09 December 2009

Affordable Innovations In Housewares

Hartford Courant

Are we really nesting more? Has the bad economy kept us at home more, cooking, cleaning, watching television and inviting friends for a meal?

The International Housewares Association thinks so. According to the trade group, some consumers are waiting until the economic outlook brightens before plunking down big bucks for a flat-screen TV or a top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner or kitchen appliance. But more affordable options — a serving platter, kitchen utensils or a time-saving gadget for cleaning the house — are still separating buyers from the money.

"Consumers have tempered their behavior slightly but tempered it less in our industry," says Perry Reynolds, vice president of marketing and trade development for the Chicago-based International Housewares Association. "They are spending more time at home with family, eating in and entertaining. Sales of coffee and espresso makers and home entertaining [goods] have all gone up."

Independent retailers, as opposed to chain stores, are one of the association's "bellwethers," Reynolds says, "and they tell me that their business is pretty good. They are telling me that people are postponing major investments or tailoring a purchase in such as way as to feel good about the investment." A cook who needs or wants indoor grills or new pots and pans may pass up the 19-piece set of cookware for a smaller set or a few well-chosen pieces, he says.

The economy is a factor in how housewares manufacturers design and price new items. Manufacturers have paid more attention in recent years to the balance of design, function and value. "Consumers want functional products at fair prices," Reynold says, adding that they don't want to give up great design.

Those three characteristics — function, design and value — were woven into the "Affordable Innovations" theme of a recent Housewares Association preview in New York of new products either just arriving in stores or on their way. About 20 manufacturers displayed their wares, ranging from cleaning supplies and clothing storage systems to tabletop appliances and deep fryers.

Have Food, Will Travel

Hamilton Beach Kitchen Appliances showed two electric cookers that can save time and money. The Stay or Go 5-Quart Slow Cooker ($39.99, www.hamiltonbeach.com) was designed in response to research showing that 78 percent of slow-cookers use their pot to cook and bring the food to another location, says Betty Byrne, manager of the Hamilton Beach test kitchen. The pot has an oval-shaped dish with a tight-fitting seal and canister clips to keep the lid in place. With its stainless steel exterior and bright red accents, the pot also has style.

Steamed On Schedule
Hamilton Beach also has taken rice cookers and food steamers to the next level. The Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer ($59.99) offers a timer that can delay cooking up to 15 hours in advance. In addition to steaming rice, the machine has a whole grains setting for cooking beans, barley, quinoa, oats and other grains. Byrne says that she uses the delayed start and the whole grains setting to have a hot cereal of barley, oats and dried apples ready for breakfast when the family gets up. There also is a boil and simmer feature for packaged rice mixes.

A Snap To Make The Bed
One of the most novel products at the show would make Martha Stewart — or any compulsively organized person — proud. Fit & Fold ($9.99, www.fitandfold.com) is a set of four color-coordinated buttons that make folding a fitted sheet a cinch. The two-piece buttons snap into place in each sheet corner but do not pierce the fabric. The buttons then snap together to create straight corners. Each button also is labeled with the name of the mattress corner (top right, bottom left, etc.) to put the oblong sheet on the mattress correctly on the first try.

Sleek Toaster

Another counter-top appliance for daily use is the Bistro Flatbed Toaster ($79.99, www.bodumusa.com) from Bodum USA. European in style and available in bright colors, these toasters are a cross between a toaster oven and a grill. Unlike a traditional toaster, the flat surface offers a large enough space to toast larger slices of bread, bagels, croissants and baked goods or to reheat tortillas and pizza - more like toaster ovens.

Space Case
To make space in a closet, organizing experts suggest tossing any clothing not worn in a year. But for people who can't part with a favorite sweater or jacket — or hope that it will come back in style — items from ITW Space Bag's line of storage accessories ($9.95 to $19.95, www.spacebag.com) will come in handy. The Cube Tote is a collapsible bin with handles that holds an airtight, water-tight Space Bag. For the show, the bag was filled with 24 sweaters and six pillows, but the bulk was compressed to a fraction of its size when air was removed from the bag with a home vacuum cleaner. A travel version of the space-saver can reduce volume up to two-thirds. The new Travel Cube has a wide opening, a gusseted bottom and a double zipper. The air can be expelled from the bag either by hand or with a vacuum cleaner.

Throw-Away Style
The new generation of disposable plates, cutlery and serving pieces looks like the real thing. Mozaik plasticware ($1.49 for individual pieces to $9.99 for sets, www.sabert.com) has the appearance, but not the weight, of china and stainless steel. This collection has style: rectangular and square plates, platters and bowls in addition to classic round, and an appetizer set of small square plates with mini "silverware." Some items are already available under the First Impression label at CVS and BJ's Warehouse stores, but the Mozaik label will cover the whole collection by next year.

Bright Ideas
When the news is depressing or the weather drives folks indoors to a warm spot, a cooking project can nourish both the appetite and the psyche. And what combats the blues better than color, the brighter the better?

The Komachi 2 collection of knives from Kai USA ($7.95 to $9.95, www.shuncutlery.com) markets its color selection as a way to prevent cross-contamination of foods when prepping ingredients. The brilliant hues — royal blue, lime green, magenta, violet — will perk up any kitchen. The blades are made of high-carbon stainless steel for a sharp edge and bonded with a food-safe, FDA-approved liquid color coat that helps resist corrosion.

Knives this good-looking and functional shouldn't be tucked away in the drawer. The company offers a nine-piece set, including serrated bread knives, an 8-inch chef knife and a paring knife, in a countertop acrylic block ($89.99).

Kids, What's For Dinner?
Also brightly colored, functional and sure to get the kids in the family working in the kitchen is the Curious Chef line of children's utensils. The heavy-duty plastic, dishwasher-safe gadgets have rounded handles designed to fit small hands, while the knives' serrated edges cut foods but are child-friendly. The company sells about 50 utensils individually ($2.98 to $12.95, www.curiouschef.com) and packages both cooking sets and party sets ($19.99 to $38.99). The five-piece pizza set includes a pizza cutter designed with a finger guard, knife, spatula, pie server, pan, shopping list and stickers ($19.99).

Steam- Clean The Floor
Other manufacturers at the show appealed to neatniks who want their cleaning efforts to target germs as well as dust.

Haan Corp. has the answer to mopping floors without stocking up on a variety of detergents. Its SI-35 Slim & Light Steam Cleaning Floor Sanitizer ($119.95, www.haa nusa.com) uses tap water for steam-cleaning hardwood, tile or any sealed floor. A tank of water heats to 212 degrees in about 30 seconds — hot enough to kill bacteria — and provides about 20 minutes of steam- cleaning power. The cleaner, which resembles an electric broom, weighs about 6 pounds.

A Cleaner Toothbrush
In the bathroom, the egg-shaped, battery-operated Zapi Toothbrush Sanitizer ($29.99, www.violight.com) targets bacteria through UV technology. The contraption fits most standard toothbrushes and electric toothbrush heads. Available in bright colors, there also are four new designs including a ninja.

•Some of the new products shown at the Affordable Innovations show are already in retail stores or available by mail order. Others have been shipped to stores in time for holiday gift-giving. For more purchase information, visit the company web sites listed above or search for on-line retailers.

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