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A thriving remodeling market, heightened consumer awareness and a host of technological advancements have created dramatic changes in today's kitchen appliance market.

By Kevin Winkler

Merrell Grant, monogram product manager for General Electric, in Louisville, KY, says, "The growth in the high end is a result of economic prosperity. Additionally, consumers now see appliances as a way to make a design statement. They replace the appliances before failure, for styling and performance improvements. 

"Consumers are looking at appliances in a new way," Grant adds. "More and more, appliances are seen as the best way to add character or value to a home." Grant notes that GE is answering this new market trend with a wide array of customized options within its appliance lines, including purified water in many of its refrigeration products, and an oven with speed technology that delivers food in "an average of one-fourth the time."

Going high end
"In the appliance market today, we are seeing more emphasis in the high-end market," notes Richard Uihlein, v.p./advertising for U-Line Corp., in Milwaukee, WI. "Customers are seeking highly featured, higher quality, higher value products. Price is becoming less of a driving factor. If the economy continues to be strong and unemployment remains low, the trend toward high-end appliances will continue to strengthen." 

One sure sign that indicates a trend toward the high end is an increase in multiple product placement within the home, according to Uihlein. "Several under-counter units in one home is quite common [these days]. We are seeing placements in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, workout room, outdoors, etc." 

Grant agrees. "With the increased economic prosperity, consumers are finding creative ways to use our wine coolers and beverage centers. Beverage centers in the bathroom for chilling beverages and cosmetics, beverage centers in the guest bedroom for the late night snack, the convenience and social statement of having wine coolers in the dining room, and even paneled trash compactors for the home office."

But, as important as convenience is, consumers' design needs also weigh heavily in today's appliance trends, manufacturers note. "In the high-end sector, kitchen design appeal is important," states Dale Persons, v.p./public affairs for the Greenwood, MS-based Viking Range Corp. "The kitchen is the center of the home, so it must be beautiful and functional. It must incorporate all family members and their activities. That is why we are seeing more high-end and ultra-high-end business. We are also seeing more full-line kitchens by the same manufacturer, and more outdoor kitchens." 

Persons has also seen an increased interest in wine storage units in the high-end sector. "More and more wine storage units are being sold, and the future looks even better. People are more educated and interested in purchasing wines. They have more disposable income and are collecting more wine as opposed to keeping only a few bottles on hand."

Matthew Kueny, product manager, Built-in Appliances, at the Somerset, NJ-based Miele, Inc. agrees. "Miele sees a huge potential with high-end customers in this market. We are currently developing units for North America. Again, these items are 'showcase' pieces no one would want to conceal their 1966 Vintage Dom Perignon so UV-protected glass fronts are a must."

"There's a definite trend toward higher-end products," concurs Bryce Wells, marketing manager for the Irvine, CA-based Fisher & Paykel. "[Consumers want] not just expensive appliances, but products that are diverse and tailor-made to meet a variety of consumer needs. Also, we are starting to see more multiple products fitted throughout the house. These products can be placed in more convenient locations, rather than having to have one central area for appliances."

"Remodeling is fueling the growth in appliance sales," notes Nicole R. Meier, marketing manager for the Huntington Beach, CA-based Dynamic Cooking Systems, Inc. (DCS). "Consumers are looking for products with functions that aid them in today's fast-paced living. They are entertaining in their homes more than ever, and want appliances that accommodate the cooking of large meals in an efficient manner." 

Cooking revolution
Improved technological features are the defining factor in many of today's cooking appliances, according to most manufacturers. "Speed cooking is appearing and its effect will be raising the average retail of many manufacturers' products due to the investment to develop," says Kaeser.

"The speed cooking revolution is just beginning, and GE is leading the way in developing this new technology a technology that perfectly matches consumers' desire for a more convenient lifestyle," Eckert adds.

Miele is experiencing a wonderful response to two new cooking products a coffee system and a convection steam oven, according to Kueny. He notes that the coffee system is a built-in, fully automatic coffee system that prepares café quality coffee at home, keying into consumers' desire for every kind of luxury possible in the kitchen. "It can be built into the consumers' cabinets to help reduce counter clutter, and it provides architectural flexibility as it does not require either a water feed or drain line," Kueny adds.

The convection steam oven is another "world's first," according to Kueny. "Developed to meet the obvious increase in the concern about 'healthy cooking,' it uses a pressure injection system to rapidly cook foods without the use of fats or oils providing healthy and flavorful results in just minutes."

"Increased technology like speed cooking is a hot trend," agrees Wells. "Consumers are looking to fit appliances around their lifestyles, rather than fit lifestyles around their appliances." 

In addition to fast cooking, today's consumers value entertaining, and that means cooking appliances that can "multi-task." To that end, Meier notes that DCS now offers ranges with such configurations as cooktops with multiple burners, a griddle, and a grill that make cooking for a group easier. "Anything that allows for easy function is hot right now. For example, our dual range ovens and double wall ovens offer racks on rollers. Home chefs can easily slide these oven racks from one position to another, without struggle. This function enhances the cooking experience."

Quiet, please
Because consumers are entertaining in their homes more than ever, they are demanding products that not only offer swift and easy clean up, but offer quiet operation, as well. "The main trend in dishwashers is quiet performance," says Grant. 

The trend in dishwashers is definitely "quieter, quieter, quieter," Persons agrees. 

Still, not all manufacturers believe that supply always meets consumer demand this way. "Silent operation [is the buzzword today], and all claim to have it, but only a couple really do," insists Kaeser. "However, the overall decibel range has come down a lot."

"First and foremost, our customers demand cleaning ability followed by decibel ratings and then convenience features," says Kueny. "This is an area where we believe that many consumers are being misguided during the purchasing process. The purpose of a dishwasher is to clean dishes plain and simple.

Miele's unique three-spray arm system and cutlery tray ensure optimal cleaning of dishes and flatware while operating at a mere 43 dB." 

Flexibility is also a hot trend with dishwashers, and Wells notes, "Fisher & Paykel offers a unique dishwasher with drawers like a filing cabinet. Each drawer is separate in function, with separate motors for each drawer, allowing the different compartments to wash on different cycles. It can be half the size of a normal dishwasher, which offers more flexibility. We've even had people install them in their bedrooms."

Timeless stainless
Most everyone agrees that consumer interest in commercial grade, stainless steel appliances remains strong.

"Stainless steel has been and should continue to be the major trend," says Kaeser. "It's an easy one to figure out. Trends are about style, style, style. Obviously, each category has its own subset of feature trends; speed cooking, sensor technology [for laundry], concealed controls [dishwashing], zone sensors [refrigerators], but the main shift and focus is and will continue to be on style."

"Stainless steel and commercial looks were introduced a while ago, but they are becoming more popular," concurs GE's Grant. "Supporting this growth are things like Consumer Reports covering professional cooking products and more brands entering the professional market. However, the demand from the consumer is that those commercial looks must be livable; they want stainless steel, but they want it cleanable, with minimal cracks and crevices. 

"They now want a residential commercial range as opposed to a commercial residential range. Or, put another way, [they want] a residential range that takes styling and performance cues from commercial products, rather than taking commercial products and making regulatory modifications for the residential market. For example, you would never put a sealed burner in a commercial application, but the residential consumer demands it," adds Grant.

"Stainless steel remains very strong," agrees Persons, adding, "consumers are showing more interest in the designer colors, although they remain a relatively small part of the business. Appliances represent a major investment, so consumers tend to think in terms of colors and finishes they will like for a long time."

For consumers uninterested in the commercial look of stainless steel, manufacturers offer an array of designer colors, though white, black and off whites like biscuit remain by far the most popular. "Stainless steel is number one by a long shot," says Kaeser, "while black and white continue to teeter, with black currently the bigger trend right now. Biscuit is catching on and will grow, but not at an earth-shattering rate." Kaeser adds that there is a potential for other categories in the same vein as stainless steel, noting that aluminum is very hot in some design centers, as are aluminum appliances in Europe. 

"We expect dark, rich colors to become a popular alternative to the customary standard palette now offered by most manufacturers," says Kueny. "Again, certain items are intended to stand out in the kitchen the semi-professional range or cooking surface or a decorator hood and color helps them stand out."

Barely visible
Though stainless steel reigns supreme, many manufacturers believe the hidden, barely-visible appliance is gaining in popularity. "We see a definite trend in Miele dishwashers toward fully integrated units, which accept a full front door panel and are completely concealed in the cabinets," notes Kueny. "These types of units now represent over 30 percent of our dishwasher volume. The trend toward concealing the more utilitarian appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers and other 'non-showcase' items in the kitchens seems to be growing. I believe it will continue to grow and expand to the other utilitarian products in the kitchen the dishwasher, trash compactors, warming drawers, etc. all the items a customer doesn't want to show off to family, friends and neighbors."

"Integrated can only grow as new home starts and renovations continue to grow," notes Eckert. "And, concealed controls are, for sure, the trend."

"Built-in and integrated refrigerators are becoming more popular among some," concurs Viking's Persons.

"But, there is definitely a large group of customers who want the more distinct appearance of high-performance, commercial-style appliances." KBDN

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