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BHETA Viewpoint – Will Jones

I predict a trend (hopefully several)!

As we head towards Ambiente and Chicago I was particularly struck at a recent BHETA forum by the number of comments from speakers bemoaning the lack of a ‘next big thing’ to galvanise sales in the housewares market. We may all have the odd wry smile at the veggie spaghetti craze that sent sales of spiralisers into orbit, but how great it was to see the consumer so truly engaged with a concept that enthusiastic word of mouth and frenzied social media reviews really set tills ringing.

Of course, you can still buy spiralisers and some enthusiasts are still even using them, but back at BHETA’s most recent housewares event it was not only the market analysts from GfK saying there had been no wonder product to spike the figures for quite some while. Retailers and suppliers were also somewhat nervous of committing to what innovations might be on the horizon, capable of inspiring real commercial confidence.

So, in the spirit of re-energising the market for 2019, I am very much hoping that not only will the big international shows uncover some product innovation gems, but that the whole industry also puts more effort into identifying the trends that always lie behind such showstoppers. And ideally, that the industry starts to make that investment in trend prediction more consistently and considerably further ahead than is often the case now.

As many readers may know, at BHETA and at the Exclusively shows, we are big fans of Scarlet Opus, the agency which specialises in predicting consumer and design trends for workplace, retail and home interiors. Working with trend predictors such as Scarlet Opus is all about taking some of the risk out of speculative product and presentation development and getting ahead of the game with confidence. In fact, it is no surprise that some of the most successful suppliers and retailers currently in the market work with them on an ongoing basis. So, it is with more than one nod to Scarlet Opus that I am about to do some of my own predicting about what I am hoping and expecting see at Ambiente and Chicago – and probably Exclusively 2019 as well.

The first is that coffee is far from dead as an inspiration for product development. Maybe not quite as ‘hot’ (no pun intended) as it was, nevertheless, there is still innovation and I was interested to see that one of the top awards in the 2018 IH+HS Student Design Competition was for a DIY coffee bean roaster. This borrows technology from air pop popcorn poppers to roast the beans and has a smartphone app to control the roast. I suspect that the resulting product has less potential in terms of volume sales than much of the previous development work in the coffee sector, but it’s important to see what kinds of products and processes are exciting young designers. The student competition is a welcome trend in itself.

Realistically however, we cannot really claim coffee as a ‘next big thing’. Closer to the mark is a whole plethora of product development attributable to what we can call the Blue Planet effect – or in other words the elimination of single use plastics in all their many forms. Here I am fascinated to see how some of the alternatives owe their origins to new technology, but equally how very many are about reinventions of products and habits that were common practice in generations past – or actually just common sense re-applied.

Waxed paper – bee’s wax specifically is one of the reinventions. Cotton infused with beeswax and tree resin that takes the place of zip top bags and plastic wrap. Each piece of the wrap is painted with a layer of beeswax, which when warmed by human hands, will mould to and create a seal around containers of food as well as seal to itself to create protective covers for sandwiches, vegetables and cheeses. Even better, the wrap is washable and reusable and can be produced with a variety of patterns and colours.

With a similar look to the past, the popularity of unbleached greaseproof paper bags, ideal for sandwiches and snacks is clearly demonstrable in retail outlets embracing the elimination of single use plastics. Alongside these reinventions are a whole collection of net bags, stress-tested to 10 Kg for pick your own vegetables and fruit at the supermarket or fruit and veg retailer. There are also fabric bags for home storage.

Equally motivated by the consumers’ distaste for plastic is newer technology in the development of silicone as a reusable alternative to plastic food bags in storage, freezing and cooking. Another approach is the retention of plastic but in reusable form. Instead of clingfilm we see reusable, elasticated multipurpose food storage covers for keeping leftovers fresh, and for microwave cooking, defrosting and steaming.

And then, perhaps inevitably, there is the impact of smart technology. According to Mintel’s 2018 report, smart-connected devices are now in the mainstream. Almost half of consumers who are not already in the market are now interested in purchasing and Mintel’s figures fit right in with what Scarlet Opus calls the ‘Eco 2.0’ trend which pushes clever, environmentally conscious, adjustable controls.

Already big in garden and security, now is the time for kitchen applications. Most smart devices do one of two things. Either they automate a task, or they monitor the environment around them and inform the user of what to do next. More and more often, the two combine as for example with a vent which opens and closes automatically according to the temperature it detects. Take the established trend for portable houseplants especially in the rental market as an example and watch how smart technology can keep the householder informed about the need for watering, sending information to phones, tablet or computer, or simply to a handy display on the pot itself. Even the most basic plant sensors measure soil moisture and compare it with a plant database to yield specific advice on when to water that species. More sophisticated products do the same for ambient light, humidity, temperature and even levels of fertiliser.

This is the technology heading quickly into the kitchen. It may be about saving time, or effort, or better decision making or improved precision. It may be a homeowner trying to cut a water bill, a grandparent getting the grandkids into cooking with the aid of novelty tech, or a householder controlling their heating and slow cooking from a distance. It may be a chef or a home cooking enthusiast getting into indoor hydroponics to supply fruits and vegetables year-round.

One final thought – if exhibitions could once again capture the high ground of trend prediction and be the regular, reliable source of all those elusive next big things – then maybe there would be less of a crisis in visitor numbers. Leading to less of a crisis in exhibitor numbers, leading to a healthier, happier market all round. There’s a vision that even the likes of Ambiente and Chicago would find energising.

To find out more about BHETA membership and access to trends advice and market data, contact BHETA on 0121 237 1130.

Source: BHETA
November 2018

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