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03/15/2021

Housewares Show Surprising Potential

At-home food consumption and new meal preparation methods continue to create opportunities to boost sales and profits in general merchandise
Housewares Remain Hot for Retailers
Smart retailers are deploying carefully considered merchandising strategies in their housewares sections.

The dramatic shift in at-home food consumption that drove unprecedented growth throughout 2020 has extended into 2021. Families continue to prepare meals at home and experiment with new recipes and preparation methods, fueling ongoing demand for housewares products that offer high margins and boost transaction sizes.

The pandemic has created opportunities for grocers to augment and tailor housewares assortments to become more competitive in a category with surprising potential. Doing so requires some creative thinking with merchandising.

For example, the Stop & Shop division of Ahold Delhaize USA has added sliding panels to in-aisle kitchenware assortments to add substantially more products without taking space from other categories. The novel technique has helped Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop increase its offering at a time when food retailers represent a viable housewares destination for many shoppers.

Stop & Shop isn’t the only grocer that has employed clever, carefully considered merchandising. Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets is known for big housewares presentations in its full-sized stores, but it also delivers a solid assortment of housewares basics at its smaller stores.

At its location in Brooklyn, N.Y., Wegmans tucks a 12-food presentation of cookware and kitchen products behind an end cap near the checkstands. The visible location can prompt impulse sales while reminding shoppers that it’s a destination for key housewares items. The store also added a display of Cuisinart bean grinders just as remote workers were consuming more coffee at home. In addition, the Brooklyn Wegmans places displays of housewares items adjacent to key perimeter departments. For example, there are cheese planes and knives adjacent to cheese, and near seafood there are skewers and tongs. In both cases, the assortment is called out with signage that reads “Prep & Serve Essentials.” The food retailer also scatters items such as salad dressing shakers/pourers throughout produce.

Some grocers are editing to fit space as well as lifestyles that were evolving even before COVID-19 hit. For example, at Raley’s O-N-E, a store concept in Truckee, Calif., that’s focused on organic and natural food, there’s a selection of houseware products geared toward the active, outdoor lifestyle of its core shoppers, including items such as water bottles and food storage products that are free from BPA or phthalates.

“Our goal with household goods is to offer high-quality products that enhance a customer’s lifestyle, create convenience and minimally impact the planet,” says Robin Gutridge, a category manager at West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s. “Wherever possible, we offer sustainable products that incorporate renewables and recycled plastic, or are compostable, biodegradable or recyclable. For example, our Meri Meri Eco party plates are made from bamboo, wood fiber and sugarcane pulp, and dyed with water-based ink. Meri Meri offers a line of children’s dolls made of organic knit cotton as well.”

Other retailers such as Albertsons Cos. have found a way to make buying housewares a seamless experience. The Boise, Idaho-based grocer has instituted contactless pickup with temperature-controlled lockers stationed outside stores, but those same lockers can be used for general merchandise. Albertsons lets customers order housewares through the locker system, and has included contingencies in product delivery so that even items not sized appropriately for the lockers can still make it into an order. So, if a customer order includes a broom something that won’t fit in a locker Albertsons spokesman Andrew Whalen explains that “the oversized items will be held in the store as an exception. Upon pickup, the customer will be notified that some of their items are in the store and to wait for an associate to come out with their items.”

7 Ways To Sell More Housewares

Sales of housewares benefited from a pandemic-driven shift to at-home eating and experimentation with preparation methods, which often required new tools. To keep the momentum going, leading suppliers and others with extensive category knowledge believe that grocers can boost housewares sales by doing the following:

  1. Make housewares displays more prominent though location and signage, and enhance them with category-related secondary fixtures.
  2. Incorporate housewares into seasonal displays that include a broader range of product categories.
  3. Feature housewares in digital presentations and promotions, including for delivery and curbside pickup.
  4. Leverage fixture innovations that allow for greater assortment density in comparable space.
  5. Ensure that housewares are regionally and locally relevant.
  6. Promote housewares items that support consumers’ at-home entertainment and entertaining needs.
  7. Recognize that sustainability concerns factor prominently into many shoppers’ purchase decisions, and plan assortments appropriately.

OPPORTUNITY KEEPS COOKING

The trajectory of sales in 2021 may inevitably slow compared with the prior year, but the long-term trend remains favorable, depending on how one looks at the category, according to Joe Derochowski, VP and home industry adviser at The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, N.Y.

“We are forecasting unit sales to be down this year versus 2020, but up versus 2019,” notes Derochowski. “With stimulus checks and changing consumer needs throughout the year, we have the potential to beat 2020 with innovation and agility in products and marketing.”

Suppliers that do significant business in the grocery channel saw big gains in 2020 and believe that those will carry forward.

“Overall, we have seen strong business with our grocery partners,” affirms Ross Patterson, president of Buffalo, N.Y.-based Robinson Home Products, which makes a wide range of food prep items and gadgets, as well as barware. “During the retail shutdowns that occurred last year, there was certainly a lot of evidence that grocery and mass picked up the volume that others lost. In many cases, a new focus on those categories seemed to create a permanent lift, and I assume the market share gained will be long-lasting, as consumers are now more aware they can buy quality housewares in the grocery channel.”

Commerce, Calif.-based Gibson Overseas, which offers tableware, cookware and related categories, and has long supplied the grocery channel, also experienced sales lifts at food retailers when the pandemic hit.

“Naturally, grocery stores held an advantage over the majority of retailers during the shutdown orders brought on by the pandemic,” says  David Nicklin, Gibson’s SVP of marketing and licensing. “Consequently, we experienced an influx of orders from grocery retailers. We were actually struggling to keep up with the unprecedented demand.”

As the pandemic forced closures of some stores, many housewares vendors were able to shift gears and move goods to those retailers that continued to operate, Garden City, N.Y.-based Lifetime Brands among them.

“The supermarket/grocery channel saw dramatic sales and traffic increases proportionate to the population staying, working, schooling and dining at home,” observes Mike Doyle, the company’s EVP sales. “Lifetime Brands adapted and pivoted quickly to service our customers in new ways, through virtual meetings, while changing our own work rules and habits to protect our associates. Lifetime was able to continue shipping at record capacities to support the volume increases in the channel.”

Chicago-based market research firm IRI registered gains in multiple housewares categories in the food retail channel for the 52-week period ended Dec. 27, 2020. In the household plastics category, sales increased 13.9% and units increased 3.2%. The stovetop cookware segment saw a 28.9% advance in dollar sales and a 16.6% increase in unit sales. The nonelectric kitchen tool segment saw a 26.4% advance in dollar sales and a 13.1% increase in unit sales. Drinkware enjoyed a 21.4% increase in dollar sales and a 1% gain in unit sales.

Looking to the Future

Consumers invested in their homes during the pandemic to make them better suited for work and play. As they begin socializing again and COVID-19 becomes less of a threat, many consumers are expected to remain close to home and use their new skills and equipment to entertain. They may start out on a small scale, using the garage for get-togethers, as has already happened in some cases, as well as transitioning to patios and backyards when weather permits.

a display in a store
Wegmans Food Markets' store in Brooklyn, N.Y., displays housewares items adjacent to key perimeter departments.

This sets the stage for what could be a second surge in housewares purchasing for everything from serving platters to coolers to shatterproof cocktail glasses. Meanwhile, Millennials and others who have recently shifted from cities to suburbs will especially need to purchase entertainment-related housewares items they didn’t need while living in small apartments and socializing outside the home. Even as they begin engaging in pre-pandemic behaviors, consumers will be making decisions about purchasing based on new concerns.

“As consumers gain more comfort being back in groups, we will see an increase in kids’ activities and going back to the office to work,” says NPD’s Derochowski. “How we speak to consumers will change, as well as what attributes and features will be important, will change throughout the year. The agility to change the marketing message or assortment accordingly will be a key success factor for 2021.”