Independent thinking

In Features On

It really does seem to be a vibrant time to be in the small electricals game, if features, colour and design are anything to go by.

Usually with a trends-led article like this one, looking to see what is driving this diverse sector, the responses are often fairly predictable, albeit welcome, with the main brands highlighting where they think the market is going and why.

This time, it is actually some of the more premium and niche brands leading the way with information and comment. An encouraging move, because as has so often been said in the pages of IER, it is the independent sector which is best placed to sell through those higher ticket items. But we need to know why we should sell them.

It is something that has happened in the housewares trade too, with independent cookshops setting themselves out as the place to go for informed service and a good selection of products. Suppliers respond accordingly – and so do consumers, many of whom love to support their independents over and above the high street chains. Time and budget allowing, of course.

So where should independents be looking to steal a march in small electricals and encourage time-poor and financially cautious customers to spend?

In recent seasons, the driving forces behind small electricals have been a case of price dictating across many of the product categories that make up the sector, coupled with an underlying theme of practicality at a good price.

Celebrity led

Now it is very much a good news story from the premium brands, whose products are finding favour with an ever-increasing audience improving their cooking talents through TV programmes like MasterChef and Saturday Kitchen.

Celebrity chefs have been playing their part over the last few years, either through products directly associated with their name (such as Antony Worrall Thompson with Breville, Gordon Ramsay with Bamix, James Martin with Wahl and Jamie Oliver with Tefal) or by using the product on one of the many TV cookery shows. There is also something to be said for trying to spot the ‘next big thing’ in celebrity chef circles. Jo Pratt is a writer for the Daily Mail Weekend and Elle magazine, has worked with chefs like Gary Rhodes and Brian Turner and appears on the Food Channel. She is described by Waterstone’s as an ‘Author of the Future’ and she has had great things to say about the Gaggia Gelateria recently.

Another name to watch out for is Simon Hopkinson, often referred to as the ‘chef all chefs adore’. He has just launched his debut TV series, The Good Cook (BBC One, Fridays 7.30pm) where the focus is very much pie and gravy and good heart-warming grub – a previous book of his is called Roast Chicken and Other Stories so you get the idea.

Seeking quality

The plethora of TV and media cooking influences is definitely encouraging consumers to seek out the right equipment for the job – from soup makers and juicers to blenders and food processors (a must-have to make that must-have – cupcakes).

Consumers are looking for longevity in a product, especially one they have paid top dollar for, and features are key. AEG, perhaps better known for its white goods, is hoping for a good reaction to its new PowerMix Silent Blender (especially after it was used on a BBC Saturday Kitchen show). It operates at just 77dB, compared to an average of 85-95dB from today’s blenders which are in the same decibel category as lawn mowers and motorcycles.

If the product looks stylish too, then all the better. That is what top food mixer brand KitchenAid has discovered, with marketing manager Giorgio Baroffio commenting that, after more than 90 years in existence, its iconic Artisan mixer “is still inspiring a generation of foodies and design enthusiasts”. The latest colours to launch on the Artisan are apparently inspired by the world of ‘patisserie’ and ‘viennoiserie’ (that’s various types of pastries to the uninitiated), so colours include Raspberry Ice, Caffé Latte and Apple Cider. The French Patisserie range is the second colour palette from KitchenAid to launch this year, after ‘Magical Metallic’.

The staples

While the celebrity and media influences seem to have benefitted food prep in particular – an area, according to Jane Lee, BSH category manager consumer products division, which has “performed especially well” – there are other areas finding favour, such as coffee (a consistent good performer) and multi-functional and practical products such as multi-cookers and slow cookers. Prestige, a relative newcomer to the small electricals arena having made its name in cookware, has grouped together a series of related products under the A La Carte range name – multi-cooker, wok, ‘cook and steam’ steamer and a non-stick griddle.

Health appeal

The healthy eating trend has been a key factor in sales for several years now and manufacturers have been quick to draw attention to that feature where relevant – for example, the Prestige range above promotes the fact that all the products are non-stick coated, needing less fat for cooking.

One company, UK Juicers, has a sole focus in its product line-up, as its name suggests. Nick Ledger from the company says health continues to be one of the biggest influences on consumer purchasing habits today. “Any products that consumers believe will enable them to reach their own personal health goals or create a healthier environment around them, will catch their attention and create a desire to purchase,” he says, adding this has helped move previously deemed niche products like juicers out to a wider audience. “Following a rather brief love affair with juicing a few years ago, many people were turned off from preparing fresh juice as part of a healthy diet because of poor quality juicers that either broke quickly or didn’t produce enough juice.   Everyone was jumping on the juicing band wagon and manufacturing machines even though they were not specialists in that area.  The result was sub-standard machines that didn’t do a good job and were difficult to clean and maintain.”

UK Juicers now imports the US brand Omega into the market, with two ‘Mega Mouth’ products. “Because Omega specialised in juicing machines it had an unrivalled depth of knowledge that it applied to their product development,” says Nick who set up UK Juicers with Paul Hellawell over ten years ago after falling ill and looking for a “natural approach to nutrition”.

Is there still room for products which don’t tick as many healthy boxes? Tefal thinks so – its ActiFry fryer claims an audience of around three million households worldwide and is part of Tefal’s Nutritious & Delicious range. According to Marina Wong, product manager for electrical cooking at Tefal’s parent Groupe SEB, the aim of this range is “to produce innovative products for people searching for healthier ways to cook without compromising on taste,” she says. “By using just one spoonful of oil you can make 1kg of chips, which is enough to feed a family of four. That one spoonful is 100 times less than a traditional deep fat fryer, which not only means that your food is substantially more healthy, but it is also more economical.”

Information and advice

So there are plenty of product opportunities out there for independents to get behind. After that, it is then all about the sale. Jane Lee at BSH says independents are in a strong position to explain added features and benefits to consumers. “Advice is becoming increasingly important as is good customer service. The key is for the retailers to understand their customers’ needs. Consumers will pay extra if they understand the advantage of choosing the better appliances.”

John Smethurst, commercial director at Cuisinart, backs up that point saying consumers, especially women, are spending more and more time researching purchases online and in-store. “Ensuring your staff is well versed in the products you sell, and grouping products by category makes it easier for consumers to view product differences side by side,” he says. “In times when consumers are being cautious with spending, it’s important that staff members are trained to the highest standard so that their advice and guidance is sound, accurate and trusted.”

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