by Joe Henry | August 22, 2016
Foodies seem to be everywhere these days. These are people -- usually millennials -- for whom food is essentially an extension of their personalities. And when they're not whipping up creative new dishes, they're taking photos of them.

So it should come as no surprise that cookware is a highly popular redemption category. And while the popularity of cookware isn't exactly a new trend, it's definitely remained hot in recent years, according to several incentive merchandise suppliers.

"It's our highest redeem category, with 16 percent of all our redemptions," said Mike May, president of incentive house Spear One.

But it's not the basic, functional sets of pots and pans that people want -- it's the high end cookware aimed at aspiring chefs that are popular in reward programs .

Think stone casserole dishes from Le Creuset or slow cookers from Cuisinart. These aren't the sort of items that people might ordinarily purchase spontaneously at a store, said Kara Hoover, incentive merchandise manager at Spear One. Yet both single items and cookware sets in this category are selling gangbusters, she added.

"La Creuset will be one-piece things," she explained. "Those are right behind the Cuisinart 10-piece and 12- piece stainless steel cook sets."

Nichole Gunn, director of marketing and communications at Incentive Solutions points out that she's seen an increase in high-end knife sets as well, like Calphalon cutlery sets.

There is also a trophy value in these pieces, as people buy them to display in a kitchen as much as to use them for cooking. Consequently, color is a big factor that drives purchasing decisions, especially for multi-piece sets. Kenneth Fishman of Rymax Marketing Services points out that he's selling tons of red and orange cookware sets -- Rachael Ray's line does particularly well. (That's not to say people aren't buying basic gray or black cookware -- though when they do, they tend to gravitate toward Anolon.)

And because people buy these pieces to show off, brand name is hugely important. "When I look at cookware, it reminds me of the power of brands," said Spear One's May. "Most people have something they got at Target and it's functional, but they want the high end cookware that's sold at Williams Sonoma."

That shift to higher-end products happened a few years ago, May said. During the recession years, people redeemed for items that were necessities. "Now," he said, "they're redeeming for the brand with luxury associated with it."