brand.
"Any time there is a food-related holiday, we'll see increased customer interest in kitchen tools and gadgets," Guglielmi notes. "It's important to get the right gadgets in front of the customer at the right time of year to help with their meal prep, cooking and serving needs." Meijer operates 185-plus supercenters throughout Michigan and the Midwest.
R.J. Cushing, director of housewares for Woodland, Calif.-based Nugget Markets, says customers purchase items such as a jar opener or salad spinner "to make their cooking experience easier." "Gadgets are a hot item because more households are eating in and want to cook with ease," he observes. "We are very competitive in our housewares department. What really sets us apart is how our department merchandises items with appropriate grocery items. This ties together the whole meal with the tools to get the job done."
The upscale grocer offers major kitchen tool brands as well as a few private label items, and plans to add more in the future, Cushing reveals. "Our housewares department walls look like huge library cases full of awesome items for your kitchen or entertaining," he says.
Nugget is big on product demos: produce department demos of kitchen tools and gadgets show customers ease of use. Nugget has nine locations in the Sacramento, Calif., area.
Kitchen gadgets have come a long way from stainless steel whisks. The hottest area in kitchen tools, according to Lynn Lehman, senior brand manager, kitchenware and cutlery, for Rosemont, Ill.-based World Kitchen, LLC, is the slicing and grating segment. "This segment includes graters, peelers, slicers and zesters, and is growing rapidly due to the consumer's desire to prepare fresh meals at home using ingredients like block cheeses, fresh vegetables and fruit," she notes. "In addition, we also see an increase in tools and gadgets that are environmentally friendly, such as those made from renewable resources like bamboo and woods."
Consumers buy kitchenware at least once a year, and many times, a consumer purchases multiple kitchenware items at one time, according to research conducted for World Kitchen. Other research highlights: Brand and product features are very important to decision purchase. When the economy limits spending, consumers turn to brand names they know and trust because they do not want to make a wrong choice.
World Kitchen kitchenware brands include EKCO, EKCO 123 and PAO! plus the new Pyrex kitchenware. The company's top sellers in supermarkets include core items like turners, spatulas, spoons and tongs, and popular items like ice cream scoops, pizza cutters, can openers and measuring cups and spoons.
"The latest trends we’re seeing in kitchen gadgets and tools are color, value, well-being and multifunction," says Steve White, VP, sales & marketing, at Kuhn Rikon US in Novato, Calif. White feels that, due to the economy, quality and value are in greater demand. "People want to get good-quality items at fair prices." The Kuhn Rikon brand is an 80-year-old Swiss housewares company. The company's line is designed in Switzerland and produced there or in Asia. Company design trends include tools and gadgets with easy-to-hold colored handles "that will help keep the price low." The company’s most popular items include paring knives, can openers, peelers, spatulas and tools like the corn zipper.
St. Laurent, Quebec-based Roscan sees "back to basics" as the trend that is driving business today. "We see a mini resurgence in good-quality stainless steel kitchen tools and gadgets as well as items with our Cushion Grip black handle," notes Peter Corrado, EVP at Roscan. "This category tends to do better than most in a recession." Roscan's main mid-priced brands are Cushion Grip and Kitchen Studio. Rosalli, the company's opening price-point tool and gadget brand, does very well, he says. "We also do many private brands for some of the largest North American retailers."
Woodbridge, Ill.-based Trudeau Corp. markets to supermarkets under the Home Presence brand. "Consumers are searching more and more for specialty tools," says Joe Hodorowicz, Trudeau's VP, sales. "Silicone continues to be a popular material." The Trudeau line includes Graviti, a battery-operated pepper mill; Flipper, reversible measuring tools to eliminate the need for multiple measuring sets; and Pot Clip, a device that attaches to the edge of a pot or pan to hold utensils while cooking.
OGGI Corp. offers a wide variety of kitchen tools, from wine bottle openers to oil skimmers, to make food prep easier and more efficient — the latter currently a big trend, according to Richard Murphy, director, sales & marketing, for the Anaheim, Calif.-based company. Items are sold under the OGGI brand; the company also produces private label tools.
"Our No. 1 request is 'gadgets that do multiple tasks,' and also food prep items that are fun to use when everyone is in the kitchen during preparation," says Carol Peyton, VP, sales, at Focus Products Group, LLC. The Vernon Hills, Ill.-based company includes brands such as Swing-A-Way can openers and AMCO Houseworks. The company's most popular items sold in supermarkets include slotted spoons, turners, spatulas and other convenience tools.
There are plenty of new, helpful and stylish kitchen tools to satisfy every cook's needs. World Kitchen's new PAO! line focuses on high-quality tools and gadgets with "an Asian flair." The contemporary-styled tools are made of renewable resources like bamboo and can attractively decorate the kitchen. "We've seen tremendous success with this line in the past year," World Kitchen’s Lehman notes. New EKCO 123 items include an avocado set with slicer and masher, a pie server, a brownie server and a silicone oven mitt. New Pyrex-branded kitchenware offers core, easy-to-use utensils and gadgets in a contemporary dark-gray color.
"Pyrex kitchen tools and gadgets will draw consumers into a gadget aisle, and also complement bakeware and storage containers," says Lehman. "PAO! is a great complement to the international foods section as well as grocery or the gadget aisle." She recommends merchandising items such as EKCO 123 with fresh produce.
To encourage healthy eating habits and portion control, Kuhn Rikon is appealing to younger consumers with a line of kids' tools. "We're also introducing several new easy-to-operate, safe and sanitary can openers," White points out. Also new: more colored knives with a nonstick coating, and a colorful "second-generation" corn zipper to strip fresh corn off the cob. White says the company has been very successful with its silicone-coated whisks in rainbow colors; the line will expand in the future.
White recommends marketing tools through both a dedicated gadget/tool section and cross-merchandising. "We think our new corn zipper, displayed with corn in the produce section, will work great," he notes. Place can openers where most aisle items are cans, and peelers with potatoes and other vegetables, he suggests.
Helpful silicone "Stay-Cool" grips, and bottle and jar twist openers are the latest from Trudeau Corp. Trudeau's Hodorowicz recommends cross-merchandising tools "in areas where they go hand in hand with food or ingredients," such as placing measuring spoons and cups near baking ingredients, and cheese graters near fresh cheese. He believes that large kitchenware sections are sometimes devoid of unique tools and gadgets, so reserving room for these items in that aisle can keep customers coming back to the section.
Roscan is working on a new "Bio-line" of biodegradable wooden tools. "Kitchen Mix," Roscan's colorful collection of durable kitchenware, comes in six bright colors, and includes wood, melamine, silicone and Cushion Grip tools. In the near future, Focus Products will be offering an early-release grease separator, rotating veggie chopper and tomato slicer.
With consumers currently a willing audience for kitchen tools, successful marketing can arm them with a wide range of kitchen gadgets and generate extra sales. "Gadgets and tools, for the most part, are impulse items," notes Roscan's Corrado. "The margins on the category for the grocer are very good, so if you are able to get people into the department by advertising something other than the gadgets and tools, you can capitalize on that extra traffic."
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