Taste of Home
New Housewares for a Legacy Brand
Developed and launched 4 lines of cookware and bakeware for a newly licensed brand.
Completed as Director of New Product Development at Range Kleen.
Myself - industrial design and product management
Launched 4 lines of Taste of Home branded cookware and bakeware onto the retail market
What I Did
Our company had the opportunity to be the first housewares company to develop products under the newly licensed Taste of Home brand - a well-known cooking magazine featuring user-generated content looking to reinvent itself in a digital world. We felt it was a great match between our companies and worked with them to launch the first round of products in 2019.
Cookware and bakeware are essential cooking tools and fit perfectly with the Taste of Home brand. These are also some of the largest categories in the industry and are highly dependent on branding for differentiation. If we could create a strong assortment of products that looked attractive, had good pricing and had the Taste of Home seal of approval, we believed we would be successful.
We decided to go forward with four distinct lines for the initial launch - aluminum cookware, cast iron, stoneware and coated metal bakeware. These would cover many of the core cooking functionalities and be focused on providing a streamlined, yet complete assortment that would allow for in-store placement.
All four lines would need different styles of development depending on the materials and our relationships with our suppliers. Taste of Home also needed to sign off on our direction at various stages as a condition of the licensing contract, so keeping them in the loop was essential.
Here are some lovely photos from Taste of Home that show the final product. These items are connected via a consistent visual design language with shapes, patterns and colors. And they are all developed based on market and competitive research and feedback from Taste of Home.
*These images were all taken by Taste of Home.
What Should We Make? - The Research Phase
Meeting Taste of Home and Brainstorming
Our first big step in development was to meet with Taste of Home. Dana Swearengin (Director of Marketing) and I went to Milwaukee to meet them in person and see their facilities. We also got lots of input about their preferences in a variety of types of products so we could use that to direct our development.
While we were in Taste of Home’s amazing photography prop room, they showed us a piece they particularly liked - a textured bakeware pan from the mid 20th Century. It had folded construction and a fun starburst pattern all over. At their suggestion, I took that piece as the spark of inspiration for our bakeware and cookware lines.
We also had fairly extensive conversations about color options. Taste of Home, of course has their own color palette, but none of those colors were quite right. Ultimately my cell phone case caught their attention and a deep teal color was considered for further development.
Consumer Research - Survey
Taste of Home’s parent company, Trusted Media Brands, helped us by conducting a survey of their reader's preferences regarding cookware. This provided helpful information about their thoughts on color, shopping and prices that also helped to drive our new product development.
Market and Competitive Research
I was involved in fairly extensive market research that was done with the goal of creating a guideline for a product assortment and pricing. Because some of these categories were new to the company, we didn’t have historical sales data to draw upon. It was beneficial to see what other companies were doing and what prices their products were to help give us some idea of what we should be targeting and what products were key.
How Do Other Products Work? - Competitive Product Testing
I purchased and tested a variety of competitive products to see how they were designed and how they worked. This was especially helpful for designed products in materials I was new to, such as cast iron and stoneware.
I also turned to reviews (particularly those from America’s Test Kitchen) to get feedback on what features were preferred for the types of product I was going to design. Getting input from sources that have already done extensive research can be a huge time and money saver and it’s served me well over the years as a useful step in new product development.
What Will the Products Look Like? - The Development Phase
As I mentioned above, the initial inspiration for the Taste of Home texture came from an older piece. Using that as a starting point, I did some research into other similar pieces and other products, such as tin ceilings, that had a similar feel. I sketched a variety of potential patterns and ultimately the hexagonal pattern below is the direction I chose to take.
The hexagonal pattern is just a singular triangular element that is repeated with some directional changes and I also did some variations in the quantity of the “fins”. I did some variations in the CAD model and determined that 5 was a good number. The overall size as well as the size of the circle in the middle were also varied before hitting upon the final direction
This line was also developed in close collaboration with a factory we had a previous relationship with. We originally approached them to see if it would be possible to do a textured, folded bakeware line, but that wasn’t something they could do. Ultimately we went with putting the texture on the bottom.
We did a variety of tests on the pattern to help mitigate the risk of tooling a bunch of things up front. The factory made a very small tooled sample to see if the pattern would even be manufacturable. We then did a 3D print of all of the pieces to get feedback and input from buyers. And as a last step, we tooled three pieces first to see if they worked before moving onto tooling all of the rest.
The Director of Marketing (Dana Swearengin) and I traveled to our partner factory in Italy to meet with them about this project. The idea was to work with them to come up with a specification for a product that they could efficiently and cost-effectively make within a fairly short time frame. Due to those limitations, we were largely limited to things they already had tooled so we needed to put them together in a unique combination and with some type of special features.
I’m quite happy with the combination of features we put together. The colors are pretty and the handles a perfect match to our custom designed patterns and are quite comfortable. The printed interior is a bit different and creates a strong branding statement and keeps the graphic pattern consistent across the lines.
The printed interior pattern is a variation of the pattern found on the bakeware. It’s been simplified so it isn’t too dense and we’re not trying to replicate a 3-D look.
There are many small tasks that go into new product development, including things like testing the heat resistance of the fittings we chose for the cookware.
Cast iron was a new material for me to design for and because of how these are made, full design/CAD needs to be done on them before they can be tooled.
Using competitive samples, reviews and what we had established for a design language, I designed 4 cast iron pieces - two pre-seasoned skillets and two Dutch ovens.
Fortunately, these weren’t too difficult to design due to the input from Taste of Home and market research. The textured patterns found on the other lines weren’t an option here because cast iron isn’t good with that level of detail. Instead the design language came through in larger features such as the shape of the handles.
These were ultimately the most difficult of the bunch. Stoneware was also a new material for me. Getting the pattern onto the curved surfaces was somewhat difficult to do in CAD. I also had fewer examples to base my work off of.
Of all of the factories we worked with, the stoneware factory was the least helpful, which is unfortunate because getting feedback from them earlier would have made later steps much less frustrating.
I designed three different stoneware pieces - a pie plate, a 9x13” baking dish, and a round casserole dish with a lid. The initial designs weren’t that difficult to do, but because I didn’t truly understand how ceramics should be designed, there were a lot of issues in the production process.
Bringing the Designs to Life - The Production Phase
Because I was also the product manager for all of these items, I was also responsible for all vendor communication, pricing negotiation and item setup. Talking with factories is a crucial part of getting products made and solving problems as well as catching potential issues. Pricing is very important in making design decisions for these types of consumer goods and many of our decisions later were driven by cost and timing considerations.
There was a bit of trial and error getting the embossed pattern on the bottom to come out consistently, but we got it working in the end.
Production for these lines were relatively simple. Taste of Home and I tested and approved samples that had the correct materials, sizes, shapes, and handles, but didn’t have the right colors. The factory matched the specified Pantone color well and we were able to approve them pretty quickly.
Production for the cast iron pieces was relatively straightforward as well. The factory had provided good feedback on the designs and good CAD for confirmation. The first off-tool samples were pretty good and we were able to approve them for production fairly quickly.
There were some issues trying to match color across materials (namely matching porcelain enamel to the exterior of the aluminum cookware), but that proved to be fairly quick to resolve.
Getting final approved samples for these three products was the most difficult of the bunch. The factory had evidently not reviewed the CAD before providing the quotes, so that led to a lot of issues that I won’t detail here, but that also meant that the entire process took a lot longer than I had planned.
Ceramic is a much more variable material than I am used to dealing with and it shrinks a lot, so many of the pieces ended up a bit smaller than I had intended and the glaze covers up a fair amount of the detail.
Lessons Learned and Next Steps
Like so often happens, this project was time sensitive from the start and some steps were easier than others. For later rounds we did have a bit more time for development, but it's always a balance between finessing the product and moving on to the next stage.
Things I personally should improve at:
Take more photos!
Working with new technologies (or materials, in this case) took extra time even beyond what I expected.
Confirm that the factory truly understands what I'm looking for and my design intentions.
While this development cycle was going on, I was also overseeing development of the next round of products which were gadgets and pantry items. These items needed to follow the design language established with the items above in the first launch.
Although I am no longer with the company, I look forward to seeing what they come out with next and hope this collaboration is very successful.