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issue: June 2007 APPLIANCE Magazine

Electric Housewares and Personal Care Appliances
Getting the Customer to Trade Up


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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

Innovations in technology and styling are used by electric housewares makers to pique consumers.

A line of personal miniappliance products from Amcor Inc. (Carlstadt, New Jersey, U.S.) was launched at the Housewares Show. The line was developed in response to market research that shows people are increasingly concerned with “personal space” and environmental well-being. Featured in the line are a Mini-USB humidifier, which plugs into a computer’s USB port, a Mini-Mystifier, an Asthma Aromizer, and a Personal Cooler AC. The $229 air conditioner (shown) was developed to reduce the size of high-performance compressor components, to offer people a “personal space” air-conditioning solution. The top of the unit (shown, inset) has a built-in handle, membrane switch controls, and timer functionality for personalizing on-off settings. Unlike larger portable AC units, the Personal Cooler does not require ducting out a window.

How do you convince consumers to replace their working toasters, coffeemakers, hair dryers, and other small electric appliances? And how do you get people to find space on their counters or in their cabinets for something new?

The answer isn’t straightforward, or every new product would be a winner. But for many electric housewares and personal care appliance makers, the use of design, technology, and color in creative ways offers promise. Not only does this draw attention to their appliance offerings, it may justify a higher price point.

Innovation is important in today’s market, suggests International Housewares Association president Phil Brandl. “We expected that 2006 would wrap up on solid sales ground, and innovative companies are budgeting for 2007 sales increases.” He added, “Innovation and creativity are the words of the day if companies want to thrive. Consumers have shown that they are willing to trade up for innovation and features they want.”

Earlier this year the best place for spotting innovation, and anything else related to electric housewares, was IHA’s International Home & Housewares Show. Most of the big names in the U.S. market, along with a plethora of smaller companies, packed Chicago’s McCormick Place. Familiar brand names such as Sunbeam, Waring, Conair, and Philips were present, but acquisitions and ownership changes have shuffled the deck. As an example, Hoover floor care products were displayed with those of Dirt Devil, a result of Hoover’s acquisition by Techtronic Industries Co. Ltd. (Hong Kong). The company was part of a significant Asian presence, reflecting growing clout in manufacturing and markets. Skipping the show altogether were big names Salton and Black & Decker, following a February merger agreement. Instead, buyers were invited to company headquarters in Lake Forest, Illinois, U.S.

Combining Functions

Jarden Consumer Solutions (Boca Raton, Florida, U.S.) has turned indoor grilling on its side with the $130 Sunbeam Rocket Grill. Vertical grilling surfaces apply pressure to quickly grill fresh and frozen foods. Disposable parchment pouches lock in moisture and flavor. The pouches channel grease and fat to the bottom of the bag and away from food. Pouches are discarded after use. The grill leaves natural grill marks on food through the pouches.

One way to catch consumers’ attention is with multipurpose appliances, or by adding capabilities to existing designs. You don’t have room for a blender and a food processor? Then why not buy the Oster Fusion? This appliance, from Jarden Consumer Solutions (Boca Raton, Florida, U.S.), merges the chopping ability of a food processor and the ice-crushing power of a blender. The machine, with a glass bowl, features a reversing motor and preprogrammed settings.

Deni/Keystone Manufacturing Company, Inc. (Buffalo, New York, U.S.), takes a different tack with its Blend-n-Grind, which quickly converts from a blender to a grinder.

As an example of added capabilities, Jarden also showed a Quick Marinator. Connected by a tube to a Food Saver vacuum sealer, the sturdy container is designed to marinate food in minutes rather than hours with the help of an applied vacuum.

Hamilton Beach/Proctor-Silex Inc. (Glen Arbor, Virginia, U.S.) is putting multifunctionality into the old standby slow cooker. The company points out that slow cookers work best when three-quarters full, and many people have space for only one slow cooker. To address the situation, the Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 Slow Cooker comes with interchangeable 2-, 4-, and 6-quart bowls. Danby Products Inc. (Findlay, Ohio, U.S.) managed to integrate three functions into one comfort conditioning appliance. It combined a HEPAlike air purifier (P), 20-pint-capacity humidifier (H), and 60-pint Energy Star–rated dehumidifier (D) into the PHD model. The portable unit works year round to improve comfort and air quality. Panasonic (Secaucus, New Jersey, U.S.) displayed a four-in-one design, incorporating a countertop oven with microwave, convection, steam, and a quartz-halogen grill. Features of this $800 combination oven include easy-to-remove water tank, stainless construction, and a control panel with pop-out dials and touch controls. It will be available in October.

 

Natural-stone mosaic is incorporated into scales from HoMedics Inc. (Commerce Township, Michigan, U.S.). Decorative scales come in a variety of surfaces, including charcoal with brushednickel accents, limestone with patterned borders (pictured), sandstone with silver accents, and stainless steel with a metallic bezel. All have a large, easy-to-read digital display.

Styling

A catchphrase used by IHA for its 2007 show was, “It’s life. Styled.” Style and good design were reflected in three days of presentations in the Design Center Theater. For housewares companies, better appearance, along with such standbys as convenience and time saving, hopefully translate into products that consumers are happy to display on their counters, and for which they are willing to pay a premium. Getting a higher price for an appliance is especially important at a time when producers are faced with high commodity, energy, and transportation costs.

Appearance and style are the essence of Pandigital’s line of digital photo frames. The company, based in Lafayette, California, U.S., introduced its largest frame, a 10.4-in. version, at the show. Because of the importance of appearance, said president Dean Finnegan, “We’ve found much more interest from consumers in the decor area than in consumer electronics.”

Despite the decorative focus of the products, launching a successful product line centered on having the right technology. “Digital frames are about five years old, but the early technology used DVD chips, which were less than ideal,” Finnegan told APPLIANCE. “We waited until improved technology was available. We wanted the frame to accept all camera cards, to be capable of plugging directly into the PC for downloads, and to incorporate internal memory—currently 128 or 256 Kb. Even with this, we’ve been able to hit an under-$100 price point with a 6-in. frame.”

Finnegan looks for a strong future market, with some 60 million households owning digital cameras. “Most of the pictures people take are never printed, and showing pictures on a computer is not always convenient. Digital picture frames offer an easy alternative.”

Besides OEMs, a few industry suppliers had a presence at the Housewares Show. Demonstrating how far modeling has come, 3D Systems Corp. (Rock Hill, South Carolina, U.S.), showed a $9900 V-Flash desktop modeler that will enable designers and engineers to imagine, design, and produce their ideas at their desks. According to Abe Reichental, president and CEO, this is “an easy-to-use, plug-and-play, economical model-maker that expedites part delivery and revolutionizes concept design as we know it.” The 25 × 26 × 27-in. modeler, to be released this summer, weighs about 100 lb, has a maximum build volume of 7 × 9 in., and is 8 in. tall.

Coatings company Ferro Corp. (Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.) demonstrated several finishes. One was its Evolution porcelain enamel (P/E), which mimics the look of stainless steel or copper. Another was its RealEase P/E hybrid nonstick coatings. The company reports that the finish meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations for 2010. “The finish is not going to degrade over time like other nonstick coatings,” commented Tom Poplar, director of marketing, porcelain enamel specialty products. “It’s cost competitive with high-end nonstick coatings.”

Color trends seen at the show included a lot of stainless, platinum, and related colors designed to blend in with the still-growing use of stainless steel in kitchens. Dark reds were also popular, and black had a large presence. Whirlpool brand KitchenAid (Benton Harbor, Michigan, U.S.), showed its Pro Line–series kitchen appliances in black. This product series, with commercial capacity and power, was earlier offered in pearl metallic and nickel pearl. “There’s a reason so many high-end products, from electronics to luxury cars, are popular in black,” observed Brian Maynard, KitchenAid brand marketing director. “There is a certain classic, premium quality to black that never goes out of style.”

Bosch (Huntington Beach, California, U.S.) incorporates stainless steel in its premium coffee machines, and black and other colors are possible in the future. The company uses some bright colors like yellow, blue, silver, and red in its fl oor care products. Its food preparation machines have traditionally been white or stainless. However, this year the company expects to introduce a red model. “We’ve been conservative with our kitchen machine colors,” noted Alisa Pospekhova, associate brand manager. “But we will be adding more colors, since there is market interest.”

Electronic sensing has turned a paper towel dispenser into an appliance. The $60 Towel-Matic from iTouchless Housewares and Products Inc. (Foster City, California, U.S.) is designed to prevent contamination and save paper. The unit is designed to work on all perforated paper towel brands, including standard full-size and new half sheets. The sensor-activated control allows one-hand operation without touching the unused sheets or the dispenser, and the towels won’t unroll. Powered by four D-size batteries or optional ac adaptor, the dispenser can be used on a tabletop, or mounted on a wall or under a cabinet.

Exotic Tourmaline

“Hair care industry trends are showing that consumers are willing to spend more money for higher-quality styling tools, thus inspiring us to create the Infiniti by Conair line of professional styling tools,” said Robin Linsley, director of marketing at Conair Corp. (Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.). Following initial success with the Infiniti Hair Designer, it introduced the Infiniti Hot Air Styler. This is intended to allow consumers with short-to-shoulder-length hair to achieve the same silky straight results as they did with its predecessor, which was designed for longer-length hair.

The $50 styler allows the consumer to straighten and dry hair at the same time, eliminating the need for a brush. The Triple Action Straightening System features two rows of combs for detangling, and two rows of flocked teeth to polish and shine. Tourmaline ceramic straightening plates have four tension settings for performance on all hair types. The company designed the appliance with ionic technology to smooth the cuticle layer while protecting hair from damage, eliminating frizz and enhancing shine.

Nanotechnology blades are a claim to fame for Panasonic’s ES8168S Vortex, a wet-dry shaver that the company says delivers the sharpest blade angles of 30 degrees. Nanotechnology particles are used to polish the blades to a finely honed cutting surface. The company’s rechargeable men’s shaver permits a 3-minute shave after just a 1-minute recharge. Full recharge takes 9 minutes.

Electric shavers were also on display at the Philips Electronics North America Corp. (New York City) booth. The company presented an array of its products in a “Philips Simplicity Home” setting. The concept recreated a home environment and integrated easy-to-use Philips lighting, home entertainment, personal care, domestic appliances, and health and wellness products that deliver advanced technology at the touch of a button.

“Through the years, Philips has focused on designing products that make things simpler. This innovative approach to technology brings life’s pleasures a little closer to the consumer,” said CEO Paul Zeven. “We believe products should be intuitive and easy to experience while providing outstanding quality and performance to help enhance everyday life.”

Sanyo Fisher Co. sees a real consumer desire to get more for their money, with appliances that are multifunctional. The 3-in-1 Electric Multi-Cooker, Model HPS-MC3, was designed to meet that need. With a nonstick, titanium-coated grill plate, the $110 appliance allows home cooks to prepare a variety of different grilled dishes easily and with quick cleanup. A steaming tray is used for vegetables and other healthful foods such as fish. The 4.5-qt nonstick pot can accommodate soups and stews for the whole family, and can be used to make pancakes and crepes. The steam tray and grill plate nest in the pot for compact storage. A quick-release magnetic plug and cool-touch handles are included for safety.

Charging Electronics

Electronics and sensors continue to gain ground as costs decline and the technology advances. Even some lower-cost “me-too” products are getting away from electromechanical controls in an effort to add perceived value. Higher-end products are sometimes including color touch screens and iPod-like controls, which can enhance both performance and appearance.

Electronics need to offer people real and relevant benefits, observed Richard Hoare, innovation director at Breville, Housewares International Ltd. (Bounty, New South Wales, Australia). “We are very aware of how electronics can be a negative for consumers, adding more complexity than usability. We all know the problem with programming a VCR. When we use electronics it’s to either give more information—perhaps through a simple intuitive display—or to perform a complex function in the background, which gives a better result or performance. Either way, the complexity is hidden from the consumer. They only see the benefit.”

Voice recognition technology may provide a benefit because it has advanced both in accuracy and price in recent years. Galanz, a China-based company that reportedly manufactures half the world’s microwave ovens, demonstrated a model with voice recognition. The embedded speech technology came from Sensory Inc. (Sunnyvale, California, U.S.). Targeted toward younger and more tech-savvy users, a speech-enabled microwave oven offers convenience with preprogrammed settings for common foods, and also allows custom settings that can be memorized and recalled with a simple spoken command.

“Consumers are always looking for added features in their appliances,” said Travis Kirwan, senior vice president of Galanz (North America) Inc. (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada). The speech recognition chip “enables us to offer ease of use and adds value at a very low cost to the consumer.” The microwave oven is being marketed under the Galanz and Sylvania names.

Coffee (and tea) makers were all the rage at the 2007 International Home & Housewares Show. More than a few espresso machines targeted the high end of the market. This $2900 Primea Cappuccino Touch Plus model, from Saeco U.S.A. (Glenwillow, Ohio, U.S.) was designed and created in a joint effort between BMW Group Design Works U.S.A. and Saeco International Group. It automatically grinds the right amount of coffee and tamps, brews, and dispenses the used grounds into an internal dreg drawer, all at the touch of an icon. The system allows an infinite variety of coffee drinks at the twist of a dial. Insta Steam technology eliminates the normal waiting time between brewing coffee and steam output. The machine has two separate boilers, which allows it to simultaneously froth milk and brew espresso. Even nanotechnology is included, in the form of a silver-ion coating that inhibits milk from building up on the internal tubes and pipes.

Healthful Living

Products that are said to promote better health continue to appear in various guises. Indoor grills, popularized by Salton’s George Foreman grills, were not uncommon at the Housewares show. Rice cookers, which can steam food as well, also appeared in new models. Sanyo Home Appliance (Chatsworth, California, U.S.) showed a model with two inner pots and two inner lids, one set for rice and steaming and the other for slow cooking.

“Rice cookers continue to gain in popularity as many people adopt healthier eating habits,” reported Richard Miller, Sanyo vice president of sales and marketing. “With these new features and increasing functionality, we are expanding the horizon of a rice cooker beyond just rice. Now an entire healthy meal can be cooked with one appliance while keeping the flavor of the various foods separate and distinct from each other.”

Antibacterial products were popular. Tersano Inc. (St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada) showed its Lotus sanitizing system, which infuses water in a spray bottle with ozone. Zadro Products Inc. (Huntington Beach, California, U.S.), exhibited its Nano UV disinfection light. Shaped like a cell phone, it is an easy and fast way to disinfect computer keyboards, phones, toilet seats, shoes, and other items. Speaking of UV, for those concerned about outdoors exposure, Oregon Scientific (Tualatin, Oregon, U.S.) showed a takeanywhere UV detector.

Don’t want to spread germs in the first place? Sensors can help. Trash cans from several companies will lift their lids when they sense a hand or foot nearby. Users can trigger water from a faucet with a screw-on automatic sensor adaptor. Torrance, California–based simplehuman showed a touch-free sensor soap pump. With sensors, a whole range of nonelectrical products can become small appliances.

What’s the outlook for the electric housewares industry? Granted, it faces challenges such as high commodity and energy prices, industry (and retail) consolidation, and a slow housing market. Overall, though, shipments are reported to be solid. As long as companies continue to invest in innovation, and more consumers are willing to “trade up” for quality, there will continue to be reason for optimism.

 

 

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