CHICAGO -- Supermarket buyers braved snow, snarled airline schedules and wind chills of 75 degrees below zero to find out what's new in housewares, a category many chains are expanding. The massive International Housewares Show, sponsored by the National Housewares Manufacturers Association, drew more than 8,000 domestic buyers, some from a number of large supermarket chains and wholesalers, to Chicago's McCormick Place, Jan. 16 to 19. This year more than 2,000 exhibitors displayed their wares on an expanded exhibit floor.
Several of the supermarket executives interviewed at the show indicated housewares had performed well over the past year. They were looking for new items to boost that performance further.
William Hooper, sales service representative for Fleming Cos.' Houston division, at the show with Randall's Food Markets, Houston, said, "Housewares has been really good in our stores across the board, the whole ball of wax."
"Housewares is growing; we're expanding it and showing increased sales," noted Jim Paterni, director of general merchandise for Glen's Markets, Gaylord, Mich. Said John Pearce, general merchandise merchandiser for Supervalu's J.M. Jones Co. division, Urbana, Ill.: "Housewares had a real good year for us last year. The category seems to almost go against the economy. Maybe when times are tough people tend to cook at home a little more." Among categories drawing supermarket buyers' interest this year were high-end gadgets, plasticware and cookware.
Gadgets have been a strong seller at Glen's Markets. "We're starting to add the higher end there and are having success with it," Paterni said.
Tim Erceg and Mark Frentress, drug store managers from Hy-Vee's Food Stores' distribution center, Chariton, Iowa, were shopping the show for new ideas. Erceg noted in particular the number of new plastics lines suitable for supermarkets.
Many of the individual retailers Hy-Vee supplies "are increasing the space for housewares as they can on a store-by-store basis and getting more into the category," including small appliances, said Frentress.
Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., is "expanding housewares a little bit," in part by including some new cookware, said Charlie Trombley, general merchandise buyer, who was "just looking" at the show. Basic housewares have been the chain's strong sellers, he noted.
Schwegmann Giant Super Markets, New Orleans, already has large housewares and hardware departments, said Jorge San Roman, vice president of nonfood sales, and the company is moving heavily into small appliances.
"A lot of the department stores in our area are deciding to get out of small appliances, and we're taking advantage of that," San Roman said. Overall, housewares sales have been "very good," he added.
Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash., last year enlarged and remodeled its housewares departments, and Norm Carpenter, general merchandise director, was "recontacting vendors who helped us reset to see how we can sell their products better this year."
In its revamping, Rosauers changed a number of housewares vendors and expanded lines of others, including Rubbermaid and Ekco. "We expanded a number of categories, including cookware and plastics, so sales are up," said Carpenter. "Our mission at this show is to solidify relationships with our existing vendors," Carpenter said, adding none of the new products "have stopped me yet."
Russ Breslin, nonfood buyer at Supermarkets General Corp., Woodbridge, N.J., was looking specifically for cleaning products and deals at the show. "We're looking for deal merchandise, anything someone is trying to liquidate," he said, adding he was "finding a little."