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Spatulas: Emphasis on durability, aesthetics

Makers highlight the use of better materials and surface treatments, and raise R&D investment despite the slowdown.

Suppliers of cooking utensils in China continue to underscore the improving overall quality of their releases. This is because durability and visual appeal still precede price in the purchasing decision of most buyers in the US and Europe even amid the financial slump.

  
Spatula
  The KT015 model from Foshan Dragon consists of items made of stainless steel and silicone.
Many companies have reset their management strategies and are paying more attention to product development. In fact, some makers interviewed for this report increased their R&D investment by about 10 percent, particularly between the second half of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009.

With quality still topping customers' requirements, suppliers highlight the use of better materials and surface treatments in their new and upcoming designs.

In the manufacture of handles, a number of companies add 15 percent fiberglass to nylon, rendering the part harder and longer lasting.

The use of TPR, a combination of plastic and rubber, is likewise gaining popularity.

Further, typical black nylon models are given added flair with color. Mustard green, lemon yellow, light blue and orange are among the popular shades.

The look of traditional stainless steel utensils is updated as well. More makers are replacing Bakelite or metal handles with silicone or nylon versions, which are easier to mold and receive color better.


Key materials
Products & prices
Industry composition
Key materials

Stainless steel continues to be the choice component for the majority of utensil suppliers. Usually in grades 18/0 or 18/8, it is often purchased in China, particularly from Shanghai Baosteel or Taiyuan Iron & Steel. Some companies procure in South Korea or Japan but imported versions cost about 5 percent more than domestic counterparts. Nylon is the second most popular utensil material. The PA66 type, which is harder and has better resistance to thermal distortion than other polyamides, is preferred. A number of makers procure pellets from the local agents of Germany's BASF and Lanxess, Japan's Asahi Kasei and DuPont of the US. These are 15 to 30 percent more expensive than domestically manufactured materials.

Typical nylon utensils from China can withstand heat of up to 400 C, have contoured and grooved handles for a better grip, and are resistant to stains. Most designs, however, are not nonstick. Adding Teflon coating can be specified but doing so raises the price by 10 percent. As a cost-saving measure, recycled nylon is utilized by some companies on request. It is 50 percent less expensive than virgin pellets.

Silicone is an emerging material in the cooking utensils line. Generally nonstick, products are safe to use in microwave and convection ovens, dishwashers, freezers and environments with temperature ranging from -40 to 250 C. They have a shore hardness of 40 to 80.

Suppliers employ local and imported food-grade silicone. The latter is typically purchased from Dow Corning of the US and Wacker in Germany.

Products & prices

An assortment of cooking utensils, including soup ladles, skimmers, tongs, pasta servers, meat forks, turners and spoons are available from China.

Products are marketed individually or in sets with matching organizers or racks. Ensembles consisting of three, five, six and seven pieces are best-sellers. Some suppliers offer 20-piece collections.

Prices are mainly differentiated by material.

Most low-end releases are in melamine, bamboo or 1mm-thick, locally sourced 18/0 stainless steel with plastic components. Quotes are $0.30 to $0.60 per piece.

Midrange designs usually come in PA66 nylon, or 1 to 2mm-thick 18/0 stainless steel. They have a mirror or matte finish, and feature floral or beaded decorations on the handles. Products go for $0.70 to $2.50.

High-end models can top $4 each. Suitable for hotels and upscale restaurants, releases are made of silicone or imported 2mm-thick 18/8 stainless steel. Some designs are in a solid metal or with decaled ceramic handles.

Industry composition

Mainland China is home to an estimated 500 makers of cooking utensils. Ninety percent of them are small and midsize companies that offer low-end and midrange models.

Typical small suppliers generate sales of $1 million to $3 million annually, have 100 employees, and concentrate on a single product line. They have limited manufacturing capability, operating factories equipped with only about five to 10 plastic-injection machines. As such, most of them need at least a week to deliver orders. Several small makers likewise do not have direct export rights.

Sales of midsize makers normally reach $5 million each year. They have a workforce of 200 to 300, including five to 10 designers with at least five years worth of experience in the line. Companies have a wider range, offering other kitchentools in the same material.

Large enterprises boast annual revenue of $10 million to $30 million, and employ up to 500 personnel.

This article "Spatulas: Emphasis on durability, aesthetics" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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