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What household gadgets will we be buying this year? For starters, bathroom scales that record and recall your weight history, a smart slow cooker that features 200 programmed recipes, and a beverage cooler that can chill a bottle of wine in six minutes.

Those and hundreds of other new products for the home were showcased at the recent International Housewares Show last week. Retailers perused the new goods and heard from consumer trend experts as they did their best to gauge what we, the consumers, will buy for our households in 2003.

Americans appear to want to have it both ways when it comes to the way we live our lives in 2003, experts said. We want to eat healthy, but crave unhealthy indulgences. Some of us say we love to cook yet we sometimes view cooking as a chore. And casual entertaining remains popular, but formal dining is on the rise.

Experts say that when it comes to the kitchen, consumers want fast and functional.

"The need for convenience and speed aren't going to go away anytime soon," said Sandra Hu, president and director of the Ketchum Food Center. "Countertop ovens that cook quicker, tools that make food preparation simpler - consumers are willing to pay a premium to buy time."

At the same time, formal dining is becoming more desirable for special occasions.

"For everyday, I don't see casual (dinnerware) going away," said A. J. Reidel, senior partner and founder of Riedel Marketing Group. "But I think that people are starting to want to have dishes and other items that are just for special occasions just like our mothers and grandmothers had."

The experts say there tends to be a dichotomy in the kitchen, too.

"We have a more flexible attitude toward eating," Reidel said. "We may rush a lot of meals or skip them altogether, while at other times we take more time to enjoy our eating or make special occasion of it."

We also tend to want kitchen gadgets conducive to healthy cooking - steamers, grills, smoothie makers, and any specialty appliances that promise low-fat results.

The housewares experts say that the laundry room - yes, the laundry room - is the new status symbol among homeowners.

The National Association of Home Builders backs that notion. The group found in a September 2002 survey that homebuyers give a separate laundry room more weight than 88 other features of the house, including bathroom linen closet, a separate dining room, and a walk-in pantry.

And when it comes to products, in addition to those tell-all bathroom scales, expect to see:

  • Vacuum-sealed storage containers that keep food fresh for days
  • Silicone oven mitts that will protect your hands as you come in contact with 500-degree flames.
  • Ergonomically correct flatware
  • Stain-resistant storage containers (no more spaghetti stains!)
  • Basting brushes that attaches to a beer or beverage can for barbecuing
  • Sushi-making kits
  • Environmentally friendly soy candles
  • Chest-style freezer with a glass top and built-in drawer, ideal for keeping foods like ice cream ready to eat
  • Pour-in countertop water cooler
  • Italian-designed toasters that can also be used to make pannini sandwiches
  • An alarm for your washing machine that detects when overflow is about to occur
  • Folding picnic tables with built-in seating

    The consensus among industry experts is that 2003 will be a good year for household product manufacturers because it is predicted to be a strong year for home sales.

    "People are buying new homes, then furnishing them," said Jordan Glatt, president of Magla Products in Morristown, N.J. "In some respects, there's not a better time to invest in new things. Retailers are screaming for store traffic, and what will bring people in are new products. In our business - cleaning products - we're having a tremendous year."

    And many agree that the practical, convenient products will attract homeowners this year.

    "As consumers see their portfolios shrink, they're probably going to be inclined to nest more -- which puts them in the kitchen and buying kitchen products," said Linda Graebner, president and chief executive officer of Tilia, Inc., San Francisco. "My expectation is that they'll go back to the tried and true, the brands they know, convenient products ... that save them money. They won't go for the faddish sorts of things."

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