When Ravi Saligram took the reigns of Newell Brands in October of 2019, the company was something akin to a rudderless ship. Sales were down and new products from brands such as Mr. Coffee, Oster and others were few and far between.
Armed with a bevy of well-known kitchenware brands, Saligram and his new management team have righted the wrongs, revved up product development and tapped into key consumer usage trends.
While the first half of 2021 has seen strong double-digit sales growth, the company is turning its attention to what’s coming in 2022. Chris Robins, CEO of Newell’s Home Appliances Business Unit, spoke with Kitchenware Today and shared her thoughts on consumer trends, current-day successes and what’s to come in the year ahead.
This is Part 1 of a two-part series of interviews with officials at Newell. Part 2 will feature Kris Malkoski, CEO of Newell’s Home Solutions Business Unit.
KITCHENWARE TODAY: What have been some of the biggest changes you have seen in consumer behavior over the past 15 months?
CHRIS ROBINS: We saw changes start when people didn’t want to go to restaurants, didn’t want to get takeout and started cooking at home because of the pandemic. People also started working from home and schools closed so the home became the center of our lives. We refer to it as the “Home is the Hub” trend.
We are thinking about the home in varied and different ways. Consumers want to make the home “their own” and they are thinking about their health and the health of their home in new ways. There are increased behaviors around family-centered activities such as cooking, eating together and learning new skills.
Newell anticipates the “Home is the Hub” trend will continue to evolve throughout 2021 and that many of the habits formed during COVID-19 are here to stay. The Newell Home Appliances business is well-positioned to meet consumer demand and drive sales thanks to the robust innovation pipeline developed under Ravi’s (Saligram) leadership, as the team continues to bring new products to market.
KWT: How have these changes impacted consumer needs for kitchen electrics?
CR: We’ve seen the entire global category as a whole experience double-digit growth in consumption over the past year and that continues into 2021 as consumers continue to enjoy kitchen activities at home.
We continue to have a strong performance in our international markets as we experienced nearly 35% core sales growth in the second quarter and almost 31% growth in the first half, with particular strength in Latin America. Oster, one of our top 10 brands in the Newell portfolio and a strong brand in Latin America, grew at a double-digit pace. Our ability to quickly pivot to successful e-commerce and direct-to-consumer businesses positioned us well in 2020 and continues to drive the success of the Latin American franchise in 2021.
On the product and innovation side, we’ve addressed new consumer household needs such as convenience and saving space with products like Mr. Coffee Pod + 10 Cup Space-Saving line, which launched last quarter.
KWT: There has been discussion that a significant number of consumers sharpened their culinary skills as they stayed home during the pandemic. What long-term impact do you think this will have on future product development?
CR: While the historical kitchen tools and ways of cooking will remain, we will continue to take into account how consumers think about things that impact their lifestyle post-pandemic such as:
1) Flexible work schedules and hybrid models of continuing to work at home.
2) The blend of take-out and in-home dining as restaurants have sharpened their skills around flexible service models.
3) A new focus on health and well-being and the relationship between food and cooking at home.
KWT: As we head to the holiday selling season, is there any concern about product availability given the reported inventory shortages in some categories?
CR: As we have stated in our quarterly earnings calls, the supply chain challenges that have arisen since the start of the pandemic are similar for all players in the category. Newell is no different.
We’re continuing to work with our supply chain partners around the world to manage this dynamic situation.
Similar to other companies, we are carefully navigating through some external challenges surrounding supply-chain/transportation constraints (as a result of container and trucking shortages, port congestion), heightened inflation levels and labor shortages; none of this is new nor surprising and we are managing effectively, as can be seen by the excellent top-line growth in the first half of 2021.
Where possible, we have increased production, safely implemented additional shifts at our manufacturing facilities, and streamlined production to prioritize and maximize output of top-selling products to replenish stock as quickly as possible. We are also finding solutions through shipping through other ports, consolidating distribution centers, and leveraging our position as a large volume importer.
KWT: When looking at the kitchen electrics category, what have been some of the more recent notable product developments at Newell?
CR: Prior to the pandemic, we saw an opportunity to capture a portion of consumers who were spending money on iced coffees at coffee shops. They struggled to make great tasting, iced coffee at home so in the fall of 2020, we launched Mr. Coffee Iced, which has seen great success across all channels since launch. The pandemic accelerated consumers’ desire for this product as coffee shops were closed, however, we’re seeing that it’s meeting an ongoing consumer need that is on-trend regardless of the pandemic.
The product continues to generate demand, supported by efforts such as a recent social media campaign “Switch Up Your #Brewtime!” We further broadened distribution during the second quarter with new on-trend colors. Mr. Coffee also introduced a Steam Espresso Maker to capture consumer’s heightened interest in specialty and espresso beverages.
We have also played to the “convenience” need that consumers have around clean up and restaged our Oster heated cooking appliances with the Diamond Force non-stick coating. We have restaged our griddles, waffle makers and air fryers to name a few.
KWT: Looking ahead into 2022, what will be the focus for Newell in the kitchen electrics category?
CR: We’ll continue to closely watch consumer behaviors and trends. We are well-positioned to capitalize on the “home as hub” phenomenon, not only due to the composition of our business portfolio but also because of the work we’ve done to re-invigorate innovation funnels. We will also continue strengthening our innovation and marketing muscle, leveraging consumer insights and foresights.