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issue: June 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Cooking Appliances
Cooking Up New Innovations


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by Tina Grady, Managing Editor

The cooking sector of the appliance industry is heating up with innovative entrants into the marketplace, the popularity of customization, and the continued growth of the outdoor kitchen.


The Preference® 36-in All-Gas Cooktop from DACOR (Diamond Bar, CA, U.S.) features two new SimmerSear™ burners that range from 18,000 to 500 BTUs (pictured) and 12,500 to 400 BTUs.

The cooking segment of the appliance industry during the past few years has seen growth as manufacturers continue to incorporate new technologies into their cooking appliances. The continued growth and popularity of industry trade shows such as the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association Expo (HPBA) and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (K/BIS), both of which focus on cooking appliances, bear out these trends. Both conventions this year saw incredible growth in attendance and exhibitors, reaching record numbers.

This helps confirm that not only is the cooking segment of the appliance industry growing, but that there are more innovations being developed that appliance makers want to tout.

This continued innovation coupled with economic recovery may be responsible for growth in this segment of the appliance industry. Some say these factors have served as the impetus for many consumers to try to create an atmosphere geared more toward entertaining so there is no need to leave the home.

Part of this entertaining is cooking, which means there is also an increased demand for the cooking appliances. This is where many of the technologically advanced cooking appliances come in—as well as the outdoor kitchen, which has grown in popularity and become part of an entire outdoor living room.
“The whole outdoor room has really opened up opportunities,” confirms Leslie Wheeler, director of Communications for the HPBA, the official sponsor of the HPBA Expo.

Many industry analysts and manufacturers also attribute growth to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and the conflicts that have occurred around the world during the past few years. “Since 9/11, there has been endless talk of nesting, cocooning, and now, ‘hiving’ or ‘connecting,’” Donna Meyers, spokeswoman for the HPBA Expo, said in a written statement. “Whatever the terminology, the bottom line is that more people than ever before are spending time with family and friends in the comfort and safety of their own homes and backyards.”

Centering on the Kitchen

This additional time spent cooking and entertaining inside the home has spurred consumers to want new and improved cooking appliances. Sharp Electronics Corporation (Mahwah, NJ, U.S.) has adeptly timed its entrance into the major appliance marketplace with this opportunity.

While Sharp has been a player in the appliance industry and is noted for its microwaves, at this year’s K/BIS, held April 2-4 in Chicago, IL, U.S., Sharp announced that it is forging ahead into the major appliances category with the introduction of a new range.

“We have been a major player in the microwave industry,” Joy Weis Daniel, associate director of Product Development, Microwave Oven Department, Sharp, tells APPLIANCE. “We entered the major appliances category to meet the demand of the marketplace and remain a viable business for our stakeholders. We also have a long history of being associated with cooking appliances and have always enjoyed a reputation for microwave ovens that cook very well. With that background, we thought it was logical to parlay our cooking experience and move into the major appliance industry.”

Sharp introduced the Sharp Insight™ Range with Microwave Drawer, which the company says is the first of its kind. The Insight Range combines a smooth cooktop, conventional or convection oven, and the Microwave Drawer, and is available in standard 30-in wide freestanding or slide-in models. Its Microwave Drawer has an output power of 1,000 W with a capacity of 1 cu ft and a liquid crystal display (LCD) touch screen that provides users with step-by-step instructions, convection time conversions, and cooking tips.

The range incorporates Sharp’s sensor cooking technology for microwave cooking or reheating, and select models are equipped with “true” European-type High Velocity Convection™, which reportedly provides even heat and consistent temperature for faster cooking. It is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2004.

The range has all front-mounted controls as opposed to the typical back-mounted controls. “We decided even though it is easier to put them in the back because the connections would be at the wall, when you look at the lifestyle of people using the appliance, we decided front-mounted controls would be better,” Ms. Daniel explains. “We look not just at the appliance, but how it’s being used,” she says. This is important for all appliance makers to note, she adds, especially with cooking appliances, where customization is more common and where people are investing heavily.

This is another reason why, Ms. Daniel says, Sharp offers extensive built-in kits and applications with its microwave ovens. “You can have in-wall models, over-the range, etc. in any color you want and in any style you want,” she says.

Sharp has also introduced the R-2120J and R-2110J models of its 2.1-cu-ft Smart Carousel® Over-the-Range microwaves, which were the largest of this kind while being developed, but are now only second to Panasonic’s 2.2-cu ft microwave, according to Ms. Daniel. Both over-the-range Sharp models are sans turntables, but reportedly offer the same type of even cooking offered in models with a turntable. Ms. Daniel attributes this to the unique heating distribution system used below the floor of the microwave. The system, she says, is a combination of a very large antenna and two specialized types of stirrer fans. “All three components work in conjunction with each other to distribute the microwave heating,” Ms. Daniel says. The distribution system is currently patent pending.

“We think the kitchen with its accompanying family room are and will continue to be the hub of the home,” Ms. Daniel notes. “We believe that people will continue to spend money to update the kitchen because of the amount of time they spend in it. As our younger generations move into creating homes, I believe that it is going to be more important than ever to provide easy-to-use appliances with built-in information.”

Salton Inc.’s (Lake Forest, IL, U.S.) introduction of the Beyond Connected Home product line, a group of networked home products primarily focused in the kitchen, corroborates Ms. Daniel’s observation. Included in Salton’s Beyond line is the Beyond Microwave, which according to the company, cooks food evenly each time the microwave is used by swiping the barcode found on food packaging. The microwave comes programmed with 4,000 barcode settings in its memory and updates itself with several thousand additional settings when networked with the Home Hub, Salton’s control center for its connected appliance line. Users may also add their own UPCs and program cooking times.

“People today face increasingly demanding schedules, and these products are designed with that in mind,” Bob Lamson, managing director of the Beyond product line for Salton, observes. “Contemporary families want life at home to be less complicated so they can focus on the people and things that really matter.”

That’s exactly why the Home Appliance Division of LG Electronics (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, U.S.) says it developed its new microwave combination products—the Combination Radio and Microwave Oven, the Combination Toaster and Microwave Ovens (LTM9000ST, LTM9000W, and LTM9000B), and the LG Glide & Cook microwave ovens (LMVM1945S and LMVM1955S).

The Combination Radio and Microwave Oven, which, at press time, was slated to be available in May 2004, is a 1.2-cu-ft microwave oven, an FM radio, and a voice recorder with playback options. Some of the appliance’s features include 1,100 W of power, a 1.2-cu-ft cavity, a four-digit, two-color LED display, a microphone for voice recording, an FM Radio with tuner/auto scan buttons and volume dial, and nine auto-cook food categories.

“The kitchen tends to be the first room family members come to when they get home from work or school or running errands. With this in mind, we developed an easy and convenient way for them to stay in touch, to leave reminders for one another, or even to leave detailed instructions about what’s for dinner and how to get it started,” Simon Kang, president, Home Appliance Division, LG Electronics U.S.A. Inc., said in an announcement about the new combo products.

 

The Traeger Wood Pellet Grill from Traeger Industries (Mt. Angel, OR, U.S.) works by having an auger that automatically feeds hardwood pellets from the pellet hopper into the fire pot. Air is added via a draft fan, which helps the pellets combust in the firepot, similar to a mini-forge. Wood heat rises up and surrounds the food. A microprocessor control board regulates the speed at which the auger operates. There are three switch settings on Traeger’s standard control—high, medium, and smoke. Pictured are the company’s pig-shaped and Texas long-horned steer grills, two of many customized, novelty grills that Traeger offers.
 

Cooking and Customization

According to high-end appliance maker Wolf Appliance Company (Madison, WI, U.S.), customization is another trend growing out of families spending more time at home. As a result, the company has introduced upgraded gas cooktops and two unframed electric cooktop models, the latter of which allow consumers more flexibility, says Paul Leuthe, corporate marketing manager and Product Development Committee member for Sub-Zero Freezer Company/Wolf Appliance Company. Wolf introduced its CT30EU and CT36EU unframed electric cooktops at the K/BIS show this year. The cooktop is flush-mounted and has no metal frame so it “can sink right in wherever you put it,” Mr. Leuthe says. “We changed some of the design elements to ensure it was insulated properly and made sure there were no conflicting issues in regards to heat.”

The 30-in unframed electric cooktop is black ceramic and has four ribbon-type radiant heating elements with six temperature zones, including one with a maximum power of 2,200 W on the outer ring and 750 W on the inner ring, and the other with a maximum power of 1,900 W on the outer ring and 950 W on the inner ring. The 36-in model contains five heating elements with eight zones, which include a triple-zone element with a maximum power of 2,700 W on the outer ring, 2,200 W on the middle ring, and 1,050 W on the inner ring. The model has a dual-zone element maximum power of 2,200 W on the outer ring, 750 W on the inner ring, and three single-zone elements with a power maximum of 1,800 W, 1,500 W, and 1,200 W, respectively.

Bill Beer, president of Maytag Appliances (Newton, IA, U.S.), recognizes a demand for personalization. He says that people want their appliances and the environment in which the appliances are being used specifically tailored to meet their needs because they want performance. This is especially true when it comes to cooking appliances, he says.

“Performance is important in cooking,” Mr. Beer tells APPLIANCE. “Unlike with a refrigerator, there is a product that comes out of using cooking appliances, and it is usually the user serving the product to other people.” That’s why Maytag has introduced its Jenn-Air brand JDR8895AS 30-in dual-fuel, slide-in, double oven. The freestanding model, which was introduced at K/BIS and will be on the market in Fall 2004, has gas fuel on top and is electric below. The pastry oven, one of the two double ovens, is 1.2 cu ft and was developed to heat up in one-half the time of a standard-sized oven to warm breads and pastries.

Having an option such as this is “critically important,” says Mr. Beer, because consumers want choices. “Traditional cooking meant a 30-in range in a kitchen,” he says. “Now there are various types of ranges and ovens. People want to customize—to be able to mix and match. Some may have one wall oven and two cooktops or just one cooktop and double ovens.”

The oven also has a commercial look to it, again part of the customization trend, Mr. Beer says. “Some people want the commercial look in household appliances because they get the feeling they are cooking on the same range as the great chefs of the world,” he notes. “This makes people feel like professional cooks, and cooking really is a reflection of yourself. Just look at all of the ‘foodies.’”

The Over-the Range ProGourmet™ Oven from Samsung Electronics (Ridgefield Park, NJ, U.S.) is a non-standard microwave that uses five independent heat sources in varying combination—microwave (950 W), convection (700 W and 1,600 W), and brown (450 W and 900 W).

It also has 100 pre-programmed cooking modes for commonly prepared foods. Jeff Armstong, product planning manager, Samsung Home Appliances, tells APPLIANCE, “The ProGourmet is for people that want to get the best cooking performance possible but still get meals in under 30 min.”

In addition to customization, consumers are also demanding the best in performance from their cooking appliances. This trend is driving BSH Home Appliances (Huntington Beach, CA, U.S.), a division of German-based BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH. The company has just introduced its Bosch brand 30-in freestanding convection range with the PowerSim™ burner. The appliance has core platforms in gas (HGS200), electric (HES200), and dual-fuel (HDS200). The new line marks the company’s entry into the freestanding range category. Franz J. Bosshard, BSH Home Appliances president and CEO, says the company’s goal in creating the Bosch Freestanding Convection Range was to fill a gap in the U.S. appliance market. The 30-in electric range, which was previewed in January at this year’s International Builder’s Show in Las Vegas, NV, U.S. but officially launched at K/BIS 2004, uses “true” European convection, which means the heating element is outside the unit and pumps the air used for the heat to cook inside. A third heating element is located in the back wall of the oven with a fan circulating heated air in the oven cavity to speed cooking and provide even cooking throughout the oven.

“This means you are able to cook an entire meal and not transfer odor or taste from one item to the next,” explains Pete Mackin, national director, North American distributor sales for Bosch. Select models also feature warming drawers and extension racks.

On the electric range, Bosch also incorporates its Touch & Turn™ oven control, which uses the mTwisT™ technology. The removeable dial, which is held in place by a magnet under the ceramic glass on the cooktop, is the central command area for the cooktop. A user selects the desired element on the touch-through-glass panel, and by rotating the dial, the appropriate power level is set. A second element may be selected and again set with the single-touch rotating touch and turn of the dial.

One aspect of the new Bosch range is its PowerSim™ simmer feature. Although every gas burner on the range is capable of providing heat up to 1,500 BTUs, the simmer function can go down to 400 BTUs. “You can melt a stick of butter on an ordinary paper plate on the PowerSim burner and leave it there for hours without scorching the plate or the burner,” Mr. Mackin points out. “Because of the mushroom-shaped burner cap, the burner flame doesn’t touch the plate.” Essentially, the flame turns itself on and off to keep the temperature low, he explains.

 

The Reveo from Eastman Outdoor (Flushing, MI, U.S.) brings a new category into the cooking industry. The marinator uses a MariVac™ Pump, which is said to the highest-powered vacuum pump for at-home marination. The internal pump works by pulling out the air from the barrel and stretching the foods products’ fibers to allow marinade penetration.

According to Eastman, an entire chicken can be marinated in 20 min. The device also contains a pressure dial, a valve that keeps out pressure, on the marinator’s barrel. The barrel itself rolls and its agitation, in conjunction with the built-in paddles, tenderizes the food and is said to help knead in more flavor. The device, which will be available in July 2004, also contains an automatic timer.

 

Outdoor Cooking and Living

Another trend affecting the cooking appliance segment is low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets such as the Atkins Diet and The South Beach Diet. Some believe that if these eating habits remain popular, the outdoor appliance makers, particularly grill manufacturers, may be able to capitalize on this trend. “Consumers on the low-carb diets do add to the market because they are mostly cooking meats and can do so on the grill,” says Mike Kempster, executive vice president for Weber-Stephen Products Co. (Palatine, IL, U.S.). The meat-heavy diets of consumers following the fad may help boost grill shipments, which were down last year, he says.

The barbecue industry is expecting to return to its past numbers and achieve 14 million-pus grill shipments a year in 2004 after a slight drop last year, Ms. Meyers of HPBA says. Household ownership of barbecue grills is already at 72 percent, indicating that despite the slight dip from previous years, grills are still seeing healthy sales and shipments, according to the HPBA.

Mr. Kempster says he can attest to this—Weber-Stephen has seen double digit increases in its sales from this time last year. Although the diet trends could be a part of this, he also credits an increase in consumer confidence for the increase in sales. “Last year, the [U.S.] war [with Iraq] was just starting,” Mr. Kempster remarks. “People were glued to the TV, and it hurt sales. This was at the beginning of the grilling season.

“Also, it had just come out of one of the wettest, coldest springs on the [U.S.] Eastern Seaboard. This was reflected in sales,” he continues. Mr. Kempster predicts, however, that the slump has begun to see an upturn, and he expects this will continue.

In tandem with the upturn, the outdoor rooms have gained even more popularity since their advent a few years back, and this is helping the grilling and outdoor cooking industry, say Mr. Kempster and others in the industry. According to Weber’s Outdoor Room Tracking Study, Americans are increasingly adding outdoor living spaces designed around entertaining, and more than half of the grill owners who responded to the study have an outdoor room and plan to upgrade the cooking and dining areas of their yards.

In addition, the study showed that 50 percent of people who own grills use them year-round. “Appliances such as sinks and cabinets, which are typically thought of for the indoors, are moving outside,” Mr. Kempster notes. “With the rise of the outdoor room, I think people will spend more time outdoors and put more money into outdoor appliances. The traditional barbecue season will change, too.”

Christina Schroeder, vice president of Marketing for Weber, says now that there are so many types of grills, including infrared, gas, charcoal, liquid propane, convection, and conventional, outdoor cooking is also changing. “There used to be grills that came with only three settings; now they have many controls and technologies,” she says. “This gives people the opportunity to do more than just [the typical] backyard fare. You can do cakes and pies on the grills now—you can even cook a turkey on it.”

Weber-Stephen and others are capitalizing on this opportunity. Weber-Stephen has just introduced its Summit Gold Built-in Series, with grills that feature between four- to six-burner units that allow users to prepare corn or other side dishes while grilling at the same time. The series also allows installers to build features around the grills, such as countertop space.

Although there are several built-in grills on the market, Mr. Kempster says that his company’s appliance is unique because if it needs to be serviced, the grill is able to do a 360-degree rotation so all sides of the grill can be accessed. The inaccessibility of grill components is often a problem in built-in grills, he says. Additionally, if installing outdoor cabinetry, a space may just be left and only a single gas connection would be needed for operation. “We’re the first to do it this way,” Mr. Kempster claims. “Our R&D department followed around a team of installers and watched to see what were the challenges of built-ins.”

Viking Range Corporation (Greenwood, MS, U.S.) has expanded its outdoor cooking line with its new 24-in wide gas outdoor oven. The appliance provides airflow baking and is able to be built into an enclosure. According to Viking, the oven/grill provides a complete outdoor range. “These new cooking products really round out the ‘Viking outdoor kitchen’ concept, says Dave Decker, Viking vice president of Culinary Products and Business Development. The intent of the range was to provide the ability for an entire meal to be prepared outdoors “without endless trips back into the home,” he explains.

The range has grilling, surface cooking, and baking capabilities. The oven has three heavy-duty racks with four positions, and an optional 53-in wide cart offers two storage drawers and front pullout access for a liquid propane (LP) tank. At press time, the appliance and cart were projected to be available in the second quarter of 2004.

In addition to its outdoor cooking range, Viking has made other introductions. The company’s Outdoor Electric Smoker is a 120-V thermal convection oven that features louvered sidewalls that are said to produce balanced oven heat and a plenum system that mixes heat, water vapor, and smoke. It is scheduled to be released in the second quarter of 2004. Viking has also introduced the C4™Outdoor Cooker (Charcoal Ceramic Cooking Capsule), which has a large cooking surface and ceramic interior to provide heat retention, a thermometer in the canopy, and dampers at the bottom and top of the grill that control the air that flows throughout the grill. The cooker is now available.

Fire Stone Home Products (Bloomington, MN, U.S.), a new player to outdoor cooking, is also capitalizing on the growth of the outdoor cooking segment. The company, which was founded this year by Dan Shimek, former co-founder of Heat-N-Glo™, has developed The Legacy Convection Range. The range was unveiled at the HPBA Expo and features the HeatXchange™ patented movable burner system, built-in searing plates, and the Grill Tech™ electronic monitoring system that tracks the cooking process and signals users when the food is done. The LG24i and the LG36i gas-fueled convection ranges, at press time, were expected to be available in June 2004.

Stainless steel cabinets to go with the ranges are also expected to be made available in Summer 2004, according to Fire Stone. The company is also planning for a warming drawer that will take the energy from the grill contained within the range and circulate into the warming drawer. There are also plans to add a refrigerated section to store the marinades, meat, or vegetables to be prepared. The refrigerated portion will reportedly work for 2 months off the gas used for the range’s grill.

According to John F. Lyle, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Fire Stone, these bells and whistles are being added because there is a need for more features.

Mr. Lyle attributes this not only to increased entertaining in home but also because “there is a huge transference of wealth right now from the Baby Boomers,” he says. “There is a lot of wealth changing hands. Some of the Baby Boomers may be getting inheritances from their parents, and many of the Baby Boomers’ kids are out of college now or about to get out of college. This transference of wealth and the events of Sept. 11 have produced many people wanting to spend more time at home. We are seeing people wanting to invest in their most important asset—their home.

“This is becoming the time in their lives where they can enjoy the fruits of what they have been able to accomplish,” Mr. Lyle continues. And this, he says, is good news for indoor and outdoor cooking appliance makers. “After all,” he concludes, “just like Dorothy said in the Land of Oz, ‘there is no place like home.’ This holds more true now than ever.”

 

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