SAN FRANCISCO — If irons and toasters were hot last year, and woks the year before, espresso/cappuccino machines were steaming even more this year at the San Francisco Gourmet Products Show.
Held at the Moscone Convention Center May 5-8, more than 2,000 manufacturer's booths with new and established gourmet product lines wooed cookware store owners and retail buyers who were mostly from the West Coast. This year, a special International Pavilion had been added to the show.
Noticeably, the pressure was on from American and European manufacturers of espresso units or espresso/cappuccino combinations. Various stove-top espresso models were displayed, but most buyers centered their attention on electric espressos. These were the machines they believed offered the most appeal to the sought-after young urban professionals (yuppies), the group considered to be the most typical espresso-machine customer. Costwise, the selection of espressos exhibited ranged from around $100 (Signor Cappuccino, Avanti) to $400 (Gaggia, Girmi). For upscale customers, there were $1,000 machines of copper-brass from Benjamin and Medwin.
With almost 20 vendors around, it's difficult for any customer, particularly first-time buyers, to make a decision when buying an espresso maker. According to one department store buyer: "For many customers it's a choice between design and function, but demonstration of the machine plays an important role for the retailer who wants to sell any machine."
Aside from the espresso machines, there were coffee makers galore, ranging in size from the compact one-cuppers popular in offices and for single person households to the larger models with these newer features: dual coffee/tea maker (Krups), under-the-cabinet capability (Hamilton Beach, Black and Decker, Toshiba), hidden cord storage and anti-drip mechanism (Braun, Krups), permanent filter (Panasonic), one-step mill and drip system (Toshiba, Norelco).
Taking advantage of the increasing popularity of grinding your own coffee beans for a fresher cup, a vast selection of small coffee grinders were present. Coffee beans likewise abounded, and one popular item was the new vacuum package with the freshness valve that lets air out, not in. Also rampant in the show were electric and non-electric kettles, vacuum bottles and mugs, all competing in design and color. Anything to do with coffee was the name of the game--which makes one wonder: what has happened to the caffeine warnings, or even the decaf cancer scare?
Many products at the show were not new, but attractive new packaging catering to the gift concept brought them into the limelight. Fashion stood hand in hand with function, as exhibited by Crown Corning in one of the most eye-catching booths in the show. The merging of Corning Glass with Crown in Fall, 1984, brought forth a vast array of merchandise with wild, brilliant colors and emphasis on flashy packaging. Aside from the traditional Corning line of glassware, the booth exhibited a whole line of colorful outdoor plastics, including vacuum bottles, canteens, coolers and ice chests, solid color Prego dinnerware and place mats in varied shapes and geometric designs.
Even in cutlery, new designs were sharp. Bright and bold colors in lightweight handles made of thermoplastic rubber were exhibited in Japanese and European cutlery. Still actively selling its wood-handled professional series, J. A. Henckels now also carries seamless plastic handles made of high impact polypropylene in its Four-Star series. The blades in these knives and in Henckels' new twin-shear blades are made of high carbon steel formed in the new ice-hardened process for no-stain properties.
Other interesting features noted in the cutlery category were under-the-cabinet knife blocks, single knives in attractive individual colored cases and all sorts of handy knife sharpeners, including battery-operated ones and diamond sharpeners.
Many show items were geared to summer selling. Included were patio ware, picnic ware, complete picnic baskets, pitchers, barbecue grills, plastic pool glasses and beautiful decorative candles in all sorts of shapes (would you believe fruit tarts and sundaes?) and colors.
Electric ice cream makers from Italy were also buzzing away, providing much awaited samples. One that wasn't buzzing but was busily attracting a lot of buyers and taste samplers was the Donvier Ice Cream Maker from Nikkal Industries. Manufactured in Japan by the Nippon Light Metal Co., the Donvier makes ice cream in about 20 minutes without ice, salt or electricity and only requires a few turns of the handle.