Handheld blenders seen staying hot

The handheld blender category should pick up this year right where it left off in 1990, with sales soaring, as American consumers continue their love affair with diet drinks and as the info-mercial campaigns continue to air.

Although the number of new products at the January housewares show may not be dramatic, with several manufacturers expected to present new handheld blender lines later in the year, the category is still sizzling hot, according to industry leaders contacted by HFD.

Moreover, the slowing economy is not expected to short-circuit the surge in sales, as manufacturers reported plans to continue airing aggressive advertising campaigns to spur even more interest in the small appliance category.

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Most vendors said they experienced short supply in 1990, but they expect to be caught up for the first quarter 1991. “There has been a shortage this fall,” said Dennis Rodney, vice president of sales at Moulinex, which markets two hand blenders. “None of the suppliers were able to meet the total demand.”

Braun has a strong position in the category, but others are coming on strong. Rival packages its unit with an individual-size serving of Ultra Slim Fast and a cents off coupon for Ultra Slim Fast. Others marketing hand blenders include Global Marketing, Waring and Hamilton Beach/Proctor-Silex Inc. Cuisinarts Inc. is the latest newcomer to the business and hopes to leverage its brand name to create sales at the high end of the business. The unit can be promoted at $49.95, according to Cuisinarts.

“Sales of hand blenders this year were up dramatically versus last year and we see the category continuing to do well in 1991,” said Bob Cronon, marketing manager, Braun. “We’re planning to launch another hand blender, but not until the second half of the year. It will probably be at the high end of the market, but all the details haven’t been finalized yet.”

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“We think the strength of the category is due to three factors: the success of our commercial campaigns; the impact of all the info-mercials that have come out in the last year; and the effect of the diet drink tie-ins,” he added.

As evidence of Braun’s commitment to the category and its expectation of continued strong growth in the coming year, the company, which already commands the major share of the blender category, is set to launch an aggressive year-round print and TV advertising campaign.

As part of the print media drive, Braun’s handheld blenders, as well as other product lines, will be featured in the Weight Watchers magazine in January, Brides and bridal guide magazines from January through October, and in The American Vegetable Cookbook–From the Fit for Life Kitchen, paperback edition, scheduled for publication in April.

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In addition, Braun will be highlighting the category on TV, including offering the products as prizes on game shows from February to December and unveiling a major new advertising campaign late in the fall.
As far as being able to meet the soaring consumer demand for handheld blenders, which has been a considerable problem this year, Cronon said that more than adequate supplies of the hot product line will be available.”There were some difficulties in meeting supply requirements earlier this year (1990) because the demand for our products was so strong. We’ve reacted by expanding our manufacturing capacity this fall and expect to have caught up with all our customers’ demand by early 1991,” Cronon said.

Cuisinarts will introduce one handheld blender line in January–at the high end of the market–and expects to unveil at least one more additional model later in the year at the gourmet show, said Lou Federico, vice president of sales.

The new model CSB1, called the Quick Prep, will feature a cast-metallic stem for added durability, include two speeds, and come with three attachments for blending and mixing, whipping and beating, and chopping and mincing.

It will also include a 16-ounce mixing beaker that is dishwasher- and microwave-safe, and a corner or wall storage bracket. The hand blender, in white with gray accents, will carry a suggested retail price of $60 but is to be offered promotionally for about $49.95.

According to Federico, Cuisinarts’ strategy is to target the higher end of the market for two reasons: one, because the lower end is staturated; and two, to offer retailers a change so they can reap some higher profit margins.

The low end is extremely crowded. There are a lot of product introductions in that segment, especially in the $20 price-point range. We think our new model will create an opportunity for retailers to make some better profits,” he said.

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In terms of meeting consumer demand, Federico said that the supply problem should be over by the first quarter of 1991. The question now is how strong demand will be.

“The category is doing very well and we expect it to continue to be strong. There should also be better supplies as more and more manufacturers introduce lines in the market. Now we have to see if demand keeps up with supplies,” he said.

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Moulinex is also setting sights on the top of the market for the future. It already has a basic Turbo hand blender and step-up model that comes with a mixer, masher, stainless steel filter, measuring cup and wall bracket.

“Unlike competitors that simply add features to a basic model, all of our hand blenders are different from one another. The reason behind this is that certain attachments require more power for operation,” Rodney said. He noted that Moulinex had strong sales of both models.

Bruno Valbona, president of Waring, agreed that sales of hand-held blenders have been strong and should continue to draw considerable consumer interest in the year ahead.

“The handheld blender category is doing very, very well and I think it will continue to show strong growth well into next year and beyond,” Valbona said.

To cash in on the trend further, Waring will be introducing “at least one new hand-blender model at the January housewares show. It will be in what we call the consumer products end of our business, not a professional line,” he said.

Valbona cited both the success of the info-mercials and the popularity of diet drinks as the main reasons for the category’s surging success.

“The category has been helped tremendously by the liquid diet promotions. People have found out that the drinks taste better when they are blended. The late-night TV info-mercials has also helped the category. People see those hand blenders on television and then go out looking for them in the store,” he said.

The category’s basic positioning as a handy appliance has also spurred heightened demand. “It’s a very functional appliance. It’s small enough to wrap up and take to work or to be easily used in kitchen. That’ has also helped the category,” Valbona added.

Hamilton Beach/Proctor-Silex has no plans to introduce a hand-held blender at the January show, but is considering unveiling a new model later in the year.

The company currently offers one handheld blender, model 250, that was introduced late in 1989 and carries a suggested retail price of about $30.

Kurt Sonnentag, director of marketing at Hamilton Beach/Proctor-Silex, expects the category to do as well in 1991 as it did in 1990.

“The hand blender category has really taken off in the past year, mainly, I think, because of the success of the info-mercials. The blenders have become quite popular. As far as a promotional tie-in with a liquid diet, we’ve been exploring that but have not made any move yet,” Sonnentag said.

“We believe that hand blenders offer a lot of opportunity, but we haven’t come up with any new models yet. We’re looking into it. With the merger here, though, we’ve had to step back and just look at where we are for now,” Sonnentag said.

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