Recipe for Success: Best Buys in Cookware, Bakeware & Flatware (cont.)

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BAKEWARE BOOM. Sales for bakeware have been remarkably strong. According to CMA, sales went up 14 percent in 2013, and as of press time, sales had risen another 13 percent in 2014.

Consequently, you probably will notice higher prices on bakeware when you shop. Citing CMA data, Rushing says surveys of supermarkets and mass merchants where bakeware is sold show that prices are on the rise. However, he adds that you’ll get a better piece of bakeware. Rushing says a higher price typically means that more metal is included in the product.

The experts with whom we spoke tell us that 0.4-mm-gauge steel, which typically is the thinnest that you can find on the market, represent a “low gauge” option. “Midgauge” typically represents a steel gauge of 0.5 mm or 0.6 mm, and 0.8-mm-gauge, or “high gauge,” steel typically is used in professional-quality bakeware. Bakeware that’s higher in gauge is sturdier and less likely to warp after repeated use, experts say. You can find 0.5-mm-gauge 9-inch round cake pans for as little as $3.99. Models that have 0.8-mm-gauge steel cost $9 more.

Kris Malkoski, who is the North America president of World Kitchen, which owns four bakeware brands, says that 10 years ago, World Kitchen’s best-selling cookie sheets used 0.4-mm-gauge steel. Now, she says, the company’s best-selling cookie sheets use 0.5-mm-gauge steel. Although she didn’t provide specific numbers, Malkoski says the thicker cookie sheet today costs the same as what the thinner model did 10 years ago.

Sarah Phillips, who is a cookbook author and the CEO of craftybaking.com, which provides information about bakeware and recipes, agrees that the quality of bakeware has improved. She says the development is good news for consumers, because they shouldn’t have to replace cookie sheets or cake pans as often as they used to because of warping.

COOKING UP. Traditional cookware is meant to be used to prepare multiple recipes, but manufacturers are putting more emphasis on specialty cookware that can handle, say, one or two specific recipes.

Based on CMA’s market data, Rushing says the primary reason that consumers buy cookware is because their current set is worn out, but the next reason is to prepare a specific recipe that requires cookware that the consumer doesn’t own.

Wolfe tells us that “specific recipes” are leading to more widespread availability of more-specialized, or ethnic, cookware pieces. The pieces aren’t new or groundbreaking necessarily—indeed, items such as caldero pots, which are used for Latin rice and stew dishes, and woks, which are used for Asian stir-fry recipes, have been available for years.

However, we’re seeing a more concentrated move of these cookware pieces into mainstream retail stores. Target in October 2014 launched the GlobalKitchen line by Imusa, which is a Colombian cookware company, on its website. Victoria Rodriguez, who is a spokesperson for Imusa, tells us that the line will arrive in Target’s brick-and-mortar stores in March 2015. GlobalKitchen products are divided into four ethnic product categories—Asian, Caribbean, Mediterranean and Mexican—with pieces that include paella pans, bean pots and tostoneras.

Outside of the Imusa line, we found everything from large tamale steamers for $60 to a pan that’s used for making Japanese omelets for $130.

Fred Cecala of Columbian Home Products, which makes and imports specialty cookware, agrees that more mainstream interest exists in ethnic cookware pieces than ever before. He says Columbia Home Products made its products available to specialty stores for years, but now other retailers are interested. “When it starts to hit the warehouse clubs or Wal-Mart and Target, you know you’re now very much in the mainstream consumer market,” he says.

Cecala says he expects the interest in specialty pieces to continue, thanks to both shifting demographics and a larger focus on ethnic foods in grocery stores. “You can go to any supermarket right now and walk down an international aisle,” he says.

It’s too soon to forecast the arrival of specialty pieces into mainstream cookware sets, experts say. Even with traditional pots and pans, cookware manufacturers don’t appear to be giving up on tinkering with the basics.

Laura Everage has covered the kitchenware industry for 20 years. Her work also has appeared in consumer and trade magazines, as well as on her own website, Family Eats.

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