Housewares Show

Times Staff Writer

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.

Jumping into the same hot arena were Salton's stylish Sonata toaster in either black or white; Hamilton Beach's electronic toaster with adjustable width slots; the slim and sleek Proctor-Silex Coolwall Toaster with extra-long wide slots; Russell Hobbs' four-slice microchip toaster that automatically adjusts the toasting cycle for frozen breads, and Krups' Toastronic toasters that has built-in cord storage.

Tefal premiered its striped four-slice Thick 'N Thin Toaster, which allows for simultaneous toasting of various thickness of breads and pastries. Styled in black and white, Black and Decker's American Contemporary Toaster features four-slice wide slots with dual controls and a swing-open crumb tray. Toastmaster opted for a 3-slot chrome toaster that consists of two standard wells and one wide slot. Sunbeam also presented a four-slice chrome toaster with long, wide wells. Its electronic control assures even browning and instant resets.

The old saying, "Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink," has taken on an increasingly disturbing reality in many communities across the country. Concern over impure tap water has increased the popularity of bottled waters, but costs can run high, and can the bottled waters be guaranteed?

Without turning to more-expensive, installed home water filtration systems, another new product is able to purify water in a pitcher. This process consists of a unique filter that removes unwanted impurities but retains fluoride and important minerals and trace elements. Currently available is the Brita Water Filter System, which has been recognized worldwide in laboratory tests, and forthcoming is Donvier's Pure Water Maker.

Showing off a breakthrough in oven technology was Gerald Sweeney's Zephyr Convection Cooking Systems. Powered by a General Electric motor, the fan unit can be installed on the bottom rack of any electric oven to convert it into a convection oven. The system's timing may still be premature for the ordinary cook, but the product is overdue for the serious cook who appreciates the convection oven's quality of baking and time-saving features.

Bosch and Kenwood, two quality oriented product lines that have established names internationally, are expanding their presence in the U.S. market. Robert Bosch of West Germany exhibited a sophisticated upscale line of multifunction kitchen machines, including a juicer, coffee and tea makers, food slicers, a deep fryer and a sandwich-and-meat grill. Kenwood introduced a set that consists of a cordless hand mixer, carving knife and stick, or hand, blender. Offering versatility is Kenwood's new generation of food-preparation centers, which feature attachments for almost every purpose.

Modern deep fryers now make practical sense. A big hit at the show was De Longhi's gray-and-red Friggimegglio Deep Fryer, which features a unique slanted interior that uses about 50% less oil than other fryers and a charcoal filter system that eliminates unwanted grease odors. Also a steamer, the Versailles Deep Fryer from Bosch has an elliptical design that enables it to accept food of various sizes. It also has a replaceable fume charcoal filter and a cotton filter that screens out crumbs in the oil.

A long-awaited kitchen tool is the Butter Kutter from Prodyne of Montclair. The plastic box stores a stick of butter and with its spring-loaded door, thumb pusher and cutting wire, releases and slices butter to any desired thickness. Another gadget from Prodyne is Jaws, the ultimate die-cast aluminum nutcracker that even works for hard-to-crack shells such as macadamia nuts.

Handy Gift

The KitchenKit from Atlantic Representations makes a great gift choice for brides, college students in dorms, new- and second-home owners. It's a collection of 13 essential kitchen tools in a carrying case.

Mothers and their young tots can look forward to a variety of delightful children's dinner sets that have action-toy appeal. James Kabler, president of Nikkal, expressed enthusiasm over his company's Donvier Kids Dinner Sets. The imaginative sets include Toby Turtle, Tummy Tug with a pop-up sail crew, a medieval Food Fort set and a clock-like dinner set for learning time.

Starwares in Encino featured Eat 'N' Run, with airplane, mop dolls and school bus dinner sets. Paul Kessler, president of Starwares, said: "We have changed the eating habits of children and try to make mealtime a fun time."

Taking advantage of the continued interest in hard anodized aluminum cookware, Revere Ware rolled out its beautiful scratch-free Onyx anodized aluminum cookware. Made of heavy-gauge thickness with stainless steel covers, it features stay cool hollow-stick handles.

Another show-stealer, whose familiar melodic sounds were heard from faraway aisles, was the T42 teakettle from Metrokane. Upon steaming, the gracefully sculptured stainless steel kettle that was designed by aeronautics engineer Charles Hutter sings "Tea for Two." Another new teakettle was introduced by Chantal, the SK Teakettle with a beautiful mirror finish. It features the original Hohner harmonica whistler and Chantal's noted stay-cool handle.

In additon to new colors, unusual shapes are appearing in many contemporary kitchen utensils. A perfect example is the Hammarplast collection of Swedish-made tools. Artsy enough for display are the high-tech black-slotted spatulas, ladle and geometric whisk. The line is now being distributed by Rosti.

Last year's most talked-about gadget at the show was the gun-like clothes shaver, also called fuzz or pill remover. This time Windmere introduced a larger version called the Clothes Shaver Plus for revitalizing bigger surfaces such as upholstery and draperies.

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