Buyers Want Substance

Kitchen appliances continue to evolve as new improved technologies are introduced, but functionality and form are more important than ever to homeowners who want value and authenticity in one of the most important rooms in their homes.

While the trend toward integrating appliances into cabinetry remains strong, so does the preference for dramatic free-standing appliances.

“There’s really not a trend in either of those directions,” says Steve Joseph, vice president of marketing for Dacor. “Having a balance between the two styles in a kitchen really can help a design. Most free-standing appliances these days are stainless steel, which can sometimes become overwhelming. Having an integrated dishwasher, ventilation system or refrigerator can complement or tone down all the stainless steel,” he adds.

“The trend toward integrated appliances has continued to grow for products such as refrigerators and dishwashers,” says George Tjoumakaris, marketing specialist with Miele, “but designers and consumers still crave flexibility to express their individualism, and there will always be applications where a customer wants to see their beautiful stainless steel appliances on display.”

“The beauty of the kitchen architecture business is that it continues to be constant motion. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The European market for example has been going toward complete integration of appliances for 20 years and now shows again a tendency to more free-standing concepts,” comments Paolo Bertazzoni, president of the Italian appliance maker that bears his name.

“We also see the various product categories evolve at different speeds. Dishwashers are probably offering the highest percentage of integration applications, while cooking and ventilation products are still considered to provide the kitchen with a distinct character. The consumer reserves the right to determine what they like most. We see actually more of an eclectic trend where free-standing and integrated solutions are blended very elegantly,” he says.

“It’s really about the client’s preference and style,” Tracy Frye, senior marketing manager, contract channel, Whirlpool Corp., concurs. “One trend is to integrate most of the appliances into cabinetry and let a commercial-style range in stainless steel or a finish like Jenn-Air’s Oiled Bronze take center stage,” Frye says.

Finishes

The global market has found a lingua franca when it comes to the most popular material and that is stainless steel, according to Bertazzoni.

“However, manufacturers cannot stand still,” he says. Major initiatives are underway to continuously improve the appearance, quality, finish and feel of stainless steel. Tasteful color accents that complete its timeless look as well as more cleaning-friendly surface treatments start to emerge. We are also innovating the processing of the material to provide more contours and shaping.”

While stainless steel is very popular, Dacor’s Joseph sees color as a new and growing trend; the company launched a full line of colored appliances in recent years. Aluminum, he notes, is a possible replacement for stainless steel, partly because it is more versatile in terms of custom shapes. It’s also environmentally friendly in that it can be recycled, a trait that it shares with stainless steel.

Glass finishes are another area where Joseph sees growing interest. Dacor has six colors in its line of its color infused glass, and it’s available across its line of appliances — including dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators, warming drawers, wall ovens. A variety of handles is available as well.

Yet another option is Dacor’s Millennia style, which combines stainless steel trim on black glass.

“Classic stainless steel is still very desirable,” agrees Miele’s Tjoumakaris, “and black finishes are also common.”

Addressing one of the major drawbacks of stainless steel, Tjoumakaris notes. “we’ve just innovated a Clean Touch Steel Finish for many of our stainless products that resists fingerprinting. Clean Touch Steel is a unique application where we apply a thin layer of glass over the stainless. While all the shine and beauty of the stainless shows, it does not require special cleaners and resists fingerprints and scratches.”

Viking is another appliance manufacturer that sees an interest beyond stainless steel. The company has a palette of 24 color finishes which coordinates with the color finishes of St. Charles Cabinetry, a new division of Viking Range Corp.

“Consumers are becoming brave in terms of choosing their appliances. A colorful appliance adds that pop of color to a room that consumers may desire,” says Viking’s Sue Bailey, product manager, major appliances. “We’re seeing a lot of consumers purchasing a key item, such as a range, in color to draw the eye to it as a focal point. As homeowners strive to make a personal style statement, the addition of color on appliances and accessories allows them to do that,” he adds.

After stainless steel, black is still a popular second choice, according to Bailey. However, the company’s full finish offerings include soft hues in both cool and warm tones, such as cotton white, taupe, pumpkin, plum, chocolate, sea glass and sage.

Technology

While kitchen appliances still perform the same basic functions, these days they do so with the assistance of new or improved technology.

“Advanced LCD touch-screen technology helps take the guesswork out of cooking with a number of options and selections, such as food-specific convection modes, pan and rack suggestions, and even the ability to program how well meat should be cooked, from rare to well done,” says Whirlpool’s Tracy Frye.

An innovation for Miele’s new dishwasher and refrigeration series is RemoteVision capability, enabling communication between the appliance and the company’s monitoring center, offering enhanced peace of mind, speedy customer service and support. In terms of controls, several Miele products such as ovens, dishwashers, and coffee systems offer Navitronic touch controls, which guide the user for optimum results.

Viking has introduced its patented Vari-Speed Dual Flow convection oven system in combination with its electric induction range. The largest convection fan available provides a two-speed reversing system to ensure balanced airflow for even heat distribution, the company says.

An enhancement to the Viking Quiet Cool Built-In Performance Refrigeration is the exclusive Plasmacluster ion air purifier. The air purifier uses ions to eliminate airborne bacteria and mold spores, remove odor and enhance food preservation. The purifier never needs to be replaced.

Dacor is using LEDs (light emitting diodes) more and more throughout its product line, says Steve Joseph. For example, some models have LEDs on burner knobs so the user can see at a glance that the burner is on, especially important, says Joseph, for the extra low simmer settings that are a gourmet cooking requirement.

At the same time LCDs (liquid crystal displays) are finding their way onto appliances. Some of the LCDs can be changed to any of several thousand color combinations to complement any kitchen, Joseph notes. Smart controllers that guide users through the cooking process, all the way down to which oven rack to use, are another option on many of this year’ appliances.

Some of the improvements in today’s appliances are about more than the user interface, however. A number of innovations have to do with the performance and functionality of the appliances. Magnetic induction cooking, while not brand-new, is something that some manufacturers mentioned. Jenn-Air’s induction technology allows heat to be adjusted instantly and with great precision, the company says, plus it is 90 percent energy efficient. Touch activated LED controls make it easy to manage temperatures and manage each element.

Convection ovens, again not new, nevertheless continue to evolve. KitchenAid commercial-style ranges, for example, feature the Even-Heat True Convection System, which combines a 1,600-watt hidden oven element and unique bow-tie shaped baffle design to promote more even airflow. This system allows for consistent temperatures and even cooking, whether using one or all three oven racks simultaneously, the company says. An EasyConvect time and temperature conversion system automatically converts conventional times and temperatures to their convection equivalents.

A feature newly available to home cooks is KitchenAid’s Steam Assist, a technology used by professional chefs. Using just the right amount of moisture at the right time enhances food flavors without the hassle of covering, basting, misting or water baths, says Whirlpool marketing manager Tracy Freye. Ovens are available in single, double and combination configurations.

However, consumers will not be easily influenced just because an appliance has a few high-tech features, says Paolo Bertazzoni. “There will always be new technologies across all product groups. The adoption rate of these will not be driven by their degree of ‘high tech,’ but more by consumers’ perception of relevance,” he says.

Change is gradual

Despite new technologies, cooking preferences change slowly, says Dacor’s Steve Joseph. “They’re cooking with Grandma’s recipe, and as long as they’re satisfied with the results, they don’t want to risk changing them,” he says.

“Cooking preferences are changing slightly, but gas and electric continue to be the most popular methods, while induction technology is gaining some momentum.” says Miele’s Tjoumakaris.

“Most people still like the convenience of having a microwave handy, for the speedy heating of leftovers or defrosting. Many consumers are opting for multitasking appliances such as Miele’s CombiSets, where they can mix induction and electric or gas,” he says. “They like trying new technology without having to give up the old.”

Increasingly, homeowners are demanding both style and function. “The homeowner will not accept to make a choice between statement and functionality,” says Paolo Bertazzoni. “Both of those attributes are considered to be part of a product. There are certainly different levels of feature content, yet those should not negatively impact the performance of a product.

“We also observe that purchase decisions are more and more style centric,” he says. “It is important to note this trend is not so much about statement, but rather reflects the homeowner’s selection of designs which reflect a certain personality as well as a strong element of authenticity. For brands to get the permission to make a high end claim, they have to be ‘real.’ That applies to performance as well as style. If this balance is paired with a fair price, consumers will recognize the value.”

“Savvy pros will push consumers toward products that actually deliver on function and are easy to use,” says Tjoumakaris. “It saves future headaches, service calls and frustration. We’re seeing consumers gravitate toward properties that have ‘real’ product value in them.”

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