Steam power

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Steam generators sustain the growth of the irons market, although traditional steam irons still account for over 70% of sales. There are plenty of product innovations in all categories to capture consumer interest. Anna Ryland reports.

Product developments in the fabric care category have traditionally focused on two areas: steam output and soleplate finish. “Both steam output and soleplate finish are important considerations for consumers who are contemplating a new purchase, as each plays a role in making the ironing process quicker and simpler. The steam helps relax creases and re-align the fabric to its original state and the higher steam output makes the process quicker. The smoother and more premium the soleplate finish is, the better the glide-ability the iron has over garments,” explains Annaliese Curtis, category consumer manager for Garment Care, Morphy Richards.

However, “In this economic climate, consumers are becoming much more cautious about what they buy, choosing to take their time and do their research before they make their final purchase decision,” says Ian Nicholson, sales & marketing director of BSH Consumer Products. Therefore genuine product innovations that speed up the ironing process are more likely to attract customers’ interest and approval.

Consumer requirements

According to a recent Morphy Richards’ research, consumers’ top three considerations when buying an iron are: features and functions (47%), offers and best value for money (40%) and a good reputation of the brand (38%). “These trends are likely to be related to the current economic climate, but this does not mean that consumers are going straight to the cheapest models,” stresses Morphy Richards’ Annaliese Curtis.

Gemma McHenry, Philips’ customer marketing manager, Garment Care, agrees: “Irons are considered a ‘necessary purchase’ and are often only bought in a hurry when the current model stops working, so the price of the iron is indeed a factor. However, consumers making more considered purchases see price as a less important factor, as they are making a conscious effort to select a product which fits within their lifestyle, is good value for money and meets their needs.  Consumers with a bigger or more regular ironing needs, such as families, are being drawn to the higher-end products, as they offer faster results, with less effort but consistent quality.”

New technology for better results

In the competitive irons category, technology is advancing all the time to save customers time (on average people spend two and half hours a week ironing), give them superior performance and make this disliked task as easy and safe as possible

Morphy Richards’ latest traditional steam iron is the Comfigrip model which features a diamond soleplate and a 200g steam shot to tackle difficult creases. The diamond soleplate, containing a small amount of diamonds, has ultimate glide-ability and durability, and it features Morphy Richards’ TriZone Soleplate Technology with three dedicated areas for the perfect finish.

Also De’Longhi has focused its latest product developments on the soleplate. Through design and use of modern materials the manufacturer has maximised the soleplate size, while keeping the iron weight low.  De’Longhi also has patented a dual material soleplate. The ceramic outer plate delivers uniform and focused source of heat to flatten and dry the fabric, whilst an inner soleplate provides the latest development in non-stick technology for perfect glidability: Thermolon, a hardened scratch-resistant coating.  

A stubborn crease sometimes requires a targeted delivery of steam, whereas for fast effective ironing of large areas steam is more efficient when delivered across the whole soleplate. De’Longhi’s new Dual Vap control technology can divert steam from the whole soleplate to the tip when required.

A recent YouGov poll has found that almost one in five UK adults (18%) have forgotten to turn their iron off. The new 5Safety iron from AEG features a three-way safety auto-off system with an integrated alarm function that draws attention to potential risks and helps to avoid accidents. The 5Safety iron will notify the user with a warning sound when the iron has not been used for longer than 30 seconds or is accidentally tipped over. When the iron is in an upright position the automatic shut-off will begin after eight minutes of non-use, preventing any accidents and wastage of energy.

Steam generators

Steam generators are coming down in price with more brands launching non-continuous refill appliances. At the same time premium models increasingly incorporate innovative technologies that considerably reduce ironing time.

For example, Philips PerfectCare steam generator uses new ‘Optimal Temp’ technology and has no temperature dial but maintains the perfect combination of temperature and steam. This means it can be used on any fabric, cutting the time spent ironing by half. 

Optimal Temp technology uses cyclonic steam chamber that ensures that consistently high steam can be delivered, at a gentle temperature, at the push of a button. Other steam generators at the same temperature would leak or deliver little or no steam. The Smart Control Processer keeps the soleplate at a consistent temperature, which makes it safe to use on all fabrics, never being too hot or too cold.

The new Ultimate Bosch Styline TDS4570GB steam generator has six-bar steam pressure, an impressive 2,800W element and a 250gm/min pulsed-steam boost for particularly tough creases. Its power comes as part of a unique control system that can handle all kinds of fabrics automatically, without changing any settings.

“A powerful, high wattage sole-plate can speed up ironing but puts garments at risk from being scorched which makes them shiny, particularly with dark coloured clothing,” cautions Kate Donohoe, brand manager, De’Longhi UK. “De’Longhi would recommend a steam generator iron with a low wattage sole-plate but with a high steam output. De’Longhi’s Stirella range has an 800W plate but up to 129g/min of steam for perfect results.”

The Power Steam Elite is Morphy Richards’ most powerful steam generator boasting up to 145g of steam power. It has 4.5 bar pressure and an extra large 1.7L detachable water tank and features a ceramic soleplate for extra glide-ability.

Meanwhile the new Tefal Express Compact Anti-Calc steam generator, the GV7096, is smaller than the previous model but delivers more powerful performance with 5 bar pressure and up to three hours continuing ironing time. It has a 1.6 litre refill tank and Tefal’s unique anti-scale collector.

The main cause of steam generators breaking down is limescale.  Most products on the market come with a standard cleaning feature for removing limescale built-up in the boiler. However to avoid entering the system in the first place the user needs to filter the limescale out of the water before it enters the boiler.  The De’Longhi’s Dual a
nti-calc system does exactly that.

Eco thinking

Green considerations are present in many small appliance categories. All leading irons brands have already included energy and water saving features in their products.

For example, the ECO steam setting in the De’Longhi Stirella range lets users save between 15-30% energy and up to 50% water, without compromising on a final result. Also the Tefal Express Compact Anti-Calc steam generator has an ECO function to reduce the use of energy by 20%.

Philips, however, has developed the EcoCare steam iron, reducing energy consumption by 25%.  It saves energy automatically because it eliminates wasted steam; moreover it is made up of 30% recycled materials.

The garment care market doesn’t have the aspirational appeal of some of the CE sectors. Yet, educating consumers about the capabilities and benefits of steam generators is a major sales opportunity for retailers. It is also important to help busy consumers understand the benefits of regularly upgrading any iron to take advantage of the fast developing technology.

The irons market

The irons market has exhibited positive growth after being the only ‘must have’ Small Kitchen Appliance market to noticeably suffer during the recession, posting sales value declines during that period.

A key area that has driven value growth is the continued success of the premium ironing systems category, dominated by the steam generator. This market has grown by just over 8% in the last year, making the market worth nearly £38m.

By Betty Fievé, GfK account manager,

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