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Industry News

Published on June 26th, 2020 | by The GC Team

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Cooking & Food Preparation

Even before the COVID-19 lockdown, trading conditions were hard. But as we adapted to the new restrictions, unexpected upsides emerged: for example, sales of some kitchen appliances “shot up” within two weeks of lockdown, as a nation forced to stay at home embraced the comfort of home-cooked meals, bread and cakes. Resourceful electrical retailers can benefit from this – and other emerging opportunities – as so-called “non-essential” shops open their doors to hungry customers

Nobody really knows what will happen in the second half of this year. Government policy and advice are getting less clear, but with the focus now on the reopening of “non-essential” shops, it is at least clear that the economy – of which the electrical and retail sectors form a significant proportion– has to adapt and find opportunities wherever it can. It goes without saying, of course, that developing and refining an online presence to create maximum synergy with the bricks-and-mortar part of the business is an absolute necessity, now and into the post-COVID era. A report by home delivery company ParcelHero points out that “e-commerce sales soared by 60% in May under lockdown. Now people of every age group have discovered the convenience of home shopping for groceries, clothing and non-essentials.” With so many more consumers discovering online shopping, we could see a further permanent shift in buying habits across all age groups, and “‘a balanced e-commerce-physical store approach, ensuring shops complement online services, will hopefully lead to a longer-term, sustained improvement for the High Street.”

But what else, specifically related to home cooking and food preparation, can retailers convert into upsides of the pandemic legacy?

Upsides? What upsides?

“For brands and retailers in the small domestic goods sector, this is the time to be promoting your higher-end products”

It’s not easy for any retailer who has been forced to close their doors, and who has seen trade disappear practically overnight, to focus on positives. But alterations in the British way of life directly resulting from lockdown have created new habits and attitudes with measurable benefits to the cooking and food preparation market.

This is not just anecdotal. There are figures to back it up. According to a recent report from GfK, “sales of some kitchen appliances shot up as Britain hit week two of enforced lockdown.” In the week 29 March to 4 April, purchases of deep fryers showed 76.4% growth in value compared to the same week last year; hot beverage makers were up 65.4%; sandwich makers, waffle makers and grills hit 62.1% value growth; food preparation products were up 61.5% overall, driven by value sales growth in food stand mixers of 218.6%, hand mixers of 105.3% and food processors of 43.7%. Kelly Whitwick, UK Retail Lead for Market Insights at GfK, said: “Looking across these home cooking appliances, the average price is showing an upward trajectory since lockdown started. It seems we are using the money saved from not dining out to invest in premium cooking equipment and smarter models. For brands and retailers in the small domestic goods sector, this is the time to be promoting your higher-end products, as a ‘treat yourself’ purchase and a way to eat more healthily, as well as entertaining yourself, during lock-down.”

Fisher & Paykel: Illustrating the trend for an integrated look across appliances

With food-and-drink related small appliances building impressive growth in value and average price, it looks as if pent-up demand will continue to keep this market buoyant.

Celebrity squares

It’s not just small appliances that can benefit. With the focus back on preparing meals for a family that, under normal circumstances, had lost the habit of eating together, and with more of us forced to take notice of the home environment where we’ve been spending so much more time, the style, efficiency and comfort of the “heart of the home” has led to a re-assessment of cooking appliances.

This has been intensified by the fact that, with so many TV journalists, experts, celebrities and commentators working from home, our TV and device screens have become windows into those homes. They don’t all broadcast from their kitchens, but when they do we take more than a passing interest in designs, colour schemes and appliances (sometimes a great deal more than in what they’re actually saying), and this sparks criticism, sometimes admiration, perhaps envy, and ideas for how our own kitchens could be improved.

And it’s not only familiar TV faces whose homes have been revealed to the nation during lockdown. Working from home means video meetings with colleagues; separation means family, friends and acquaintances are seeing each other – and each other’s homes – on screen far more regularly; and that new lockdown phenomenon, the “Zoom dinner party”, has put a unique focus on kitchens and cooking appliances. Seeing and being seen with this intensity inevitably generates an element of competition, and the way to compete is to get the most stylish and high-performance cooking appliances.

Pent-up demand

Added to these “lockdown effects” is the big pre-COVID trend towards healthy eating, home cooking and the sophisticated appliances that help achieve it. This will reassert itself as “normal” life begins to resume, and join forces with the new habits and ideas formed during lockdown to drive the surge in demand across the entire food preparation and cooking market, from food processors, mixers and beverage machines to ovens and hobs.

The demand may be there, but given the reported dire effects of COVID on the UK economy now, and as predicted into the future, can consumers afford to satisfy it? A complicated question that time will answer. But it is a fact that, in 21st century Britain, the household appliance industry’s biggest competitor for consumer discretionary spending has been reduced to virtually zero.

Whirlpool Absolute built-in single oven teamed with combination microwave

Spending had been steadily shifting towards buying “experiences” in preference to goods. Pubs, restaurants, entertainment venues, travel and holidays had been competing for – and winning – more and more household spending, sometimes at the expense of the electrical appliances industry. COVID put an immediate and complete stop to that, and consumers remain reluctant to book travel and holidays for the future until they have a clearer idea what the experience will look like.

This may be the time for prudent consumers, perhaps uncertain about the future, to redirect that spending into “added value” investments such as home improvements and upgraded appliances. Their home is the highest-value asset that most consumers own, and we know that the most effective way to enhance its value is with the best kitchen they can afford.

Getting there

Among all the uncertainties, one thing remains unquestionable: the advancements in design, technology, materials, aesthetics, price accessibility and user-friendliness of cooking and food preparation appliances over the last decade or so make this the most exciting sector in domestic electricals. There are outstanding products to suit all consumer tastes, aspirations, performance requirements, space constraints and budgets. As well as extending induction, integrated steam and microwave combi options, automated and “assisted cycle” cooking programmes, self-cleaning and touch controls across a broader range of price points, manufacturers have also spent a lot of effort on modern aesthetics and materials, bringing the aspiration of co-ordinated kitchen design – including in some cases matching coffee machines and ancillary food prep appliances – within the reach of many more consumers.

Neither have manufacturers been slow to keep up with developments in “connected home” technology, with consumers now able to access online recipes and link directly to the oven, monitor and control cooking processes via an app, and remotely programme the coffee machine to produce the perfect individualised brew.

What’s cooking?

With so much on offer in a sector that is rich in innovation and choice, we asked manufacturers for their views on current trends, future direction and the products that will get customers excited.

AEG UK & Ireland’s Head of Product Line Kitchen, Sophie Davidson, highlights the brand’s “Matt Black” collection, introduced at KBB before the lockdown this year. The “design-focused” collection becomes part of AEG’s Mastery Range, with Matte finishes “emerging as an exciting new trend across the kitchen and showroom landscape,” and providing an “ideal choice for those looking to create a sophisticated sleek kitchen environment.”  The collection includes the AEG SteamPro Oven and integrated coffee machine.

For Maurizio Severgnini, MD of Bertazzoni UK & Ireland, it’s important to keep meeting the twin demands of aesthetics and performance with “the kitchen now being both a social and functional space,” and he emphasises the need for “a variety of designs and styles, allowing consumers to express themselves whilst creating a matching kitchen suite that makes an impact.” The company’s products include both range cookers – he cites the Professional Range that offers “the latest technology such as touch controls, preloaded programmes and sensor-based cooking” alongside a choice of automotive colours – and built-in, where the demand is for such technologies as “Flex Cooking Areas and integrated appliances, which are more often found in the built-in arena, explaining its popularity.” Bertazzoni offers “both full steam and steam assist options combined with pyrolytic cleaning.”

Hisense UK marketing manager Nick Fletcher says that “within the built-in cooking appliance market there is a definite movement towards purchasing decisions led by stylistic choices – built-in appliances must complement the spaces they inhabit and therefore aesthetics become even more important.”  But he also acknowledges that “products that make everyday life that little bit easier are very attractive to shoppers.” He cites pyrolytic self-cleaning as an important feature that “helps bring more joy to cooking by making the clean up after simpler than ever,” and features such as Even Bake, “modelled around traditional cooking methods and ovens to take the pressure off by providing excellent results every time.”

Style and performance

“Built-in cooking appliances with automatic recipe programmes are a key trend”

Catherine Balderson, senior Hotpoint brand manager, extols the virtues of built-in appliances, “beneficial for releasing space in the kitchen as microwave ovens and coffee machines can all be built-in, clearing the worktop of clutter and generating a stylish, contemporary appearance.” Performance cannot be neglected, though, and

She cites as important not only pyrolytic cleaning but “an integrated system of advanced technologies and innovations, which ensure perfect cooking results every time.” As with other manufacturers, she also identifies steam cooking as “another hot trend for 2020. Steam,” she asserts, “is one of the tastiest and healthiest cooking methods available to consumers, and this has led to a significant increase in the popularity of steam ovens.”

According to Indesit brand manager Sara Bazeley, “kitchens that feature built-in appliances are increasingly popular with consumers, making them a key trend in major appliances. Built-in appliances not only have an aesthetically pleasing look, and the flexibility to offer a variety of design combinations, they are also highly practical as they release vital worktop and under counter space. In terms of technology, built-in cooking appliances with automatic recipe programmes are a key trend. Research states that only 22 per cent of British consumers feel they have great knowledge of, and experience with, food and cooking, and that 27 per cent of millennials have little interest in learning how to cook. In addition, with an increasingly ageing population, simplicity and ease of use of appliances are critical to the overall success of the category.”

Indesit Aria induction hob: part of a technology revolution that’s changing the face of UK kitchens

Extending the range

As with many manufacturers, Iskender Diker, director of sales & marketing for Rangemaster appliances, is keen to highlight the continued strength of range cooker sales in an increasingly built-in world and to point out that their traditional appeal has been augmented by the addition of up-to-the-minute technologies. “Range cookers have enjoyed decades of popularity as a multifunctional appliance that can bake, roast, griddle, and much more,” he says, but argues that the addition of features such as steam “take the culinary possibilities one step further,” citing Rangemaster’s own innovative NEXUS Steam feature.

Smeg, a brand with a presence across cooking, food preparation and coffee makers, is an advocate of strong, integrated design across its ranges. UK & Ireland product manager Laura Jones  tells us that the built-in sector is “attractive and relatively dynamic,” driven by “a surge in demand for high-tech appliances with features inspired by those in professional kitchens,” allied to the preference for “sleek and multifunctional cooking appliances.” She cites the Dolce Stil Novo collection  as an example of manufacturers’ response to the need for high function allied to integrated design. The range includes 60cm and 45cm ovens, a blast chiller, multi-functional drawers including sous vide capability, has hobs, hoods, wine cellars and coffee machines, offering a matching array of professional cooking facilities for the home. She also acknowledges the continuing popularity of range cookers, and adds: “These appliances are always attention grabbers and consumers now want more from them, demanding the same functionality as you would find in any modern oven, so while the styling in many cases might be retro, the technology certainly is not.”

Bertazzoni Heritage Series Range Cooker: Traditional appeal but with modern technology and colour choices

“Importantly, it is essential that the appliance does the ‘thinking’ too”

A final comment from Charmaine Warner, Brand Manager at Whirlpool, encapsulates the benefits of a technology whose time has clearly come, and whose price points have made it accessible across a broad range of consumers: “We are living in a fast-changing world, where people are increasingly dependent on technology to make tasks easier and life more convenient. Induction hobs are perfect to do just that, especially as they are almost twice as fast, and very efficient compared to ceramic or gas equivalents.” She also emphasises that, while style is always a powerful priority, technology is equally essential: “Multi-function ovens now offer even more technology and features than ever before, to make life easier for the consumer in the kitchen. Importantly, it is essential that the appliance does the ‘thinking’ too, monitoring, adapting and controlling the processes to ensure that the consumer attains excellent results when cooking, with minimal effort.”

It may not be easy to find positives in our industry at this time, but for retailers looking for a great story to tell to a receptive customer base – from entry level to premium – cooking, food preparation and coffee making has all the ingredients.

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