Mary Portas talks housewares trends with Denby and Habitat

Housewares supplier Denby and homeware retailer Habitat played key roles in the Channel 4 documentary ‘What Britain Buys’, which aired on Monday (May 9).

In the show, retail consultant Mary Portas asked retailers, trendsetters, celebrity endorsers and customers about how Brits shop and what they buy.

She said that over the past 30 years, our attitude to food has changed. “In one generation we’ve seen an estimated 40,000 new products added to our supermarket shelves,” she claimed. “And this year, buzzwords such as clean eating, raw food and free-from have turned the clean food trend into a lifestyle.”

So, while sales of sliced white bread have slumped, sales of buckwheat, chia seeds and quinoa are thriving. And although weekly tea purchases have fallen by two-thirds since the 1970s, we’re switching to alternatives like green and herbal varieties.

UK sales of new products like coconut water and bottled birch water are also having an impact, along with “a new twist on an old favourite”: bone broth (aka beef broth), which is selling fast thanks to claims that it’s packed with vitamins and minerals.

For housewares suppliers and retailers, there is one big success story. According to the programme, the trend around healthy eating has contributed to ‘the bowl phenomenon’.

Mary explained: “The days of eating around the table together are disappearing. And when we do dish up, a plate is no longer our crockery of choice.” She said the bowls, once limited to soup or cereal, have “broken free of their restraints”.

Housewares supplier Denby is certainly benefiting from this boom. Denby senior designer Nicola Wilson told Mary: “We’re really starting to see a trend in the UK for using bowls in the home – almost over plates – and this has been fairly recently. We’ve seen it in our sales figures: we now produce a lot more bowls than we ever did. It’s now totalling about 32 different bowl shapes than we’re slowly introducing into the UK market.”

Mary said statistics confirm that we’re eating more than ever out of bowls. Last year, tableware manufacturers saw bowls account for 40% of all sales compared with just 9% for plates, she claimed.

Habitat creative director Polly Dickens said the chain’s experience reflects this trend. “People are eating ‘internationally’ so we’re eating laksas (a noodle dish which is a combination of Chinese and Malay cuisine) and Japanese rice as well as risotto, pasta and main course salad – and all of these foods look better in a bowl.”

Mary noted the current social media obsession with taking food pictures on Instagram. “Visually it just works; food looks fantastic, doesn’t it, with a bowl?” she said. Polly agreed. “Yes, it’s easy to make them look beautiful,” she said.

The idea that food looks better in a bowl has been championed by food bloggers. Nicola said: “Over the last year we’ve seen a real explosion in social media and bloggers and one thing that they’re showing people at home is, how they can present food, and realising that bowls are actually beautiful pieces to present food in – almost more so than plates.”

Mary concluded: “There’s something comforting about eating out of a bowl. And if it helps our food look better, then great. But if it means sacrificing sitting and eating together, then I’m not so sure. Still, there are some meals that are surely bowl-proof… you can’t eat a Sunday lunch out of a bowl. Can you?”

 

Denby bowls in Natural Canvas design  

 

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