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Spanning the globe: ethnic cookware gets mainstream to fill consumers' hunger for foreign flavor at home.

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NEW YORK -- Latino, Asian, Mediterranean: Not only are these popular cuisines people want when they're eating out, but more and more when they're eating in as well. And as they look for cookware that helps them prepare these foods at home, manufacturers are there to fill the need.

One of the segments to receive a lot of attention is Hispanics, as this group is projected to increase and become 17 percent of the population by 2020. The Hispanic market is growing so rapidly, said Steve Spitz, vice president, chief marketing officer, cutlery, cutting boards and cookware, but right now "you see very little out there [at retail] geared toward the Hispanic market," save a national discounter, so the opportunity is there. Lifetime Brands made a strategic step earlier this year with its investment in Ekco, a Mexico City, Mexico-based cookware company, and will launch the new line for Vasconia--the oldest kitchenware brand in Mexico--this spring. Some of the product in development includes steamers, griddles, frying pans, cast iron specialty pieces, pressure cookers and comals, which warm tortillas.

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For Lifetime's other brands, the Asian culture also has influence, Spitz said, and after the success of the santoku knife, Lifetime is looking at Asian-inspired blocks and cutting boards in "more modern shapes," along with specialty knives, such as the deba and nakiri. "It's the next natural place for us to grow." Other trends in knives are ones that are specialized, such as for lettuce, tomato, and hard and soft cheese.

At Gibson, the company has also responded to the Hispanic population, which "is growing at a much faster rate then the rest of the market," said Sal Gabbay, chief executive officer of Gibson. As the traditional stock pot is a popular piece used in ethnic cooking, it has developed items to support this, such as its Caldera and Cassoulet, along with additional need ed pieces. "All key retailers have a program for [ethnic cookware], although it is not a primary business for many yet," he added.

At retail, big boxes "have the luxury of display ... it's all about the display and telling the story," said Barbara Ayon, product development and sales director, cookware, Tabletops Unlimited. The company has found the right price point for kits for such things as making fajitas or tacos is $19.99, while the customer is willing to spend more for specialty pieces, such as paella pans. "For gift sets, it's price-point-driven; and for specialty items, the customer has a higher tolerance for prices," she said.

Ayon added, "Pressure cookers have become one of the key drivers [in this area], whether under our own brand, Philippe Richard, or private label. Anything that speeds up the cooking process is a big theme." Other ethnic pieces include cast iron pieces; chili pots; doufeus, for which it received a lot of requests; and, under the Asian influence, santoku knives.

"Asian cooking is a mainstream category," Ayon said. "It's not just Asians buying woks and other Asian cooking items; everyone is buying them." Ayon estimates the company's ethnic cookware is about 30 percent of the line, driven mainly by pressure cookers, but which also includes items like pasta pots and cast iron pieces that consumers consider mainstream. Cuisines that are hot right now are derivative of Asian and Mediterranean cuisines, such as Moroccan tajines and clay cookware. "People are more interested in exploring facets of Asian and Mediterranean cuisine," she said.

Typhoon US, which makes woks and other Asian products, agrees. "Traditionally, woks were a low-price, cheap-quality item only available in Asian supermarkets or restaurant supply shops," said Alexis Garcia, public relations and marketing manager. "Over the past 10 years or more, we have 'westernized the wok' and created a product that is more suitable for today's consumer. Non-stick coatings, flat bottoms and different sizes allow the consumer to get the wok cooking experience with more flexibility and choice."

Just this fall, Typhoon launched its new line of woks and wok sets, with some considerable design changes and features. It moved from traditional wooden handles to all Phenolic plastic handles with a comfort grip, for example, which allowed the "non-stick woks to be dishwasher-safe--a requirement for today's busy cook," Garcia said. In addition, innovation in Asian cookware is "where we see the future," and includes such products as its new Hot Woks, which have an asymmetrical-shaped body so food can be tossed easily.

Garcia added that "Chinese food is a relatively easy food to replicate at home, with the wider availability of necessary equipment and ingredients, plus stir-frying in general is considered a healthy, quick option for today's busy cook. Asian food is on a continual upward curve as it has worldwide appeal."

Newcomer Van Vacter, which launched its gadgets line a year ago, provides "a range of products that target the rapidly emerging ethnic food category," said Nicholas Webb, president and chief executive officer, as well as author of three ethnic cookbooks: Viva Salsa & Guacamole, Viva Avocado and Viva Tortilla. "Our company introduced an avocado knife a year ago and to our surprise it has been one of our most popular products. We have recently introduced a mango knife, and our retailers tell us that mangos have become tremendously popular over the last 12 to 24 months."
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Title Annotation:the markets: housewares
Author:Lillo, Andrea
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Nov 5, 2007
Words:880
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