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Housewares Show

January 21, 1988|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — It was a huge show-and-tell opportunity for houseware manufacturers, who unveiled more than 2 million items to retail buyers and trade guests at the 87th International Housewares Exposition recently at McCormick Place.

Capitalizing on the continuing trends of staying home, health and fitness, back to basics and home entertaining were rampant displays of the exciting new bread-making machines, water-filter systems, microwave bakeware, microwave corn poppers, food processors, cappuccino/espresso machines, portable home whirlpools, air cleaners and ultrasonic humidifiers.

In colors, delicate sea-foam greens streaked into dinnerware, glassware, linens, gadgets and accessories, mingling with the reigning slate blues and mauves.

"Color trends are very regional," said Nancy Calhoun, owner of Nancy Calhoun, a table-top imports company in Brea. "We feel very strongly that sea-foam green will stay, in keeping with the interest in the Southwestern palate."

Contrasting with the pastels was the emergence of bold primary colors in gadgets and electrics. Examples included the Gaggia espresso machines, Power Press irons, Robot Coupe food processors and Mr. Coffee coffee makers. A splashy royal red was exhibited on Kitchen Aid's Ultra Power Mixer, following its cobalt blue introduction last year. Krups and Salton opted for eye-catching red and black espresso makers.

Running after the blue-and-white geese, which perked up sales of country designs last year, are the more emphatic black-and-white cow patterns, rumored to become a strong theme in '88. Some of the cows spotted at the show were depicted on canister sets and pitchers from Nelson McCoy ceramics, "Moo" mugs from Toscany and plastic drinkware from Oneida. Country is expected to remain very strong, with directions extending into French country, classic and traditional country.

Ousting Spuds MacKenzie from his throne is Mickey Mouse, the licensed-character hero of 1988. You'll see a lot of Mickey and other Disney stars--Minnie, Goofy and Donald Duck--in various children's table-top sets (as in Selandia's Mickey-shaped dishes), kitchen gadgets, mugs and the like. One of the biggest Mickey promoters is Hoan Products, which has introduced a full line of Disney licensed products, including pop-up sponges, corn holders, magnetic dishwasher indicator and cookie jars. One cute example is Picture Toast, which creates images of any of the Disney characters on bread after it is toasted.

Aside from colors and themes, attractive packaging has improved sales of many existing housewares. Showing some reusable packaging boxes in his company's friendly country barn-looking booth, Richard Gillett, director of marketing for Over and Back Inc. said, "Packaging is the byline for the '80s. A barn-like container, for instance, becomes a child's toy box, giving the original product more value."

The following showstoppers are some of the exciting new houseware products (particularly in the gourmet field) to watch for in 1988:

Capturing the biggest attention at the show was a variety of electronic bread-makers. In four hours, which includes rising time, this unique space-age machine mixes the ingredients you put in, kneads the dough, allows it to rise, then bakes a golden-brown one-pound loaf. Electronic controls let you program the unit at night so you wake up to fresh bread in the morning.

Since its unveiling in Japan last February, the various "home bakeries" are said to have sold about 2 1/2 million units in that country, second only to the rice cooker in sales. Staking a claim in this competitive market are Panasonic--which got a good head start by introducing its product last fall--Sanyo, Toshiba, Hitachi and Welbilt. Made by Funai in Japan, Welbilt's entry is rounded (most machines are block-shaped) with a see-through dome cover.

At $300-plus per unit, the cost of the home bakery would seem like a lot of dough for the average American consumer; interestingly, however, cost doesn't seem to matter. According to Anne Kupper, director of public relations for Williams-Sonoma, one of the first to retail the bread bakery, "It's been fantastic for us, the response has been very, very good, even with our mail-order program."

The largest number of "me-too" kitchen appliances could be found in the cool-touch, wide-mouth, pop-up toaster category. The product has created favorable consumer feedback both for eliminating the chance of burns as well as for accommodating bagels, English muffins and croissants. Rowenta, the German company that pioneered the revolutionary concept in 1985, redesigned its bright white toaster, adding a new crumb tray. The long, narrow tray slides out of the base of the toaster like a drawer for easy cleaning.

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