Nonfood specialists are expecting good things to emerge from consumers' trend toward "cocooning." As consumers spend more and more time at home, they will need new and replacement housewares products, analysts said, and there are some things supermarkets can do to capture those purchases.
"The first place the consumer thinks about many housewares items is not supermarkets," said Perry Reynolds, vice president, marketing and trade development, for the International Housewares Association, Rosemont, Ill., which is hosting the 2002 IHA Show in Chicago, Jan. 13-15. "The key in the supermarket is to leverage the food products that are sold with the food preparation products, either putting them adjacent or near food. Many supermarkets have come a long way in making a statement in terms of being in the general merchandise or housewares business."
Housewares sales in supermarkets grew by over 5% to $4.5 billion in 2000, according to figures in IHA's 2001 State-of-the-Industry Report, but it was a decrease from the channel's 14% growth in the category in 1999. The food-store sector accounted for 7.2% of the housewares industry's $69.5 billion sales in 2000, the latest year for which the IHA has figures.
However, the consumer trends toward nostalgia, home entertaining and traditional home cooking bodes well for supermarkets, according to specialists and analysts polled by SN. They said retailers that capitalize on the supermarket industry's convenience factor by exploiting the synergies between food items and food-preparation products will grab consumer impulse sales.
Steve Urgo, general merchandise buyer, Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., said retailers must strike the right balance in merchandising and creating an "event" around products without going overboard with their displays.
"If you get too aggressive, you can overdisplay and overemphasize. Too much product is overwhelming," he told SN. "Look for a nice balance and keen merchandise to attract the impulse nature of the customer."
A.J. Riedel, senior partner and founder, Riedel Marketing Group, Phoenix, also said pairing up food items with food-related housewares is a win-win situation.
"The most important thing retailers could do is get housewares out of the 'strictly housewares' aisle," she said. "If [consumers] see something that is going to help them manage their food, make their food better or prepare their food more easily, and it's right next to the food product, then it's going to be an impulse purchase."
She suggested supermarkets pare down their assortments and instead offer consumers a smaller sampling of the best quality items at the best price in particular categories.
"In food, yes, supermarkets have to offer selection," she said. "In other areas, they should edit, know their customer and say, 'We've done the work for you. This is the best vegetable peeler."'
Julie Griffin, culinary products manager, Lunds and Byerly's, two upscale banners under Lund Food Holdings, Edina, Minn., agreed.
She said the retailer searches for items that are "best in class" in terms of both presentation and preparation, such as LeCreuset cast-iron cookware and updated essentials like digital meat thermometers.
"Houseware items go hand-in-hand with food trends, and we're really tracking [them]," Griffin said.
Lunds and Byerly's capitalize on the popularity of cheese by displaying upscale rotating cheese graters, cheese serving plates and specialty foods to go along with particular cheeses, like nuts and clover honey, near the cheese counter.
This past fall, the retailers highlighted the nostalgic cooking trend by creating innovative cross-merchandising displays in the produce sections. The sets housed all the tools necessary for apple pie baking, including rolling pins, pie-baking dishes and lattice toppers.
"We saw a tremendous response," Griffin noted.
Riedel said consumers' priorities have shifted in the wake of the recession and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 events, making it more important to make family feel more comfortable in the home, including making more meals at home.
"There seems to be a return to cooking," she said. "I'm seeing that people are preparing food at home more, and surprising to me, a lot of it is traditional scratch cooking, not speed scratch."
Research shows that consumers are making more meals at home. According to The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., the average number of U.S. restaurant meals purchased in the restaurant and for take-out is down for the first time since 1990, according to one published report. Consumers purchased 138 restaurant meals in 2001, down from 141 meals purchased the previous year, according to the research firm.
Riedel said basic and functional food-preparation tools that need replacement, like spatulas and roasting pans, are ripe for supermarket outlets to carry.
She said supermarkets should not try to compete with mass merchant housewares giants like Target or Wal-Mart, and carve out a niche for themselves.
"If you want a good coffee maker at a sharp price and you don't want to run all over town, you can pick it up at Safeway or Kroger," Riedel told SN. "Play on that; don't try to make it a destination."
However, Reynolds said supermarkets must be committed to housewares to show that they are serious about the category.
"I think one needs to make a statement to the customer that they're in a business and that they're committed to the business," he said. "It translates in the customer's mind to thinking of that retailer as a destination to buy that product."
Al Jones, senior vice president, procurement and merchandising, Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass., said staying on top of changing trends in product colors and patterns is still important in merchandising fashionable housewares items.
"You really have to have product that changes and pops," he said. "You have to expand selection, upgrade variety and offer value. If [consumers] can afford to buy it in a mass merchant, they'll buy it in a supermarket."
Urgo concurred. "The fact is, the Costcos of the world that give the right price on the right item, people will buy [products] from them. It becomes a question of value and timing," he said.
Jones also said that offering a micro-marketing program to retailers by focusing on an individual store's demographics, is "one of the waves of the future."
As Americans are turning to food for comfort in these trying times, retailers and analysts are bullish on making sure food stores offer shoppers the appropriate assortment of equipment to create that meat loaf meal.
"It's a shame to have them come into a supermarket and buy all the food, and go somewhere else and buy the equipment to prepare it if they're willing to buy it on that shopping trip," Reynolds said.