12 May 2017
Robin's Egg, Hydration and Smart Goods Centrestage at US Home Show
Along with colour predictions for the coming season, this year's Chicago-based International Home + Housewares Show also focussed on the current US-wide fad for drinking accessories and the growing array of smart-home must-haves.
Pastels are out, green is in, while robin's egg is waiting in the wings – at least if exhibitors at this year's International Home + Housewares Show are to be believed. Overall, though, colours and patterns are just some of the elements currently shaping consumer goods and interior environment trends across the US.
In something of a boost for many of the exhibitors at the Chicago event, new data from NPD, the New York-headquartered market-research group, indicated that the home-appliances and housewares markets are set to continue along the growth paths they resumed in 2015. Tellingly, it is home environment appliances – including floor-care products – that are expected to show the strongest growth this year, with a 4% rise predicted for the sector. Lagging slightly behind, with an expected year-on-year growth of 3%, are personal-care appliances, followed by small kitchen electrical items and non-electric houseware products, with both forecast to expand by some 2%.
At the show itself, a number of items seemed almost irresistible to attendees, not least a range of 3D frames from Japan-based Quily, said to be ideal for preserving and protecting items of sentimental value, such as a child's first toy car or seashells from a memorable vacation. Other products were a little more on the bizarre side, including a silver ion-infused toilet brush courtesy of Denmark's Sanimaid. There was also a fair sprinkling of the uber-practical, including the Instant Pot – produced by an Ottawa-based company of the same name – that can be, among many other things, a rice cooker or a yoghurt-maker. Of course, there were also a host of other items that inspired a fleeting just-how-did-we-ever-live-without-that sentiment.
Shapes and Colours
Every year, a highlight of the event is the publication of the PantoneView Home + Fashion Forecast Palette. Produced annually by Pantone – a New Jersey-based specialist in colour and colour matching – and taking inspiration from runways, design, movies, social media and even makeup, each volume selects one colour every yet that embodies all of these influences.
Explaining just why "greenery" is the company's 2017 choice, Leatrice Eiseman, the International Housewares Association's colour expert and an Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, said: "We opted for it because it's a life-affirming hue, a rejuvenating shade and one that speaks of hopefulness and buoyancy. If you're surrounded by green, you breathe more deeply."
Overall, taking a moment out to breathe seemed an abiding theme, with many seeing it as vital counterpoint to a world that is increasingly digital and fast-paced. It was also reflected by the deeper hues that have now superseded the more pastel colours of recent years, with many products adopting jewel tones and the deep colours traditionally associated with jungle themes or animal motifs, with combinations of blues and oranges proving particularly strong.
Among the other design trends highlighted by Eiseman were the current fascination with letters and words as a designs element, the ubiquity of the triangle as both a contemporary and a retro motif, dimensional diamonds and intricacy, with the popularity of the latter thought to be spurred by the explosion in 3D printing. She also maintained that wood treatments have now become "very unique and truly artful", while the fringe – a throwback to the 1970s – is now considered "very hot and very strong". Eiseman also saw the style of the Memphis Group – a 1980s' school of colourful postmodern furniture design – as staging something of a comeback.
Eiseman identified three colour groupings that are likely to dominate in the coming year – Playful, a whimsical style featuring more "bright-hearted than light-hearted" colours, Far-fetched, a palette "reaching out and embracing many different cultures", and TECH-nique, a techno-flavoured palette featuring hues "that seem to shine from within".
While Pantone always plays coy as to its pick for next year, judging by the number of references in the presentation, it's safe to assume that robin's egg blue is among the 2018 front-runners.
Across the showfloor, colours sparkled everywhere, especially in the currently booming personal-hydration sector. While a plastic bottle sufficed just a few years ago, now it's apparently all about travel tumblers, hydration canteens and stainless-steel infusers for sangria drinkers.
Assessing the changes to the sector, Lisa Hayashi, the Brand Marketing Director of Igloo, a Texas-based water-cooler manufacturer, said: "Right now, there's a huge opportunity in the personal-hydration space, with companies competing to innovate and to deliver the best quality at the best prices."
Although primarily known for coolers, Igloo has just rolled out its first range of vacuum-insulated steel tumblers. It has also introduced a retro-styled stainless-steel drink dispenser said to keep its contents cold for days.
On the travel-tumbler front, custom logos and copper coatings were among the popular features of the line offered by the Florida-based Retail Resource Group. Acknowledging the enormous growth of the hydration sector, Chris Brooks, the company's Marketing Manager said: "Everyone is now looking at drinkware as an accessory. In many ways, it's become a miniature and more affordable version of a car.
"Everyone likes their own look and feel and we can now personalise products with an etching or a vinyl label, starting with a minimum order of just one. Our hottest new product overall, though, is a cold-brew coffee mug, ideal for the morning commute."
Another company looking to tap into the hydration craze is Japan's MacMa, which was keen to promote its range of teapots and travel tea infusers. One of its most popular items is the T-Go strainer, which makes it easy to control the strength of the tea being brewed and can be used with hot or cold water.
Explaining its appeal, Masao Mikami, the company's President, said: "In essence, it brews from the bottom. This allows you to drink directly, then flip the container so the drink stays fresh and free from bitterness. At present, we are hoping to tap into the healthy living and specialty tea markets."
With a very different idea as to just what constitutes a good drink, the Brooklyn BrewShop brought a selection of its beer, cider and sparkling-wine-making kits to the show. While at-home beer-making has been growing in popularity for a number of years, driven by the availability of the PicoBrew range of beer pods and several other at-home options, wine and cider have been less well served, a situation the BrewShop is clearly looking to remedy.
According to Sales Manager Caleb Breland, the company solely uses winery-grade Californian grape juice in its sparkling-wine kit, ensuring the finished product is crisp and light. Explaining the kit's appeal, he said: "It's perfect for celebrations. As it takes a few months for the wine to mature, people tend to serve it at engagement parties or baby showers."
It's all but impossible to ignore the smart-home movement, given that some 25% of American homeowners already live in a house with several intelligent features. That number is set to double in the next five years, according to a recent study by Statista, the Hamburg-headquartered business intelligence portal. Taking this on board, this year saw show organisers add a large Smart Home Pavilion into the mix, replete with such items as Sobro's Bluetooth speaker-enabled coffee table (complete with charging ports) and a SmartChef grill that takes the decision-making out of burger-flipping.
A particular favourite was the GeniCan, a scanner that that fits snugly into a rubbish bin. Here it nestles generating shopping lists to replace binned barcoded items, with a voice-recognition option available for recording less digitally friendly disposals. It can even be set to sync with Amazon to ensure automatic reordering.
Looking to reassure consumers that the system is not open to abuse, Dave Pestka, Co-founder of Connecticut-based GeniCan, said: "Ultimately you have control of the app and it's pretty kid-proof. It won't automatically buy 20 Snickers bars without checking with you."
The 2017 International Home + Housewares Show was held from 18-20 March at Chicago's McCormick Place. The event was attended by more than 25,000 industry professionals.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Chicago