Vendors Bringing Forth Less Formal Flatware To Capture Today’s Consumer

The casualization of dinnerware has been a focal point in the tabletop industry during the last few years, with retailers and consumers alike. However, flatware, an important, key accessory to the table has slowly been emerging into the spotlight and growth in the category supports today’s shift to more casual lifestyles.

Flatware has had healthy, steady growth over the last two years with both an increase in units sold and dollars. According to NPD data, there has been an approximate combined 5% growth in casual flatware units sold and an approximate combined 10% growth in dollars over the last two years. However, noted Joe Derochowski, home analyst for NPD, that growth has been driven by casual flatware.

“Overall, consumers are seeking a more casual look in the home. When entertaining, we want to create a warm casual environment. Also, we are looking for flexibility. Needless to say, it is not a surprise that we see casual flatware growing,” said Derochowski.

While much of the focus has been on dinnerware, such as how to sell sets versus open stock, as well as how to merchandise less formal offerings as more casual designs become more prevalent, flatware vendors have been busy brainstorming how to help flatware find its place setting among the new, modern consumer.

“In many cases, flatware didn’t move in the same direction as other kitchen categories where consumers really started to invest more. So, in some ways there’s a huge opportunity to align with the direction of other items in the kitchen. We want to understand what made consumers invest more in those other categories so we can help them understand the value in investing in a great set of flatware,” said Claudia Bianco, vp/brand, Oneida.

Working with retailers on merchandising has certainly helped reignite interest in flatware in the aisles at retail. Other vendors in the segment have looked to change their approach as well.

“New merchandising concepts have helped bring attention back to flatware. For example, we recently introduced our Craft Kitchen open stock flatware program which is merchandised in an eye-catching branded wooden fixture. It can become a focal point within a larger display or even within a section of flatware,” said Ross Patterson, president, Robinson Home Products.

The merchandising of flatware is an integral component, said vendors, to ensure that consumers are seeing the new trends, shapes, materials and formats that vendors have been working to bring forth to meet the consumer’s changing preferences.

One such example is the smaller configurations that consumers are seemingly in need of. Patterson, who also pointed out that this shift to smaller sets has also contributed to an increase in flatware’s units sold, said that Robinson has been putting an emphasis on its robust carded and open stock programs in order to allow customers to build their service with flexibility.

“This also allows flatware to be pulled out from the traditional flatware wall area and brought into higher traffic zones along with new non-traditional flatware outlets like high-end supermarkets,” said Patterson.

Chris Wile, president of the metals division for Lifetime Brands, agreed that casual flatware and the merchandising efforts put forth is gaining steam at retail. Casual flatware has been a large part of the company’s tableware growth, he said.

“The open stock style of buying flatware would directly correlate to the uptick in units being sold in flatware. Today’s consumers like having the choice on what is in their utensil drawer so with that, the company offers multiple patterns in open stock configurations so they can build their own service,” he said.

However, sets are still relevant and important, but how flatware sets are built has changed to accommodate lifestyle shifts.

“We have changed our configuration options to give consumers more choices in how they buy their flatware. For example, we offer traditional 20-piece sets, 45-piece sets, and 65-piece sets that include a traditional 5-piece place setting, and in the 45- and 65-piece sets it also includes a serving set,” Wile said.

Oneida, too, has reconfigured their settings and also embraced open stock more often. “We’ve expanded our offerings to include one single piece all the way to counts of four, six and eight of a single piece within a pattern. This gives the consumer options when building out his or her flatware collection. We also have some patterns where we offer three different pieces in the set versus the standard 5-piece place setting. It’s all about letting the consumer shop based on his or her needs,” said Bianco.

New styles and patterns have also been at the forefront for flatware vendors, with many introducing new finishes, classic patterns with a twist and carefully curated collections. One such introduction that represents this shift is the FOKS collection from Gourmet Settings. The collection name, according to Hildy Abrams, CEO of Gourmet Settings, comes from an acronym that helps consumers remember how to set the table: Fork + O (representing the plate) + Knife + Spoon.

“We feel the flatware category needs a revamp and for us, the FOKS collection is all about fun, lifestyle and fashion. It’s a way to give a fresh approach to flatware and to attract a new and maybe younger audience,” said Abrams.

The company has introduced new stylized photography for the collection and has made it available in classic and more modern shapes and finishes.

For Robinson Home, in addition to
new designs and new configurations of its sets, Patterson said by providing its retail partners with new brands it will help consumers better identify with more current trends.

“Some of our new brands offer a lifestyle approach which allows the consumer to identify with the trend and feel comfortable buying into multiple categories with a cohesive look and feel. It also give retailers the chance to build a complete statement versus shopping for items,” he said.

Looking forward to future growth in the category, vendors agreed that it is necessary to keep an eye on the Millennial consumer and the younger generations to better understand their evolving flatware preferences.