Housewares Sales Still Up Significantly

As consumers transition from cooking for themselves at home to welcoming guests once more, housewares show no sign of slowing down
Barbara Sax
Contributing Editor
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Housewares Sales Still Up Significantly
High-margin, impulse-driven housewares have seen a spike in sales during the pandemic, and experts say upside still exists.

With nowhere to go but home during the pandemic, consumers turned to cooking for entertainment. At-home baking, grilling and cocktail mixing fueled a 25% spike in housewares sales in 2020, according to data from The NPD Group.

“The housewares industry has been super hot,” affirms Joe Derochowski, home industry advisor at Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD. “Consumers turned pandemic-driven boredom into an opportunity to experiment with cooking. We’re starting to see a bit of a decline versus a year ago, but sales are still up significantly versus 2019.”

IRI data shows that across all channels, dollar sales of non-electric kitchen tools for the 52-week period ended May 16, 2021, grew 21%, drinkware surged 20% and kitchen storage was ahead 12%.

“Throughout the pandemic, OXO saw an increased appetite for many of our tools, new and classic,” says Rebecca Simkins, national sales manager for El Paso, Texas-based Helen of Troy’s OXO brand. “Consumer habits throughout the year focused on cleanliness, storage, coffee and baking, which have made new products in these spaces more approachable and in demand.”

According to Simkins, consumers are discovering gadgets and tools through social media, specifically video, enabling them to see the products in action and sparking sales. “We expect consumers to continue refining skills that they started building during the pandemic, including baking, home organizing, cooking, coffee brewing and deep cleaning,” she notes.

As consumers continue to be more adventurous with food prep at home, specific housewares segments are likely to see continued upside. Sales of bakeware were particularly strong during the pandemic — NPD data shows the segment with 44% year-over-year growth in the three months ending August 2020 — and consumers have shown a continued interest in baking at home.

In a 2019 podcast on cookware and bakeware trends, Erika Sirimanne, head of home and garden at London-based Euromonitor International, observed that consumers are focused on enjoying time spent at home, and are also craving simplicity, health and wellness at home. “This back-to-basics approach has stoked a demand for home baking,” said Sirimanne.

While the pandemic shaped the kinds of foods people served — for instance, sales of mini Bundt cakes pans soared when sharing foods became taboo — as consumers ease restrictions on gatherings, Derochowski advises retailers to stay tuned to subtle changes in how consumers are preparing and serving foods, and adapt their assortments to reflect those new trends.

While consumers will continue to be creative with their cooking, Leana Salamah, VP of marketing at the Chicago-based International Housewares Association (IHA), sees the biggest opportunity in the return of at-home entertaining.

“After 15 months of honing new cooking skills, consumers are ready to put them to use in gathering their families and friends back at their homes after this protracted separation,” says Salamah. “That represents an enormous opportunity for tableware, barware, textiles and prep-to-table items. In addition, it represents a major opportunity for kitchen electrics that facilitate gatherings — think raclettes and fast-cook pizza ovens.”

Grilling Goes Big

Consumers took grilling to the next level during the pandemic, and experts predict that there’s no going back. Camping vacations, Friday-night pizza gatherings and Thanksgiving turkey recipes that required smoking all helped fuel growth beyond core gas and charcoal grill options, according to NPD.

With more consumers reducing their meat consumption, retailers can expect more focus on grilled vegetables and tools to help consumers grill them. A recent report from Euromonitor found that the heightened awareness of health during the pandemic meant that consumers were not only cooking more at home, they were also making an effort to cook healthier meals. Grilled veggies check that box. Award-winning cookbook author Steven Raichlen calls 2021 “the year of the grilled vegetable,” and predicts that consumers will be grilling vegetables such as “okra, snap peas and brussels sprouts on the stalk.”

NPD data indicates that specialized grilling products with lower price tags contributed significantly to houseware sales, and items such as portable grills, pizza ovens and turkey fryers were among the fastest-growing segments in the category in terms of unit sales. That trend buoyed sales of grill accessories, which saw a dollar sales increase of 23% for the 52 weeks ending May 29, 2021, according to NPD.

a store inside of a building
Retailers are elevating their in-line assortments and layering in opportunistic displays in other parts of the store to spark impulse purchases of housewares.

“Outdoor living in general is huge right now, and consumers have gotten really creative with ways to extend the use of their outdoor space beyond the traditional seasons,” says Salamah. “I’ve seen a lot of new grilling products coming out that make cleanup much easier and that facilitate nighttime grilling, lots of grill lights, and even utensils that light up.”

Consumers are also looking for higher-performance grilling tools as they experiment with new grilling techniques and flavors. OXO recently introduced OXO Outdoor, a line ofhigh-quality functional cooking tools designed for the outdoors. While that line will initially be sold exclusively at Kent, Wash.-based sporting goods specialty retailer REI, it’s an indication that consumers are willing to pay more for better-quality products. “We worked with the REI team to identify a capsule collection of tools from our catalog that make activities in the great outdoors even better, from coffee brewing to campsite cleanup,” notes Simkins. “We are currently researching potential new innovations for the outdoor space, which we will announce as we get closer to their launch.”

NPD’s Derochowski predicts that as people continue to entertain outdoors, housewares segments related to outdoor entertaining will present opportunities for retailers to capture even more housewares sales.“All the things related to outdoor entertaining, from décor to tabletop, are on the rise dramatically,” he says.

Supermarkets are seizing the opportunity for incremental high-margin impulse sales as consumers head outdoors. Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets recently featured melamine serveware and outdoor lanterns, retailing from $89.99 to $59.99, on an end cap at the back of the store. The display featured an outdoor table and chairs set with coordinating dishware and table linens. It’s a clear declaration that summer is here, and that the chain has all of the bases covered for outdoor entertaining.

Other chains have found different ways to send that message. Store-entrance displays at a ShopRite store, operated by a member of the Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern Food Corp. retailer cooperative, recently featured portable gills, skewers and plasticware, in addition to condiments and snacks.

Mixing It Up

Home mixology is also on the rise. A recent consumer survey by Drizly, a Boston-based alcohol e-commerce platform, reveals that more than half of those polled said that they made more cocktails at home during the pandemic, and among those who did so, more than half plan to continue doing so in the future. Drizly’s data indicates that sales of mixers, bitters and other cocktail ingredients spiked dramatically on the platform since March 2020.

The category presents an additional opportunity for retailers. NPD data shows that beverageware blossomed during the pandemic, with sales of margarita glasses, martini glasses and pilsner/pub glasses up 191%, 59% and 29%, respectively, in the three months ending August 2020 versus the prior year.

“Barware and cocktails grew, especially things that allowed you to experiment.” says Derochowski. “Highball tumblers and margarita glasses did tremendously well.”

Wegmans devotes 4 feet of inline space and an additional in-aisle roller display to barware. From barware and glassware from True Brands to wine accessories from Rabbit, both based in Seattle, the supermarket chain has an extensive assortment of products for at-home mixologists. In time for the outdoor entertaining season, The grocer recently featured acrylic martini and margarita glasses and metal Moscow mule mugs in an end cap at the back of a store.

Even space-challenged chains can layer in an end cap or aisle display of plastic drinkware or wine accessories near their liquor or mixer sections.

Sustainability Top of Mind

With people eating so many meals at home, the food storage category naturally took off during the pandemic. “Food storage has been a bright spot in the category, but as we start to go back to work and school, you will need to carry food, so the category should stay strong,” says Derochowski.

A recent NPD survey indicates that reducing food waste is top of mind for consumers, and interest in sustainable food storage products aimed at helping to reduce waste has been growing. Sales of vacuum sealers, for example, more than doubled in the three months ending August 2020, according to NPD.

IHA’s Salamah is seeing more food storage options that are dishwasher- and microwave-safe, and that extend the life of fruits and vegetables. “Some even track expiration dates and include reheating instructions,” she marvels. “We are in for a great second half of 2021.”

“We’re continuing to innovate in food storage, with a new collection of purpose-driven, leakproof containers and accessories to market, OXO Prep & Go,” says Simkins. The line, which will include a wide range of reusable container solutions for everything from snacks and lunches to full meals, will launch this summer with nine leakproof and dishwasher-safe containers. Designed for stacking in the fridge or taking on the go, the containers will be available as sets and as individual open-stock units. Accessories include a lunch tote, an ice pack, a condiment keeper, a squeeze bottle set, and full-sized stainless steel utensils with a case to provide everything consumers will need to bring their meals with them.

Late last year, Atlanta-based Rubbermaid introduced EasyFindLids Food Storage Containers with SilverShield for Antimicrobial Product Protection, a new variety of durable food storage containers with built-in antimicrobial properties that help prevent the growth of odor-causing bacteria on the stored products.

In another innovation for the segment, Orlando, Fla.-based Tupperware Brands Corp. recently expanded its ECO+ product portfolio with Lunch-It Containers and Sandwich Keepers, products made with an environmentally friendly sustainable material.

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