The green trend is no longer a trend, it's a movement, and housewares is the latest product category innovating to keep up.
Manufacturers are working to reduce or remove harmful chemicals and increase the use of organic, renewable and recycled materials. Retailers are scooping up the resulting products for the eco-conscious consumer.
At Zupan's Markets, an independent in Vancouver, Wash., the entire company is “moving more toward environmentally friendly products,” said Jim Cornwall, general manager and health and beauty care buyer/merchandiser. “It's the wave of the future.”
While retailers and manufacturers are sure to market the environmental benefits of new products, one thing to keep in mind, experts said, is not to overdo the hype on products. A recent study from Mintel International Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, found that those consumers most committed to green lifestyles tend to be skeptical of the idea that one can support the environment through consumption.
In addition, on a national level there has been increasing concern over marketing claims being used to “greenwash,” or mislead consumers regarding the actual environmental benefits of a product or the pro-environment efforts of a corporation.
“It isn't just the products that are important,” said David Lockwood, director, U.S. research, Mintel Reports. According to the research, corporate commitment to improving environmental practices and to transparency regarding green products and services will win loyal and consistent green customers in the long run.
The Home Depot, Atlanta, is supporting more than 2,500 products companywide with its Eco-Option label. “The label is designed to help shoppers more readily identify products that are easier on the environment,” said A.J. Riedel, senior partner, Riedel Marketing Group, Phoenix. Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., is introducing Global Innovation Projects “that will challenge Wal-Mart associates and suppliers to come up with ways to remove non-renewable energy from the products the company sells, and will push suppliers to make products that rely on less carbon-based energy,” she said.
Kowalski's Markets, an 11-store chain based in St. Paul, Minn., just started carrying a line of natural bakeware from Chantal, Houston, called Pure by Chantal, said Mark Watcher, gift and marketplace specialist for the retailer. The line is made from clay and is fired with a clear, natural glaze that's free of coloring agents.
Watcher plans to promote the line, along with organic towels and a few other products, as part of a storewide Earth Day event. “We are going to have a lot of that type of product in our store, and we'll be highlighting organic products throughout the store,” he said. The chain plans to bring in more types of eco-friendly housewares in the future, he said.
Zupan's stores currently carry a few green housewares lines, including bamboo utensils and cutting boards from a Mineola, N.Y.-based company called Bambu. “Bamboo plays an important role in the reduction of timber consumption, environmental and forest protection, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development of rural economies,” Cornwall said.
Zupan's uses signage across each store to point out products that use organic materials, Cornwall noted. “That is the extent of our marketing now, but we plan to expand.”
When moving ahead with environmentally friendly products, “supermarkets should choose to work with manufacturers who do a good job of marketing the benefits of their green or sustainable products, either through packaging and branding or other forms of in-store communication,” Lockwood said.
At Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., “Currently, we rely on manufacturers to call out the eco-friendly status of their items on their packaging,” said spokeswoman Maria Brous.
This emphasis on eco-friendliness is especially important regarding energy-efficient small kitchen appliances, which haven't had much consumer acceptance, Lockwood said. In contrast, according to Mintel's recent study on green living, major efficient appliances have had high consumer acceptance.
In the study, the term “green” pertains to energy or water efficiency, natural materials, and reduced levels of toxins or chemicals in products. Sixty percent of the 1,915 people polled said they thought about “green factors” in their last purchase of a major appliance, while 87% plan to consider “green factors” in their next purchase. Thirty-eight percent considered green factors in their last small kitchen appliance purchase, and 80% plan to consider green factors in the next.
Major appliances are leading because the Energy Star program “has done such a good job of making it clear why people should buy the most energy-efficient product they can afford, because it saves money,” Lockwood said.
The Energy Star program is a joint effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to educate consumers on saving money and protecting the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.
Environmentally friendly housewares items, such as reusable bags and compact fluorescent light bulbs, are selling well for Publix, Brous said. Generally, all Publix stores integrate such housewares items throughout the other sections.
Other examples of recent natural housewares product introductions include a cork cutting board from Architec, Delray Beach, Fla., as part of its “Live smart. Go green” line; reusable Debbie Meyer GreenBags from Housewares America, Iselin, N.J., which use the natural mineral Oya to extend the life of produce; and the Aerogarden from AeroGrow International, Boulder, Colo., which enables users to grow herbs indoors.
DuPont, Wilmington, Del., is also employing a new color-coating system for its cookware products that leads to lower levels of volatile organic compounds during manufacturing, Christa Kaiser, global marketing manager, DuPont Teflon Finishes, told SN. However, this is a high-level offering aimed at manufacturers, rather than consumers, she said. “While the consumer may be interested to know that it has a positive impact in the cookware manufacturing process, we don't intend to do a major marketing effort at the consumer level.”
Of the 100 members of the HomeTrend Influentials panel, or HIPsters, organized by Riedel, 77% said they buy certain products specifically because they think they are better for the environment, and 66% have started following new environmental practices or using new environmentally friendly products that they were not doing or using a year ago.