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Is a recession the right time to sell best in class cooking appliances?

Anna Ryland investigates.

Even the most experienced retailers admit that the current trading conditions are very tough and the Christmas season is unlikely to deliver the usual volume of cheer to the electrical stores. Can you hope, therefore, to be able to tempt customers with cooking appliances that represent the best that the industry can offer?

The manufacturers whom we approached argued that the current market conditions prompted customers to adopt long-term thinking to home investments.

“The deep recession has created a new type of thrifty consumer with different values – products must be reliable, perform well and be built to last. Consumers may be willing to pay a bit more for technology that helps save time and resources. The current economic climate is having an effect on our leisure time too, with fewer visits to restaurants and more emphasis on entertaining at home and cooking from scratch,” says Steve Macdonald, marketing director, Hoover Candy.

Kevin Johnson, sales and marketing director of V-Zug, adds: “People are entertaining at home these days more than ever before thanks to the exposure of a huge volume of cooking programmes and high-profile celebrity chefs.”

There is also a great revival of interest in home improvements. “The fall in the house building market, the hike in VAT, petrol and tax, and the threat of unemployment mean that many of us are choosing to stay put and invest in our homes.  The mantra is ‘improve rather than move’ and with this, eating-in is very much in vogue,” says Juliana Sado, Whirlpool brand marketing manager.

“Time is precious to everyone. Advancements in appliance technology allow us to complete tasks more efficiently while products are enjoyable and easy to use,” stresses Sophie Davidson, Electrolux product manger, Build-in Hot.

“Primarily we hope this will mean more emphasis on cooking from scratch, getting the best from good quality, fresh ingredients but this does not mean less emphasis on convenience. ‘Food on the run’ will still be important as our busy lifestyles dictate the occasional need for a ‘quick food fix’,” adds Mike Jarrett, sales director of Neff.

Moreover, “technology is getting cheaper so appliances that pack in a lot of features but don’t break the bank are going to be very attractive,” adds Ian Moverley, Hotpoint brand director.

 Intelligent ovens

“Flexibility, versatility and multiplicity of use are central to the way consumers use the modern kitchen,” comments Hoover’s Steve Macdonald, and these three words encapsulate the direction of product developments in cooking.

Modern ovens incorporate electronic programming and sensor technology that guarantees excellent results even for the least able of cooks. The AEG Culisense oven offers many advanced functions, including the innovative AutoCook. The Culisense oven is equipped with a database of recipes and advanced sensors which can detect the weight and volume of the food to be cooked – calculating the right cooking temperature and time.

The top models in Amica’s latest Platinum oven collection come with a multifunctional management system – the i-Cook Timer, equipped with six touch sensors on an illuminated panel for intuitive control. The menu is displayed as animated icons, with a range of clock display options. From a selection of 24 preset recipe programmes users choose the desired options (and the weight if applicable), and the oven automatically selects the optimum temperature, time and mode of heating to suit the dish.

“A number of ovens in the market now feature total automatic cooking options, where sensors determine the humidity of the food once the correct selection has been chosen on the control panel. With most brands, this function also requires the use of a temperature probe to ensure the food is cooked to the user’s requirements. The ICS programme featured in the De Dietrich DOP895 or DOP770 single ovens requires no manual intervention whatsoever and with 16 automatic cooking programmes in the top of the range DOP895, this oven offers a wider range of automatic cooking options than any other intelligent oven. ICS is only one of four cooking modes featured in this oven, the alternatives being Expert (12 oven functions), Cooking Guide with 44 pre-programmed recipes, and Low temperature Cooking with 10 pre-sets,” explains Richard Walker, sales and marketing director, De Dietrich Kitchen Appliances.

Whirlpool’s multi-function ovens are driven by the 6th Sense technology with sensors that determine the weight of the food and monitor the oven temperature adapting the cooking time and controlling the cooking process accordingly, using the minimum of energy and time. The Glamour, Fusion and the Ambient ranges feature COOK3 allowing cooking on three levels simultaneously, without any flavour or aroma transfer.

Also Hotpoint’s Intelligent Cooking System, featured in the built-in multifunction NewStyle SH103CX oven, takes all the guesswork out of cooking by offering a range of intelligent programmes for roasts, bread, cake and pizza.

The Gorenje BO9950AX HomeCHEF is a built-in oven that combines the expertise of professional chefs with user-friendly technology. Its large colour TFT display allows the consumer to make the selection of settings by sliding a finger across the display. It also features a multi-step baking system – STEPbake – which enables pre-set changes of temperature, heating type and cooking time for the selected dish. AUTObake boasts as many as 65 preset recipes with photos.

Split cavity ovens such as the Hoover Prodige oven and Samsung’s Dual Cook steam oven provide ultimate cooking flexibility, allowing splitting the oven cavity in half to accommodate two dishes at two separate temperatures, without mixing of odours. New in Samsung’s Dual Cook oven range is steam function. The oven cavity can now be used either in full or partially for steam cooking. The divider seals both cavities of the oven so that independent cooking programmes can be run without any transfer of odours or flavours between the two.

With interest in healthy lifestyle growing,  steam ovens are becoming increasingly popular options. Steam ovens, such as V-ZUG’s Combi-Steam XSL, help consumers to cook food which retains all the vitamins and minerals.  One of its programmes is Regeneration, which uses a combination of steam and hot air to warm up pre-prepared meals without losing quality or moisture. Another function is GourmetSteam – into which professional chefs have programmed numerous recipes.

Clever hobs

Many people are now aware that induction is the cooking technology of the future. “Consumers are realising the significant energy efficiency, speed and safety induction delivers. With an efficiency performance rate of 90%, induction is the most efficient cooking technology available today,” says Whirlpool’s Julian Sado.

Induction hobs offer increasing flexibility. Traditional zones are extended to accommodate different sizes and shapes of pans by incorporating modular induction surfaces. For example on Amica’s induction hobs a Bridge function allows two heating zones to be controlled as one. Similar technology can be found on Bosch FlexInduction hobs and Whirlpool’s hobs equipped with a Flexible Zone.

Induction hobs are also more powerful than before, offering nine cooking levels per zone, such as the Beko HII64400AT hob. Whirlpool’s latest induction hob has a unique booster function of up to 5,000 Watts, which can be used on two zones simultaneously.  This is a new benchmark with super-quick boiling times of 4-minutes to bring 2.5-litres to the boil.

For consumers who demand complete and precise control over the cooking process, AEG perfected its Maxisense hob to include MaxiSight and DirekTouch controls to allow for precise fine-tuning, important while cooking delicate dishes.

An innovative product development is the Hoover Ghisa gas hob that has cast iron integrated pan supports and a unique burner technology. “ It mixes forced air and natural gas just prior to ignition and a small fan then forces the air into the burner to guarantee maximum efficiency and power. This has been achieved by combining a vertical rather than circular flame with a reduction in the distance between the bottom of the saucepan and the burner – down from 45mm to only 28mm,” explains Hoover’s Steve Macdonald.

Best of hoods

Although hoods incorporate increasingly sophisticated technologies and some feature sensors which automatically turn the appliance on when extraction is required, they are often bought on their ‘looks’ alone.

One of best in the category, on account of both its design and features, is the Elica Eagle downdraft extractor (see the image on page 36). When in standby, the Eagle only displays the light compartment and the controls. The high-tech rising motion reveals its aerodynamic shape and shows the supporting arm, which enhances suction directly from the hob thanks to its curved position. It features perimeter aspiration, touch control operation and LED lighting, and achieves up to 550 cubic meters per hour airflow.

The aesthetics

In an increasingly open-plan kitchen-living room, where the family gathers, socializes and entertains, the aesthetic of cooking appliances are of prime importance.

The most technologically advanced cooking products usually sport very modern designs. Their looks are part of their appeal to potential buyers therefore retailers should display built-in appliances in an aspirational way, in a kitchen setting, with matching oven, hob and hood. “This commitment will repay the investment,” argues Whirlpool’s Juliana Sado.

Smart thinking

Every year GfK surveys show that Brits are early adopters of CE innovations. Now that CE technology makes inroads into the kitchen, this interest should be capitalized upon by retailers selling domestic appliances. Accustomed to iPhones and iPads, younger consumers will enjoy using touch-screen cooking programmes and setting their own preferences. Meanwhile the older generation, when shown how intuitive the latest products are, may discover their unexpected advantages. Moreover the improved energy efficiency delivered by the intelligent appliances is likely to enhance their desirability to all consumers.

“A top tip for next year is to look for technology which offers programmes and functions that can be personalised by the consumer to their individual needs – this could be cooking programmes for specific types of food, or sensor technology in induction hobs to minimise energy use and eliminate the need for continuous manual control. This technology provides an excellent selling point for the retailer, and is a key aspect to look out for,” advises Bill Miller, Gorenje sales and marketing director.

Sales Tips

•           Introduce consumers to modern cooking technology. Most likely, it was some years since they purchased their last appliance and much has changed.  Explain how new technology can make their life more efficient and economical.

•           Find out what they like to cook, and how much they have available to cook.  Do they find cooking a challenge and want lots of help with automatic programmes and recipes, or do they love cooking and want maximum functionality? 

•           If possible have working appliances.  LCD displays are very dull when not in operation. Only live appliances show the smart options and hidden benefits.

•           Hold cooking demonstrations (manufacturers have home economists ‘for hire’) so your customers can get engaged with appliances and see how much can be achieved with ease.

•           Take advantage of manufacturers’ training facilities to familiarize your staff with latest technologies, products and their benefits.

•           If you can offer an after-care service (like DA retailer Glotech) this gives great reassurance to customers and helps the retailer in the final stages of the sale.

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