The locavore movement and the do-it-yourself consumer culture have fueled a rebirth in canning and preserving food, as well as sales of the tools and accessories – from Mason jars to pressure canners – to get the job done.
It's one expression of the "maker movement" that's flourishing in this country, evidenced by the rise of knitters and crafters, as well as makers of handcrafted chocolates and home-brewed artisanal beer.
These days, consumers crave something "original and custom-made that they have had the experience of making," said Nora Abousteit, CEO of Kollabora, a community of makers, during a seminar by digital think tank L2 last fall. "A lot of the senses have been atrophied because all we're feeling is the keyboards of the computer."
A Modern Homesteading "Renaissance"
Consumer interest in canning and preserving tools also reflects the healthy eating trend (surprise, surprise!), the rise of urban homesteading and the nation's post-Great Recession savings mindset, suppliers said. "America is in the midst of a food-preserving and canning renaissance," said Fred Cecala, vice president of marketing and product development for Columbian Home Products, which makes GraniteWare canning and preserving tools.
"'Putting up' food was once a mainstay of rural America as people grew and preserved their own fruits and vegetables as a means of getting by and getting through the winter. But today, canning is much more urban and driven by economic, health and gift-giving factors," he said. "Farmers' markets are bringing locally grown fresh foods to downtown suburbia across America, allowing canning and home preserving to filter into urban lifestyles."
GraniteWare's newest products reflect this trend, such as its new 12-quart pressure canner, which is designed for urban, small-batch canning.
Overall, these tools are gaining popularity with consumers who want greater control over their food choices, as more people are canning and preserving foods they've grown themselves or purchased at their local farmers' market.
"People are eating healthy and organic, so canning their own foods helps them know what's in their food," said Erin Thede, specialty sales manager for Norpro.
Cecala agrees. "Canning and home preserving allows consumers to control the amount of sugar, salt and preservatives added to their food."
And amid rising health costs and food prices, consumers are turning to canning as a money-saving tool and a way to offer one-of-a-kind, handcrafted gifts, suppliers said.
To that end, GraniteWare's new patent-pending Jar Toppers are designed to turn any canning jar into a "fashionable, functional gift," the company said.
U.K. brand Kilner, which generates 20 percent of its business from the U.S. market, has found that consumers are not only making preserves for themselves, but also as gifts for family and friends.
The company is launching a collection of preserving gift sets that include jars and accessories stored in wooden crates. They include recipes that allow "the home preserver to get creative, which will appeal to the new and younger preservers and makers who want to put their own stamp on the things they produce," said Elizabeth Whieldon, brand manager for Kilner.
Spreading the Canning, Preserving Gospel
Suppliers are raising the profile of canning and preserving via local events, social media and consumer-education oriented promotions. Ball, known mostly for its iconic Mason jars, has been courting a whole new generation of canners.
"We've been re-energizing the category by marketing to millennials and making home canning more than just a practice passed down from your grandmother," said Steve Hungsberg, director of marketing for Jarden Home Brands, which includes the Ball brand. "Younger consumers are attracted to the brand and our social channels for the beautiful imagery and how shareable the content is. It's really about creating inviting, lifestyle content where this new generation can see our product and envision how it fits into their world, homes and kitchens."
What's more, for the past three years, the company has hosted National Can-It-Forward Day in August to celebrate fresh and local ingredients, and teach the joys of preserving with a live, free webcast featuring canning, crafting and entertaining demonstrations on Freshpreserving.com.
"We've seen tremendous sales increases leading into Can-It-Forward Day as well as that weekend as consumers gear up to participate," Hungsberg said.
Jarden Home Brands also supports 50 regional farmers' markets across the country through the "Discover You Can: Learn, Make, Share" program, which provides markets with canning resources during the growing season. The program is designed to educate local residents on how to savor regional produce, support their local food economies and spread awareness of the benefits of food preservation.
Meanwhile, GraniteWare sent samples of its Jar Toppers to its customers along with a brochure on its canning and preserving product line, which proved fruitful. "The initial inventory of toppers sold out in less than a month," Cecala said. "We're on pace to triple our initial forecast."
The company is also participating in online consumer review and editorial campaigns where influential bloggers are sharing their GraniteWare success stories.
Social media has been a boon for Kilner to spread its canning and preserving gospel, and interact with customers.
"Over the last few months, our social media platforms have grown so much that we now have a dedicated person working on our Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter channels," Whieldon said.
"This is great for Kilner as it means we can constantly engage with consumers around the world and update them with our new recipes, and inspire ideas and provide helpful hints and tips to any consumer who has a preserving query."
At the same time, Kilner is producing merchandising collateral for its retail partners to create their own rustic displays, as well as in-store mini guides that consumers can take home, which urge them to sign up for Kilner Club, a monthly newsletter on canning and preserving.
"The trend in home-preserving is mainstream, and definitely not a short-term fad," Whieldon said.