Dishwashers: Appreciation for the underdog

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The dishwasher has never been an aspirational product. This to a great extent determines its place in the house and is linked to the lack of popular appreciation of its role.  A comparison with a servant in a Victorian household would not be out of place. People need its contribution to the domestic chores, but don’t want to see or hear it. The dishwasher is usually the last thing they are prepared to make room for in their increasingly smaller kitchens.
“The dishwasher is the most misunderstood and maligned of all appliances, as consumers still believe they waste energy and water. Paradoxically, they do exactly the opposite,” says Richard Walker, sales and marketing director, De Dietrich Kitchen Appliances. Stuart Frost, Maytag product marketing manager, agrees: “The technology found in a dishwasher is astounding today, even at entry level.  Electronics have made the dishwasher not only energy and water efficient but very intelligent indeed – at the top end of the market, the appliance, via its sensor-driven system, will set the most appropriate programme for the load.”
The picture of the market
However, the market indicators show positive changes. Anthony Williams, senior account manger at GfK, comments: “The dishwashers market has exhibited consistent growth this year with volumes over the year to November growing by nearly 5% to 930 thousand units. Despite some price erosion, value has been driven up by this rise in sales to £272 million, 3.5% up over the same period. Built-in appliances have been the key drivers of this with sales increasing by an incredible 27%.
“Furniture and DIY specialists have been the main beneficiaries of the increase in built in activity, with 60% of the market still constituted by freestanding appliances.
“The significant increases in dishwasher sales have pushed UK penetration levels of the appliance to new heights. Conservatively, it is now estimated that one in three households now own a dishwasher and this suggests that replacement levels may also be higher going forward.”
EuroMonitor is even more optimistic, estimating dishwashers’ penetration at 37.5%, and forecasting further growth to 45% by 2011.
Market drivers
There are a number of factors which are driving these positive changes in the market. The first is the phenomenal growth of built-in dishwashers which is “largely attributed to the trend for sleek, uncluttered kitchen styles. Commanding 32% of the market at present, the popularity of integrated appliances is expected to continue at pace, not only as consumers are now looking for coordinated appliances across the entire kitchen,  but also as the number of programmes, temperatures and size options in this sector rivals its freestanding counterparts, ” says Steve Dickson, built-in product manager for Glen Dimplex.  The diminishing price gap between the freestanding and integrated dishwashers (£255 and £361 respectively, November ’07) boosts the popularity of built-in dishwashers.
Environmental factors are key too. As the awareness of individual carbon footprint rises, “consumers are now looking to balance appliances that will have a positive impact on their lives with time and energy efficiency,” continues Steve Dickson. Many middle and top of the range dishwashers use between 9 and 15 litres per cycle, while the average shower takes around 12 litres per minute.  According to GfK, approximately 50% of the freestanding dishwashers use less than 14 litres of water, while 71.2% of them are AAA rated (a growth of 9.6%).
As the kitchen becomes the centre of family life, the noise levels of all appliances are becoming increasingly important, reminds Dawn Stockell, Electrolux brand & marketing manager. “The latest advances in dishwashing include huge progress on silencing the machine.  Around the mid-40 decibel mark is where the quietest dishwashers sit and whisper their way through the programmes,” adds Maytag’s Stuart Frost.
In the majority of modern homes, space is at premium. In response to this trend, dishwasher manufacturers brought to the market slimline or compact models, so the owners of smaller households no longer feel that the dishwasher is out of their reach. For example, Team UKI has developed a compact dishwasher which nevertheless features the most popular programmes, such as rinse, long and short cycle. According to Amdea, the slimline market has increased by 5%, indicating that dishwashers are becoming more of a commodity even in smaller homes.
Communicating the benefits
Therefore what messages should the retailers convey to their customers considering a dishwasher purchase? Tackling the popular misconception that dishwashers are water and energy guzzlers will be a good start.
De Dietrich’ Richard Walker lists the main facts: “A dishwasher will use, on average 15,000 litres less water in a year than washing up by hand. That is the equivalent saving of 188 baths. On average, electricity savings will be around £30 per year as opposed to that used heating water to run from the tap. The most precious commodity, however, is time, and an average of over 400 hours per year can be saved by using a dishwasher as opposed to standing at the sink and washing up by hand. A dishwasher will save space, as all dishes can be stacked away neatly in the machine. This is a far better way of drying than using dishcloths; as they can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.”
These benefits should be communicated particularly to the first time buyers, who may still consider the dishwasher a luxury item, and are likely to complain about the lack of space in their kitchens.
The customers looking to replace the dishwasher appreciate its benefits, therefore they are likely to trade up to a machine with the latest technology and features, so “elements to highlight now are moves forward in quiet operation, efficiency,  and development of automatic programmes,” advises Dawn Stockell of Electrolux.
The latest product developments
It is not difficult to impress customers with examples of the latest technology incorporated in dishwashers which will benefit them.
The latest innovations on Miele dishwashers include turbothermic drying (using filtered air to ensure that the items are dry, and hygienically clean),  sensor wash programme (adjusting temperatures, running times, water and electricity consumption to the level of dirt on the dishes), Navitronic touch control which allows the customer to manage a wide range of wash programmes by touching the LCD, and a motor assisted Auto Close function which “allows the dishwasher door to be closed effortlessly, much like the Mercedes S Class model.”
Gorenje dishwashers feature a unique drying method which uses heat created within the machine to dry the crockery, rather than using potentially ‘dirty’ air drawn in from the kitchen.
The Electrolux Talky dishwashers talks users through the operation, and on the AEG-Electrolux F80870 the noise level is as low as 41 bd.
The latest Whirlpool dishwashers feature PowerClean function which uses 32 high pressure jet sprays which can clean burnt-on soil from pots and pans without pre-rinsing.
Maytag’s Vara is equipped with automatic programmes that sense the load and set the temperature, time and programme automatically. However, it also has quick wash and mixed wash programmes, and delayed start option – up to 24 hours.
Similarly, BEKO’s DWD8657 dishwasher features an autosense programme which determines the level of dirt in the water, but also it has one of the quickest A-rated washes in just 58 minutes.
The new Electra range, due out in the spring, will have a half load facility that can be used with both baskets, and large LCD panels offering more information (such as ‘please close the door’ if the door is open or ‘press start’).
How important is design?
Although the dishwasher may still have to wait for a while to acquire the appeal of other kitchen appliances, it has to coordinate seamlessly with the design of the kitchen – whether it is a freestanding or an integrated machine. An expression of this was a recent spate of black dishwashers.
“Design is important – both interior and exterior, with stainless steel becoming more sought after in both freestanding and built-in,” confirms Dawn Stockell at Electrolux. “More built-in kitchens are opting for full clad stainless steel look (dishwashers) rather than a model hidden behind a kitchen door. Electrolux is unique in its use of lighting as a design feature on its Insight built-in dishwashers.”
There are few unique design solutions on the market. One of them is De Dietrich ‘Hybrid’ – a fully integrated dishwasher, which combines the design aesthetic of a semi-integrated model with the applications of a fully integrated machine.
Fisher & Paykel, whose DishDrawer has gained almost an  iconic status due to its ergonomic design, has just brought to the market its fifth generation of appliances which feature one-touch start button and a choice of nine wash programmes including an eco option which makes it even more economical.
Another product with a difference is the KitchenAid In-Sink dishwasher integrated into a double sink which was designed to give the user dishwashing support whilst they are cooking (see Products to Watch, page 40)
Other design solutions which improve ergonomics of the appliance are dual vertical grip handles on the Hoover VisonOne dishwasher which allow the door to be opened using the left or right hand, or in-door salt dispensers on Miele dishwashers making refilling more convenient.
Not such a distant future
As the environment moves to the forefront of all considerations, the humble dishwasher may become our key allay on the domestic front. Maytag’s Stuart Frost explains: “In the future we can expect to see dishwashers in many more homes and working even more efficiently. Manufacturers are already experimenting with ‘grey’ water. For example recycled water from the washing machine rinses (or the loo in Sweden!) is used at the first rinse stage of the dishwashing programme.
It may not be so long before rubber gloves lose their primary purpose!

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