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Issue: May 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Changed by Recession

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Tim Somheil, editor

 Consumers are thinking about wellness, living green, and living within their means.

The economy, the environment, and still more health and safety threats are influencing how consumers think and behave, and will certainly affect their future purchases of home appliances. Several weeks ago, a panel at the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago discussed their views of consumer lifestyle trends in 2010. The panel identified six trends, and one of them, called Living Within Our Means, is a direct product of the recession.

“The recession is changing the way we view cash versus credit,” said Tom Mirabile, vice president, global trend and design at Lifetime Brands Inc. “Durability is now more important, [as is] redefining leisure time activities. That is a huge opportunity for our industry.”

Pressure cookers, slow cookers, airtight storage products, and canning products are more popular and are helping people live within their means.

The Wellness Kitchen trend is also affected by the economy. This trend encompasses nutrition, living longer, and a commitment to overall well-being. Sharilyn Ruckman, president of product development firm Ruckman + Company, recommended OEMs address this trend by helping consumers save money and give them ways to make more healthful decisions, such as home food prep and maintaining foods’ nutritional value.

Another trend, not surprisingly, was the Green Kitchen. Mirabile noted that even consumers who are not green also face peer and family pressure to be green.

Husqvarna, global producer of outdoor power equipment, found similar themes emerging from its survey of 6000+ consumers for its Global Gardening Trend Report. The OEM came up with two scenarios for the future, taking into consideration social and cultural concerns like the economy and the environment.

One is the Organic Home, for users who want a home that’s sustainable and self-sufficient. These homes may have green roofs, rainwater recovery, and other systems not typical today. The survey found a “make do and mend” attitude emerging as an outgrowth of the economic crisis. More consumers want their yards to be a source of shelter, relief, and food.

In fact, according to a separate National Gardening Association survey, the number of U.S. homes planning to grow their own food this year is up 19%—on top of a 10% increase last year.

But consumers still want convenience and they want to enjoy their homes. The housewares panel identified another trend as Cooking for Fun, which involves creating shared experiences and enjoying life’s simpler pleasures.

Cooking, yes, but “Yardwork for Fun” is not expected to be a top trend. This led Husqvarna to come up with its second scenario of the future: the Intelligent Yard, for busy users with little love for lawn maintenance. The company foresees self-watering and self-feeding lawns, lawns that submit growth development reports, and even self-pruning plants.

But can any one company meet the needs of all these emerging, overlapping, and surely inconstant consumer tendencies? Husqvarna certainly reaches both ends of the technology span, judging by its lawn mowers. The company’s reel mower lineup uses engineering that has changed little in a century. These nonpolluting, low-cost mowers certainly fit many of today’s consumer trends.

At the other end of the spectrum is Husqvarna’s Automower 260 ACX, engineered “for anyone with a large lawn and a busy life,” says Stefan Axelsson, business manager for Robotic Lawnmowers. He says it makes lawn maintenance 99% carefree—and if the mower is ever disturbed, it sends its owner a text message.

Both the reel mower and the robo-mower meet the needs of specific customers.

Housewares panel member Curt Bailey, president of industrial design firm Sundberg-Ferar Inc., recommends that producers find their audience and be unique, saying, “Whether it’s gender or geography, you need to embrace out of the ordinary.”


Consumer Trends Inside and Out

Read more about the discussion at Home + Housewares 2009: 

Recession Spawns Consumer Lifestyle Trends

Read more about The Future of Lawn Care


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