Phil Brandl, president, International Housewares Association
Both of these options bode well for the home appliance industry as consumers look for entertainment-oriented products to create fun, family-oriented activities at home.
The Case for Home as a Sanctuary
"A pendulum swing in family values is just starting to emerge," says A.J. Riedel, senior partner, Riedel Marketing Group. "People are starting to realize their lives have gotten so busy that the family dinner has been sacrificed. Some are making an intentional effort to bring back the sit-down family dinner."
Eleanor Hanson, editor of FoodWatch, a newsletter that tracks consumer food trends, agrees. "We are seeing a higher regard or priority for family," she says. "Consumers are seeking ways to get the family together, such as for family dinners during the week or a Sunday dinner get-together." Ms. Hanson cites the inauguration of "Family Day: A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children" by The National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse (CASA) as an example of this trend. The group promotes frequent family meals, stating that they lead to fewer incidents of fighting and good academic performance among children.
In 2002, 75 percent of all suppers occurred inside the home, according to Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group's Food Consulting Services and speaker at the 2004 International Home & Housewares Show to be held March 20-22 in Chicago, IL, U.S. The NPD Group has been tracking Americans' eating patterns for more than 25 years. "Home is still the dominant place where we eat our meals," Mr. Balzer says.
Is this deja vu? In the 1980s and 1990s, lifestyle guru Faith Popcorn coined the term "cocooning" to describe the consumer's need to retreat from the stresses of the outside world. After Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans turned inward toward the safety and security of the home. While many have begun venturing outside into the world again, housewares industry veterans report many consumers prefer to remain burrowed inside their safe haven.
"Cocooning is not leaving us and is only growing as we go through these unsettled times of high alert and uncertainty," says Tom O'Higgins, founder and president of The O'Company, a strategic marketing and design firm focused on the housewares and gourmet industries. "People will do more in-home entertaining and more in-country travel than even before," he continues.
Bob Coviello, president of the HTI Buying Group adds: "The consumer is still fortressing and nesting; the process is still continuing. The consumer is staying close to home and spending time at home."
Mr. Balzer of NPD puts it more simply, comparing the cocooning trend to the first law of inertia. "A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body at home tends to stay at home," he says.
The Case for Connecting: Truth About the Butterflies and the Bees
While the majority of industry experts cite the cocooning or "nesting" trend as a strong influence on American consumers, some experts report consumers are beginning to venture outside of their home cocoons and into the outside world.
According to Yankelovich, a Chapel Hill, NC, U.S.-based marketing consultancy that tracks consumer attitudes, Americans are connecting with each other through the home by "hiving." Borrowing from the metaphor of a beehive, abuzz with activity, Yankelovich research defines hiving as "engagement, interaction, and connection with the outside environment. A hive is a home designed to open out and facilitate connection." Although Americans have indicated increased anxiety and uncertainty about the future, Yankelovich says, they seek comfort and connection with others. And more so than ever, this is found at home.
Yankelovich's consumer trends research through the Yankelovich MONITOR shows a renewed and rising interest in connecting. "Across all generations, family is more important than ever," the study reports. "People see more value in community. Through hiving, home is the best place to reestablish relationships and connect with others. Home is command central for this new lifestyle."
Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a marketing consulting firm specializing in luxury and discretionary consumer products, agrees. However, rather than describing the phenomenon as "hiving," she refers to it as "connecting," citing this as the next dominant cultural trend. "There is an anti-cocooning trend - a trend toward connecting - that applies across the board," she says. "There is a shifting focus away from nesting, which is egocentric and self-centered."
Within the luxury market, Ms. Danziger identifies 27 percent of that segment as "butterflies" - those consumers who have emerged from their cocoon and are more outwardly focused and interested in reconnecting with the external world. Butterflies tend to be more affluent and are more likely to be female and part of the Baby Boomer generation. In addition, they have the highest income and highest household value. "Butterflies have discovered that things aren't going to make them happier," Ms. Danziger notes. Instead, she says, they are interested in connecting and are placing an emphasis on self-actualization and self-education, such as taking yoga classes, learning a musical instrument, or volunteer work.
If your future product development plans are targeting either of these consumer sentiments, it appears that there will be plenty of buyers.