As consumers become more knowledgeable about appliances and the features they offer, designers are working harder to ensure that they are choosing the best options to meet the needs of their clients. But regardless of style or price point, today’s cooking appliances must offer up a great look, high performance and features that enhance the cooking experience for the homeowner, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
When it comes to essential features, control and performance are key, says Michele Bedard, v.p./marketing for Sub-Zero/Wolf, Inc. in Madison, WI. “It’s not a new trend, it’s just something that continues, that we need to deliver really high performance at a fair price and impeccable quality,” she says.
Paolo Bertazzoni, CEO of Bertazzoni, based in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, agrees that the end user expects their products to perform more tasks than before. “Our guide is the benefit and value for the homeowner – this is how we approach the evolution of our appliances. The main focus is how can we enhance the cooking experience and how can we innovate toward this goal.” This innovation might include a cooktop with several size burners, several power options, maybe a griddle or induction zone all in one, he says. “This layout is more in tune with what people are looking for and how they want to cook,” he says.
Malte Peters, product manager, Wall Ovens and Induction for the Bosch brand at BSH Home Appliances Corp. in Huntington Beach, CA says that a recent survey conducted on the firm’s behalf by Impulse Research found that 28 percent of consumers are staying out of the kitchen because they don’t know how to cook. The appliances and technologies available today can help solve that issue, says Peters.
He notes, “Many cooking problems in the kitchen stem from the guesswork it takes to heat a pan to the right temperature and keep it at that temperature during cooking.” Bosch’s AutoChef sensor cooking technology takes the guessing away, he states.
Technology is everywhere you turn, changing the way consumers interact with everything around them. And the newest cooking technology offers many benefits – from time savings to improved cooking results.
Zach Elkin, director of brand marketing for Thermador at BSH Home Appliances Corp., adds, “Technology in cooking appliances is allowing everyday cooks to feel like – and even become – world class cooks in their own right.” He believes that innovations like induction technology not only give cooks greater flexibility, but also showcase the types of advanced user interface features that are seen in today’s popular consumer electronics.
Bertazzoni also sees a trend toward the intuitive use of interfaces in cooking appliances. “We think homeowners are expecting a similar experience [to smart phone technology] when they operate their cooking appliances,” he says.
Rob McKechnie, new product development manager – Brand Marketing for Electrolux, with U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, NC, says, “Better control systems, multiple cooking compartments and speed solutions through convection and other technologies allow for better meal planning and execution, and better time management. All these items are increasing in interest to the consumer.”
Sue Bailey, director – Major Appliance Product Management for Greenwood, MS-based Viking Range Corp., adds, “Consumers are always interested in the most advanced technology on the market that is going to give them professional results with more efficient cooking methods.”
Some manufacturers are resisting the pull towards high-tech options, however. “La Cornue is the antithesis of modern technology,” says Anne Puricelli, director of La Cornue for North America, with U.S. headquarters in Brisbane, CA. “We’re pretty basic as far as our approach. We’ve still got a natural convection gas oven, a natural convection electric oven and that’s the way those ranges have been built for 100 years.” She adds that the firm has seen a rise in demand for the rotisserie, but it’s still on the low-tech side. “This is just a built-in wall rotisserie that’s gas powered. There are not a lot of whistles and bells. There’s a gas valve that you turn on and there’s the motor, and that’s really it. The only technique is loading the spit and what you want to cook,” she states.
Tony Dowling, business development manager for Elmira Stove Works, in Ontario, Canada says that Elmira isn’t necessarily adding the latest in high-tech features either. “Our vintage-styled appliances are nostalgic and perhaps our consumer is more focused on simplicity and aesthetics. We are finding that our customers want high-end performance, but they’re generally not concerned with the ‘latest-and-greatest’ gadget,” he notes.
Some manufacturers see style trends moving towards a desire for integration and flush applications of appliances, creating a consistent look throughout the kitchen. Others feel there is a bigger demand for something that stands out from the norm and makes a statement.
Elkin illustrates the dichotomy when he says, “Today’s kitchen designers are trending more toward appliances that stand proud and dominate a kitchen. However, at the same time, they’re also keen on centerpiece-type appliances that seem hidden. The ability to create a new kind of living space that is less kitchen and more Great Room has become very appealing.”
Puricelli, says La Cornue is seeing more cohesive cooking spaces where the range is incorporated inside a large cooking island that’s the focal point of the kitchen. “Where we might have, five years ago, seen a range and a hood, we’re seeing the range, the hood, the wall-mounted rotisserie and then a slew of cabinets in there,” she says. She attributes this “culinary architecture” to the fact that kitchens are becoming more part of the living space.
John Baldwin, product manager/Large Appliances for Fagor America Inc. in Lyndhurst, NJ says he’s been seeing an increased trend toward very clean design. “In the past we’ve seen a sort of ‘all that’s old is new again’ in the resurgence of the large pro-style range. What we see emerging now is the simplified, flat, knobless cooktops and ovens featuring more glass and simplified control panels.”
He adds that while there will always be a place in the American market for the range, he also believes design trends have edged more toward the modular layouts of separated appliances. He attributes this to the growing demand for space-efficient designs. “In these types of kitchens, designers are often looking for something to make the kitchen ‘pop,’ and generally they have been looking to the cooktop to make that happen,” he says.
Bertazzoni sees flush installation as a worldwide trend. The company recently launched a new built-in cooking suite with flush mount design. In addition, the firm has designed a molded glass handle that blends well with the surface of the glass door, creating an effect of glass rising from glass, and adding to the concept of flush installation.
A plethora of finish options are available right now, and opinions are divided about which are most in demand. McKechnie says, “There’s a continued interest in stainless steel, as well as an increase in the presence of glass-front appliances. Colors have not had a strong presence or trend in major kitchen appliances.”
Bedard sees demand for more sleek environments that will look contemporary without appearing like nobody lives there. “What we try to make sure that we follow is simplicity with a purpose,” she says.
Dowling, on the other hand, says, “We focus on chrome and color in our Northstar retro appliances.” He adds that in the past several months, his firm has seen a trend away from the super-bright colors like Candy Red, to softer, more neutral colors like Buttercup Yellow and Bisque. “Perhaps the consumer is being a bit more cautious and choosing appliances that, while they still have some color “pop” and sizzle, are a little safer in terms of longevity,” he says.
Bailey says that Viking offers a color palette with 24 finish options, and will continue to monitor color trends for future color introductions and trends. She adds, “Stainless steel continues to be extremely popular, though many consumers are choosing to modify their décor with tailored looks that integrate into kitchen cabinetry seamlessly.”
Puricelli says that La Cornue has been doing a lot of custom color, such as matching the blue of an antique pot for a client. “What we’re seeing is people trying to do something really different. Everybody’s tired of that white kitchen with the stainless range plugged into it. So we’re seeing a lot of people looking for the ‘statement piece.’”
While he believes that stainless steel is here to stay, Bertazzoni feels that there can be new interpretations to the finish. The company uses very straight lines in stainless, which give an impression of strength to the product. The firm has also blended the material with glass, placing the glass surface in a very thin, stainless trim to create a modern, elegant look.
Gone are the days when cooking was limited to traditional burners and a conventional oven. There are a wide range of products available today to change the way home cooks function.
Bedard says that induction is gaining a lot of traction as more people have the right pots and pans, and are talking more about this technique. Other specialty cooking is also on the rise, she says. “We’re launching a new convection steam cooking oven next year. It will allow consumers to do more with smaller ovens, and that seems to be very popular.”
Baldwin agrees that there has been increased interest in the induction cooking segment. “As the technology continues to gain a foothold on showroom floors, particularly in live displays, the consumer is becoming more comfortable with what the technology represents. The considerable increase in efficiency versus other cooking methods also continues to draw the green movement and LEED projects toward this technology.”
Conversely, Dowling says his firm has seen a steady increase in the popularity of convection ovens, and notes, “We get an occasional call for induction, but it is not a significant factor for us.”
Bailey also finds convection to be a popular with consumers for its time saving properties. “Convection cooking offers efficiency as it circulates hot air to bake meats, cookies, cakes and more in less time than it would take a conventional oven,” she says.
Steam is another rising trend that Elkin attributes to people looking to increase consumption of healthier foods.
Baldwin adds, “Steam ovens have been in vogue in Europe while the technology has taken a bit longer to take root in the States. Its first toe hold occurred in the western markets and it has been spreading slowly east over the past 3 years.”
Bertazzoni adds, however, that, “Steam cooking, by being so specialized, is probably destined to remain at its current boutique status rather than becoming a mainstream technology in cooking.”
The desire for healthy ways of cooking adds to the expectations consumers have for their cooking appliances. “Health and wellness always factor in,” says Baldwin. “The challenge is to pair this with the speed that is required for the five nightly dinners during the week. Traditionally, people look to things like grilling or broiling in order to prepare a healthy protein in their meals. What we are trying to do is open people’s eyes to other alternatives.”
One of the best, he says, is pressure cooking. “The pressure cooking method speeds up the cooking times, and the less time you expose food to high temperatures, the better for its nutritional value. You also have stir fry cooking which is ideal for a technology like induction. Again, it’s a quick cooking process and typically adds little fat.”
Elkin adds, “Generally speaking, cooking and eating at home tends to skew healthier, as you can control what you consume. We cater to this gourmet-healthy crowd by offering appliance innovations that are practical for this lifestyle.”
The crazy pace of life so many Americans lead drives a trend towards appliances that can do more in less time, using less energy if possible. “Cooking trends this year seem to be continuing toward the ideals of not only health but also speed,” says Baldwin. “I think this stems from the fact that many Americans are working longer hours than they have in the past. So we need meals to be prepared quickly and easily. This is achieved in one of two ways: increasing the power, or increasing the simplicity of operation. Ideally, of course, you want both.”
Peters agrees. “The most popular features have been those that maximize convenience and performance,” he says. Also important is clean-up, he adds.
McKechnie states “[Users] seek features which allow them to cook faster, or features which allow them to coordinate the completion times for dishes for better time management.”
The desire for efficiency isn’t just in the time it takes to prepare a meal – another important consideration is how much energy an appliance is using. “If you take a look at the Energy Star regulation changes in other parts of the appliance industry (washers, dryers, refrigeration, dishwashers) you see that the energy consumption of every item in the home is now under close review. This also factors into categories like ovens and cooktops even though as of now there is no energy rating system in place for these units,” says Baldwin. “This movement toward energy conservation shows no signs of slowing in due to increasing energy costs. Though it may not be the flashiest improvement to come out of the industry, it may be the most important.”