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The refrigeration market is growing again, as busy consumers look for appliances that will save them time and money, but will also look cool in their kitchens. Anna Ryland reports.

The refrigeration market is showing positive signs as a result of the returning replacement cycle and the socio-economic trends which are changing customer habits and priorities. In 2011, the total market increased by 3.9% (in sales volume) and this growth came from the freestanding sector (4.3%).

Although the ‘staple’ two-door fridge freezers lead this increase, side-by side models and three-door appliances became very popular, growing by 18.5% and 91.5% respectively (source: GfK).

The factors stimulating this growth were: the demand for greater capacity of cooling appliances, application of smart technology that keeps food fresh for longer, reducing waste and contributing to energy saving, and better internal ergonomics of refrigeration products that are adaptable to the changing needs of the users.

Greater capacity

The recession has changed many consumer habits. People are shopping less frequently but they are also shopping ‘smarter’, taking advantage of ‘buy one get one free’ offers.

“More people are adopting a cocooning lifestyle where they choose to entertain at home instead of going out. As a result of this, consumers need cooling appliances with a bigger capacity, but the reality is that many simply cannot fit a larger appliance into their living space,” says Gino Grossi, product manager – Refrigeration, Samsung UK.

“It is now the norm to do one big weekly shop, and most people do not have a larder or pantry to store their produce in. For this reason, they need a fridge with a large capacity, to hold all their purchases and keep them fresh. A large freezer is also important, with space for bulk buying items that are on offer and then freezing them for a later date,“ says Bill Miller, Gorenje marketing manger.

That’s why all leading brands are trying to increase the capacity of their products without changing their footprint. “Maximum use is made internally through quality engineering and design.  The cabinets are larger inside without increasing the external dimension,” explains Dean McKelvie, product marketing manager Freestanding at Whirlpool.

Some manufacturers offer new capacity solutions. Samsung’s new G-Series 70cm combi fridge freezer (with a 440-litre capacity) has been designed for people looking for a large capacity refrigerator but who don’t have space in their kitchens to fit an American-size product.

Need for greater capacity is also behind the popularity of three or four door refrigeration. Haier’s 177cm  three door fridge freezer  is “an aspirational product with a likely price tag that will be attractive to the middle market. Benefiting from both a ‘French door’ and an innovative freezer drawer making it easy to see and access food stored in the fridge or freezer. The design of the appliance gives the consumer double the internal width of a standard 2 door side-by-side, but with the same external dimensions making it easy to store large items (Christmas turkey, family-sized pizzas),” says James Osborne, white goods product manger at Haier UK.

Smart technology

“Over the last couple of years we have seen a greater emphasis on touch control electronics,” says Andrew Wasdell, product manager Food Preservation, Electrolux Major Appliances. “Customers are now used to touch technology on their iPads/phones etc and this technology is being introduced in the controls of refrigeration. Touch control technology, supported by the sophisticated software in these cooling models, ensures that the cooling systems within the fridge freezers is precise.”

Samsung’s Gino Rossi argues that there is much more to come in this respect: “Connectivity and interactivity is something that will emerge in the UK in 2012. Having an inbuilt Wi-Fi connected tablet on a refrigerator will be the next big thing, as it’s all about making the life of the leisure-centric consumer easier. With an inbuilt tablet, leaving notes on the fridge can be done digitally, or to help with the cooking, recipes can be downloaded on the refrigerator. The temperature of the refrigerator can also be easily shown on a larger LCD screen, as well as any issues such as lighting problems, or when the freezer needs defrosting.”

Yet, smart technology is, first of all, used to keep food fresh for longer. “Food preservation features and airflow boosters have been the key developments in terms of function over the last two years because they have impact on the effectiveness and usability of a fridge. Inadequate airflow can create different temperature zones within a fridge. With improved airflow and a uniform temperature throughout the cavity, the rules about which shelf to keep butter or meat on are less important,” stresses David Garden, commercial director of Lec and GE.

“There has also been an extension of the refrigeration areas with versatile temperature and humidity zones that are independently controlled to provide exceptional consumer benefits and assure the very best in food preservation,” adds Whirlpool’s Dean McKelvie.

Finally, fast chill and freeze options are perfect for chilling or freezing down large quantities of food after shopping; or for cooling drinks quickly in time for a party, points out Gorenje’s Bill Miller. Gorenje’s fast-freeze option takes temperatures down to an exceptionally low -32°C.

Energy efficient

From 1 July 2012, the new EU regulations will introduce the A+ rating as the legal minimum.

“The new energy labelling improvements are now in force and mandatory for retailers to display and this will definitely help to explain the product performance and will have a significant impact on the market. However it will be down to retailers and manufacturers to really push it, rather than waiting for the consumer pull. Fridges and freezers are usually the only appliances that are switched on twenty four seven and so any energy efficiency improvement are a real benefit,” argues Lec’s David Garden.

Market statistic suggest that energy efficient appliances are becoming very popular, with sales of A+ and A++ rated models growing by 43% and 189% respectively.

Premium appliances are already equipped with LED lighting. LED lights consume less energy, last longer, give out less heat and produce a brighter light than standard bulbs.

Latest products 

The new Amica cooling range provides a wide selection of freestanding models as well as built-in models (all A+ rated), including under counter separates, upright larders and combination models with a 70:30 and 50:50 fridge freezer split, each available with and without no frost.

To eliminate food waste Beko has developed the four door SBS, the GNE114610, with a ‘Multi Zone’ compartment and Beko’s Blue Light technology. The Multi Zone compartment can be used as a fridge, chiller, wine cooler or a freezer. Beko’s Blue Light technology is incorporated in the salad crispers to keep food fresher for longer by continuing photosynthesis in fruit and vegetables.

Beko has also created ‘Freezer Guard’ technology for the freezer compartments to enable consumers to achieve greater cooling capacity by housing a fridge-freezer in their garage or outbuilding.

Caple’s CAFF20 ‘smart’ fridge freezer incorporates the use of vitamin C+ technology which will help to keep food for longer. Its other features include wave lighting, which produces a similar spectrum to the sun, allowing food to continue to photosynthesise.

Hoover’s next generation of refrigeration, Dynamic 2.0, features no frost pulse technology which delivers a uniform temperature within the
fridge and freezer. The fridge also operates at a 37% humidity level which is ideal for storing food, resulting in better food preservation, and a cool zone chiller that operates between 0-3 degrees.  

The Ultima, Hotpoint’s new range of freestanding fridge freezers features a ‘Air Tech Evolution’ system that pushes cool air into the fridge through multiple apertures running the full height of the cabinet, achieving perfect temperature control.

Miele’s MasterCool refrigeration appliances are state-of-the-art products designed for discerning consumers. They have a food-driven menu system that is easy to view, understand and adjust for each of its four independent MasterCool zones within the cabinet (meat, fish, dairy and deli). The appliances feature Drop&Lock system that uses a slide rail system to move shelves and door fittings with a one-handed ’tilt up and slide motion’. After the user stocks fridge or freezer with a new food load, it will activate the Super cool or Super freeze function that will override the thermostat and rapidly cool the cabinet down to just under 2 degrees in the fridge and -30 in the freezer.

In 2012, Whirlpool is introducing new combi and side-by-side models.  Many of them will incorporate the company’s 6th Sense control and they will feature ‘Fresh Control’ technology that monitors and controls not only temperature but also humidity throughout the appliance. The range boasts new aesthetics and sizes, including a 70cm wide double door model, and A++ energy rating.

Design

As entertaining at home becomes more popular, the design of home appliances becomes even more important. Customers are getting bolder in expressing their personalities through the choice of colours. 

Slight re-wording: Smeg’s FAB refrigeration, which in addition to bold colours now includes patriotic designs, such as the Union Jack and St George models, continues to have a large customer following.

This year, however,  a number of other manufacturers are boldly waving the colour flag. Baumatic’s newly launched Sins collection of frost free combi fridge/freezers, not only offers a generous capacity of 335 litres, but also a striking design. “Made from coloured glass and stainless steel, the Sins are designed to entice and enthral, offering an irresistible array of colours as well as a tantalisingly sleek and smooth finish.  Available in pink, red, black, white and ivory, the Sins’ chic look brings something different to the market,” explains Rita Balestrazzi, marketing manager at Baumatic.

Colour is also making a statement in the new Electrolux Inspiration range that includes models in red, green, brown and black, all with separate cooling systems to maintain the right humidity to keep foods fresh. Also the new Gorenje Retro range not only offers A++ rating but also new vibrant colours.

Finally

In the recession all consumers are looking for extra value, whether it is additional capacity, energy efficiencies, better food preservation or sleek design. Yet, they rarely realise how much modern refrigeration has to offer and how it can contribute to solving everyday housekeeping problems. This fact creates a real sales opportunity for retailers.

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