In recent years, cooking and entertaining at home have become more prevalent as a challenging economy has driven many consumers away from restaurants and back to the heart of the home.
While recovery is slowly taking hold, homeowners continue to seek out appliances that allow them to create restaurant quality dishes, cook up a quick meal on the go or create healthy concoctions less commonly found in restaurants. And innovative cooktops, convection ovens and steam cooking appliances are helping them do just that.
Time savings remains a key concern for many homeowners today, so technology that enables homeowners to do more with less time, work and clean up is extremely popular right now, according to John Farley, senior brand and environmental marketing manager for Bosch, in Huntington Beach, CA. “The most popular features with customers have been those that maximize convenience and performance,” he says.
Ease of use and enhanced space are the most popular elements of cooking appliances right now, states Brad Michael, senior v.p./sales and marketing for AGA Marvel, in Cambridge, ON Canada.
Tony Dowling sees a continuing trend toward people treating their kitchens as a “dining as entertainment” space, rather than as a utilitarian “cook-and-eat room.” Dowling, who is business development manager for Elmira Stove Works, in Elmira, ON Canada, theorizes, “Perhaps with people dining out less than they did years ago, they are recognizing that the atmosphere in which they dine has as much to do with the enjoyment of the meal as the food itself.” For that reason, he believes, “they want appliances that make their kitchens special.”
Manufacturers believe that consumers are demanding more from their appliances, since they’re using them more frequently to cook for their families and guests.
“What they’re demanding is real cooking innovations that make cooking at home an experience and not a chore,” says Zach Elkin, director of Thermador brand, in Huntington Beach, CA.
In a still-recovering economy, however, many consumers are also more focused on affordability. “All customers want beautiful and well-designed appliances, but not everyone has the means to purchase a kitchen full of premium appliances,” says Steve Joseph, v.p./marketing, Dacor, in Diamond Bar, CA.
For that reason, many appliance manufacturers are offering a wider range of products at a broader array of price points, while high-end products must really prove their value beyond just the trophy appeal.
Simplicity remains trendy right now, and that may explain the popularity of innovations such as sensor cooking technology, which helps take the guesswork out of cooking. “Many cooking problems in the kitchen stem from the guesswork it takes to heat a pan to the right temperature and keep it at that temperature during cooking,” reports Farley.
Sensor cooking products work with pre-programmed cooking modes of commonly prepared recipes to measure the temperature from the bottom of the pan and apply the right amount of energy to the element.
“The result is precise cooking, every time, and without wasted energy,” says Farley, whose company features the AutoChef sensor on its cooking appliances.
Energy efficiency is another key trend impacting appliance design.
“Induction cooktops are a perfect example of efficient performance,” says Farley. “Induction is becoming increasingly popular because, while it delivers the cooking performance of gas, it uses 60% less energy.” Induction cooktops also win points with children and the elderly, as these provide added safety against burns.
Induction is something to keep an eye on, agrees Paul Leuthe, corporate marketing manager for Sub-Zero, in Madison, WI. He says that while people are unsure of the technology and its capabilities, once it has greater visibility, such as on popular cooking shows, people will be quick to flock to it. “Induction’s ability to control temperatures quickly, and the control you have over the preparation, far outdistances gas or electric cooktops,” says Leuthe.