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U.S. News

Housewares industry views recession as opportunity

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Recession-weary consumers are staying at home more and going out less, a trend the $300 billion housewares industry is counting on to boost demand for kitchen gadgets and the tools to clean.

“People are spending more time at home. We have to help them find ways to make that experience interesting,” said Tom Mirabile, a vice president and trend analyst for Lifetime Brands Inc.

Kitchen gadgets enjoying burgeoning sales that he noted include pressure cookers, to make less expensive cuts of meat taste better; canning equipment, for those growing and storing their own food; and airtight storage bins, to accommodate those buying in bulk.

Americans are buying more groceries to make meals at home, and purchasing cleaning products and tools to do jobs they hired someone else to do before the economic doldrums hit.

Recent Nielsen research cited by Mirabile revealed the average American will eat out 41 percent less. In the past, American households entertained at home some four times a year, a number that is sure to rise, he predicted.

“That’s a huge opportunity for housewares,” Mirabile said in an interview from the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago.

OPTIMISM AMID GLOOM

Expressing optimism amid the gloom of the recession, some 2,000 companies and entrepreneurs -- including an unusually high 436 newcomers -- showcased their wares to retailers attending the show, one of the largest for an industry that generates $70 billion in U.S. sales and $300 billion globally.

“I’m seeing a lot of products geared to helping people save money -- whether a product that conserves energy so you’re spending less, or something that curtails expenses, like a home steam system instead of dry cleaning,” said Lisa Casey Weiss, a consultant for the International Housewares Association, which organizes the show.

Home haircutting is also back in vogue, Housewares Association marketing expert Perry Reynolds said. And there is a burst of bright new colors in cookware and appliances aimed at young gourmands.

One in five households has a “budding chef,” Mirabile said, adding that “cooking for fun is a huge trend,” especially among men who have been dubbed “gastrosexuals.”

“During a recession the average person gains about 6 pounds (2.7 kg) in the United States,” Mirabile said. “All that happens in the kitchen, and from eating (less expensive and often more fattening) fast food.”

Williams-Sonoma Inc has introduced a line of cookware for children, who are part of the expanding audience for televised celebrity chefs and cooking shows.

Williams-Sonoma reported profit on Tuesday that was better than Wall Street expected, helped by cost cuts and promotions, but the profit was 90 percent lower than a year earlier, and it said the overall retail environment was “very weak.”

The cost-conscious housewares consumer is eschewing what has been a disposable culture, and does not want to forsake quality or style in looking for bargains, analysts said.

“We’re not a particularly high-priced business,” Reynolds said of housewares. “It is a category that is well-positioned for early recovery.”

Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Michael Conlon, Gary Hill

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