Food for Thought

Health has become a prime driver in purchases of food-storage products

By David Gill

OggiOggi's acrylic Twist & Store line includes containers that are BPA-free and provide easy views of what's inside.

In choosing food-storage products, consumers are voting (with their dollars) for options that are healthy, according to marketers of these products on both the vendor and retail sides.

By "healthy," the marketers mean products that use materials other than plastics, such as glass, silicone and stainless steel. The concern with plastic containers is that many of them contain bisphenol-A (BPA), which is used to make plastics. A 2013 report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said there are concerns that exposure to BPA could have harmful effects, in particular, on unborn fetuses, infants and young children.

Clearly, these worries have had an impact on the market. "With BPA being a big issue, people are asking, 'What is this made of? Any chemicals I need to be concerned about?'" said Kim Kimbriel, buyer of kitchen and food-storage products for The Container Store.

Kim Kimbriel"With BPA being a big issue, people are asking, 'What is this made of?'" Kim Kimbriel, The Container Store

Part of this concern comes from whether BPA or other chemicals might degrade into the food during the cooking process. "What we're seeing is a group of consumers concerned about reheating food in plastic," said Tom Moleski, marketing development director for Arc International.

For these shoppers, glass has emerged as a strong alternative. "Most people are demanding glass or ceramic products so they are truly microwave-, oven- and dishwasher-safe," said Rachel Hawes, vendor coordinator for Gourmet Catalog & Buying Group. "If products or their lids are plastic, it is a must to state that they are BPA-free."

Vendors have responded with introductions of glass storage products. "The feature we are able to bring with glass is that it's the same product, except you don't have to take it out of a plastic container to microwave it," Moleski said.

Glass has other attributes consumers like. "It's safe, sustainable and easy to clean," said Chance Claxton, co-founder of U-Konserve. "Added silicone sleeves take our new glass food-storage collection to a new level with a unique design, functional grip, cushion from breakage and protection from hot contents."

U-KonserveResponding to consumers' health concerns, U-Konserve's Glass with Silicone Sleeve collection is free of harmful chemicals and safe for microwaving.

Rick Torres, senior buyer with Anna's Linens, added that glass has advantages beyond the health aspect. "Glass is also decorative," Torres said. "I'm seeing some new decorative shapes, some frosted glass, some very modern looks and some color."

Moleski said the momentum toward glass will accelerate with younger consumers coming into the market. "They have the mindset that they need to cook with healthy materials, and they don't necessarily trust plastic," he said.

Health and safety are key factors in consumers' purchase choices in food storage, but these items are still there to make organization easy for consumers as well. "People just want to be more organized," said Richard Murphy, director of sales and marketing for Oggi. "Space efficiency has become big because spaces are smaller. People want to maximize their living spaces."

Retailers focus on these products' organizational qualities in merchandising food-storage containers. "Our primary focus is storage and organization even in this area," The Container Store's Kimbriel said. "Stackability and nestability are all factors that help people save space. A lot of people spend a lot of time preparing meals, so they need organization help." One way in which The Container Store seeks to help its shoppers in this regard is to provide tags that can be clipped onto the containers' sides for labeling purposes.

Along similar lines, Anna's Linens uses signage to help its customers pick the right storage items. "We try to make sure shoppers know the storage capacity," Torres said. "When our customers look for storage products, they want to be able to compare ounces to ounces and sizes to sizes--for example, how many ounces of cereal or coffee a container can hold."

Whether it involves different materials, sizes, shapes or capacities, consumers' personal taste will be the determining factor for the food-storage category going forward. Murphy noted that storage material preferences have, in one sense, become regionalized. "The South seems to like ceramics," he said. "Metropolitan areas like stainless steel. The Pacific Northwest likes glass. But all of these materials sell everywhere."

David GillDavid Gill | Senior Editor

David Gill covers home textiles, small electrics housewares, personal-care products, cleaning products, mattresses, consumer electronics and major appliances. He also reports on retailers and writes about the business and financial side of both vendors and retailers. He has more than 30 years of experience in business journalism, and has worked for other publications and websites that cover consumer products from both the manufacturer and retailer sides. His outside interests include sports (he is a big fan of the New York teams and of British soccer), cooking, movies and theater. He occasionally enjoys a good cigar as well.


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