Housewares industry heeds call for natural materials, fewer chemicals, lower energy use.
WHEN DRAWER SPACE is limited, this balloon whisk made by Progressive International Corp. collapses to store flat. (MICHAEL KODAS / February 21, 2008)
Companies aren't pushing shades of lime, avocado or emerald, however. Their sights are set on the environment and the use of natural or biodegradable materials.
"The biggest [trend] is the green or environmental movement," says Lisa Casey Weiss, a lifestyle consultant for the International Housewares Association. "This has gotten the most play, and many [manufacturers] see it as a focus for now and the future."
The industry is responding to many factors, including consumers' demands for environmentally friendly goods, rising energy costs and influential events such as Al Gore's 2006 documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," she says. Cookware suppliers are using chemical-free materials. Biodegradable materials such as cork, bamboo and cornstarch are used for kitchen accessories. (Whoever dreamed of a dish rack made from cornstarch?) Some manufacturers are rethinking their packaging, either to reduce the amount of materials used or to produce easily recyclable containers.
"Companies are trying to do whatever they can," says Casey Weiss, citing new energy-saving appliances, "green" cleaning products and increased use of organic or natural materials. "We've only reached the tip of the iceberg."
Three other trends are shaping up as 2,100 exhibitors prepare to unveil their new lines at the International Home and Housewares Show 2008 next month in Chicago.
A natural offshoot of the "green" movement is increasing interest in healthful eating. "Consumers are looking to have a healthier diet for their children, for themselves, for an elderly parent," Casey Weiss says. "Each person has a different reason — you may want to lower your cholesterol; my husband has diabetes. [We're looking] for food choppers, juicers, mandolines and slicers to create healthier meals at home."
Housewares collections will feature more products for outdoor entertaining, as the trend of turning backyards and patios into living space strengthens. "Maybe consumers have maxed out of their space indoors," she says, "so the outdoors can be an extension of the indoors by adding porches, fire pits or even second kitchens. There is more entertaining outdoors." Besides more barbecue accessories, this alfresco entertaining has inspired more glassware, plates and serving dishes that are durable, unbreakable and more design-oriented.
The garage is another extension of a home's living space. "Research conducted by the housewares association shows that the garage is the No. 1 area that people are concerned about renovating," Casey Weiss says. Americans' "pack rat" mentality has spurred a demand for storage containers and home- organization systems.
These trends were evident in a mini-preview of the Chicago housewares show that took place recently in New York. On a visit to the show, we zeroed in on new food- or cooking-oriented items. Some of these products are already in kitchenware shops, specialty stores and home stores such as Linens 'n Things; others will be available beginning in March and April.
• Proper water temperature is important to brewing good tea, and boiling water is not always the best medium. Green tea can turn bitter if the water is too hot. Adagio Teas' ( www.adagio.com) electric kettle called utiliTEA ($49) has a built-in temperature control. Position the dial for boiling water for black tea or 30 degrees below boiling for green tea. The 1,500-watt heating element boils water quickly, and the kettle shuts off automatically when the water reaches the desired temperature.
• Chantal Corp. goes green and healthy with its Copper Fusion and Pure lines. The enamel coating in Copper Fusion pots and pans ($90 to $250) mimics nonstick coatings but is a natural material that contains no chemicals (enamel is made from ground glass). The enamel covers copper fused between two steel plates, which distributes heat evenly and ensures even cooking. The ergonomic handle stays cool during cooking and can be replaced if it wears out before the pan. Available in chili red or platinum, the pots and frying pans, which have clear, tempered lids, can move from the stove to table to freezer and are dishwasher safe.
• Chantal's Pure line of ceramic baking and tea accessories ($6 to $49.50) are made from clay and withstand high baking temperatures. By using only a clear glaze, the company is able to cut energy consumption during the firing process. Also stick-resistant, the bakeware and mugs are a vanilla color flecked with the natural imperfections found in clay. (Pure products are available online at www.chantal.com.)
• A collapsible shopping cart is a necessity in a city like New York, where residents walk from an apartment to the grocery store. Narita Trading Co. ( www.naritatrading.com) added features to its Thermore Cart ($49) that turn it into a soccer mom's dream. The cart has a fold-down seat, a 300-pound capacity and an insulated bag to hold hot or cold foods. The company's insulated grocery bags ($7) are 12- by 20-inch totes in fashion colors such as pastel pink and mint green.
• For cooks who need to conserve space in the kitchen, FoldTuk (www.foldtuk.com) bakeware collapses to 1 inch high. Made from a ceramic compound that withstands heat to 500 degrees, the bakeware ($15.99 to $21.99) is safe for both conventional and microwave ovens and includes lids for storing foods.
• They may be small, but a set of stainless steel spoons ($14.99) from Progressive International Corp. ( www.progressiveintl.com) has some nifty features. The five double-ended spoons stack together — and because they are magnetized, stick together — for easy storage. One end of the spoon is for dry measure and small enough to fit into a spice jar, the other for liquid. Also in the company's line for spring is a balloon whisk with tines that flatten to fit easily in a drawer. Bakers will be drawn to a set of 12 cookie cutters with detach- able deco- rating stencils ($12.99).
• There's a new wrinkle in the world of slow cookers. Select Brand's 6.5-quart cooker (www.selectbrands.com, $60) has a cast-iron insert to use on top of the stove to brown meat and then slip into the appliance for long, slow cooking. The insert and its lid also perform double duty as a Dutch oven.
• A knife rack from Linden Sweden (www.lindensweden.com target="blank") scores points for clean, handsome design. Available in both countertop and wall-mount versions, the rack ($39.95) stores at least four knives in something other than the usual wood block. A magnetic strip holds the knives in place vertically on a square background, while a frosted acrylic cover keeps the knives in view yet serves as a safety feature.
• Picture a chef's knife with the requisite shiny, stainless-steel blade. Now picture that same knife with a pearly white blade. That blade is made from ceramic, a material second only to diamonds in strength and hardness, and holds an ultra-sharp edge. These knives — in a variety of sizes ($39.99 to $79.99) from Jaccard Corp. (www.jaccardweb.com target="blank") — will hold an edge 10 to 15 times longer than stainless steel blades and won't cause the edges of sliced fruits or vegetables to brown.
Linda Giuca can be reached at email@example.com.