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issue: October 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
Special Events and Smart Decisions

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Consumers are finding good reasons to pay a premium for appliances.

Tim Somheil, Editor

More premium appliances are being sold in the U.S. Thank the media.
“There is huge influence from television and print. The chefs are taking over; there are popular cooking shows on TV, cable food networks and even morning variety news shows with cooking segments,” John Swenson, director of marketing for Electrolux Home Products (Augusta, Georgia, U.S.), tells APPLIANCE magazine. “With that interest, you have more participation, male and female, in home cooking.”
Home and cooking TV is not the only driving force behind the popularity of premium appliances, but it feeds into and off of the trend, and helps create certain expectations from premium kitchen appliance buyers.
“These cooks want professional results, but they also want meal preparation to be an event, as it is on a cooking program,” Swenson says.
Maybe the speed of modern life is an influence on this phenomenon. Most meals still happen in a hurry—pre-prepared, frozen or take-out. So when a homeowner does commit the time to cooking a real meal of any scale, it’s considered a special occasion.
“It may be a mini event for the family one evening or a grand event for many guests, but the event needs to represent the users’ personal sense of family and friendship,” Swenson says.
Electrolux has researched the state of the rapidly growing premium appliance segment in the U.S. In terms of appearance and styling, Electrolux found that about 60 percent of premium kitchen appliances have the heavier, all-stainless steel look that comes with commercial-style hardware and nameplates. “About 40 percent of the market is in users who want the premium performance attributes, but they don’t want their appliances to have such a dominant face in their kitchen,” Swenson explains. “These appliances have a more European look, and of course, that is our heritage. We like to talk about our products being designed in Italy, engineered in Germany and manufactured in North America.”

Seriously Stainless

Stainless steel is synonymous with the image of the premium appliance in the minds of many buyers, and stainless continues growing, as Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) shipment and research data illustrates.
AHAM reports especially big gains in stainless steel cooking appliances. In slide-in, single-oven ranges, the percentage of stainless steel units went from 9 percent for those purchased more than 5 years ago to 24 percent for units purchased in the last 4 years. Built-in single ovens went from 7 percent stainless steel to 29 percent stainless steel; built-in double ovens went from 11 percent to 40 percent. Also showing substantial increases: bottom-freezer and side-by-side refrigerators, double-oven ranges, even trash compactors and compact refrigerators.

The Success of Market Incentives

The growth in premium appliances extends beyond the gleam of stainless steel and the glamour of the kitchen, to home equipment like washers and dryers. These items don’t have the high profile of cooking appliances and using them simply doesn’t provoke the same passion. I don’t know of a single TV program dedicated to doing laundry.
Still, AHAM reports that Energy Star clothes washer shipments—with above-average energy efficiency and usually with higher prices tags—increased from 14 percent in 2002 to 32 percent in 2005. The U.S. saturation level of front load washers—again, inherently more energy efficient and expensive than standard washers—has risen to 14.5 percent.
A more important statistic is the number of purchases made that were motivated by the desire for a more energy efficient appliance, even before the previous appliance died. Five years ago this was just 11 percent of all purchases (looking at the overall category of full-size refrigerators, freezers, ranges, dishwashers, clothes washers, and clothes dryers). In the last 4 years, this segment of purchases grew to 18 percent. In built-in refrigerators AHAM data shows about 1-in-20 purchases were motivated by the desire for improved energy efficiency 5 years ago; in recent years, it grows to about 1-in-4 purchases.
The premium trend is also reflected in an increase in the number of purchases made to get an appliance with more modern features, even before the old appliance died. Five years ago, that was just 8 percent of purchases overall. In the last 4 years, it accounts for 12 percent.
These indicators bode well for the future of premium-priced appliances.
There have clearly been changes in the mindset of American consumers, who now have greater awareness of the benefits of owning highly efficient appliances—substantial-enough changes to motivate the replacement of appliances that still work.
It doesn’t hurt that the new appliances can help turn the home into a stage for some very special family events.


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