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Kitchen Dough Rises in '12

NEW YORK - While the slowly recovering economy might have hindered other home textiles categories from growing at a more desirable rate last year, that same sluggishness lifted sales for sister segments table linens and kitchen textiles.
     Much in the same way decorative pillows offer an affordable revamping to a cash-strapped home, table linens refresh a dining room or eating nook easily and for little investment - especially during the fourth quarter holiday season.
     And by extension, the increasing popularity of at-home entertaining and home cooking has done much to ramp up demand for functional kitchen textiles, an even spurred the development of new sub-categories to meet different and emerging needs - bar mops, flour sacks, and dish mats, to name a few examples.
     Also helpful were leveled off cotton prices, boosting the sales of the many terry and other cotton- made products prevalent in kitchen textiles.
     Put those trends all together and what you have is a recipe for success in the form of a decent 2.7% sales increase for table linens and an even more robust 4.6% sales gain for kitchen textiles over the course of 2012.
     "We saw higher-end kitchen products selling more at retail, and in more channels," noted Bryan Siegel, chairman and ceo of Elrene Home Fashions. "And we are seeing beefier products selling. The trends that started around 2010 - lots of bells and whistles and added value like silicone - all that is still very strong. And so we saw some of our growth come from taking those qualities and adding more value and performance to the products."
     Utility-type products were also good performers in 2012 for West Conshohocken, Pa.-based The John Ritzenthaler Co. The company responded to the trend by adding more solid color looks in its most popular spectrums - neutrals and spice colors -- as well as more value pack sets, not just in kitchen towels but also in newer categories like bar mops and others.
     One downtrend in the year was in the novelty area, particularly aprons, further establishing the role of functional products over pure fashion, according to Elissa Vogt, vp of sales and marketing.
     "In line with utility, we had a very strong core solid-colored apron business," Vogt explained.
     Major brands still play an important role for many suppliers, like Bardwil Linens, which works with several licenses. But to appeal a broader income bracket, Bardwil recently developed an extensive decorative printed collection for its house brand that hits a lower retail price than a similar collection for Tommy Bahama.
     As Mike Scotto, vp of sales and merchandising for Bardwil, explained: "We want to meet the ongoing need in the market for well-priced, functional goods that are well designed and are a little more modern but offer the customer value."
     Arlee Home Fashions, a longtime leading player in the decorative pillow category but new to the table linens category as of last year, is building on recent momentum for its offerings with the soon-to come addition of kitchen textiles to its assortment.
     The strategy here is a marriage of looks and color stories across the company's multiple categories, said Stephanie Greco, vp of sales for Arlee's Table Trends division.

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