Personalized Upgrades

Time spent at home has generated demand for appliances that are tailored to the specific needs of homeowners and their families.

authors Elizabeth Richards | September 24, 2020

The appliance market has held steady during the pandemic, in large part due to the fact that so many people are cooking at home far more often than they used to. Appliances are being added or upgraded, and it’s important that they offer exactly the features consumers are looking for to truly feel comfortable in their kitchens.

Currently, manufacturers say, appliance trends haven’t shifted significantly, but demand continues to grow for personalized options that are flexible and creative, allowing for experimentation in the kitchen.

People are spending more time in the kitchen than ever and are getting creative, looking to up their culinary game, says Zach Elkin, general manager for Signature Kitchen Suite in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. “We’re continuing to hear from our designer partners that their clients are seeking advanced culinary features that help them achieve professional-level gourmet results at home. There’s increased demand for dual-fuel appliances, with convection and induction cooking on the rise. These types of innovations are bringing even more approachable, yet advanced, cooking methods to the home kitchen,” he reports.

Functionality is another top concern for appliances. “Now, more than ever, it’s essential that appliances deliver for consumers when it comes to quality, performance and reliability,” states Anja Prescher, director of brand marketing at Bosch Home Appliances in Irvine, CA.

“People seem to be looking for small conveniences, little luxuries and dependability,” adds Peter Weedfald, senior v.p. of sales and marketing at Sharp Home Electronics Company of America (SHCA), based in Montvale, NJ.

Connected appliances are on the rise as well. “Smart appliances have been steadily infiltrating the market over the past few years, with new technology, smartphone apps and Wi-Fi connectivity. As kitchens continue to evolve, connectivity in the kitchen is becoming more prevalent,” stresses Beatriz Sandoval, director of brand marketing for Thermador in Irvine, CA.

Other trends include larger capacity for storage, features that simplify the work and a creative use of color. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Increased Demand

Though the pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on some industries, many manufacturers say the appliance market is thriving. Keeping up with demand for some products, such as freezers, can be difficult. 

“With everyone staying home, many are making planned changes to their kitchens sooner rather than later and upgrading appliances to better suit their needs and families,” notes Jonathan Barfell, senior marketing manager, North America, Refrigerators and Freezers Division at Liebherr USA, based in Newport News, VA.

Scott Kim, director of product marketing at Dacor, based in City of Industry, CA says, “The current economy has been impacting the entire world, in many cases, and the appliance industry is no exception. With many people spending more time at home, there is an uptick in the replacement market, where individual products are getting replaced more often.”

Replacement products, such as dishwashers and laundry appliances, have done well since these purchases are harder to postpone, offers Dirk Sappok, director, Product Development at Miele Inc. in Princeton, NJ. “Miele has also seen a surge in countertop coffee sales, as most consumers have not been able to get to their coffee shop but have a desire to have their favorite coffee drink,” he adds. “We also see people using the time and funds saved from not being able to go on vacations this year to invest into kitchen upgrades [and] remodels.”

True Residential is coming off the best three months it has ever had, remarks Andrew Shead, marketing manager for the O’Fallon, MO-based firm. “It’s been really positive for us because people are getting inspired and excited about their homes like they’ve never been before,” he observes.

Chelsea McClaran, brand manager for True Residential, adds that the luxury market has been fortunate compared to many lower-tier markets that have faced lack of inventory and layoffs. “If people have the means right now, a lot of them are throwing it into renovations, especially in their outdoor spaces,” she says.

“The luxury category isn’t immune to economic slowdowns, but there are reasons for optimism,” says Elkin. Before the pandemic, he notes, there was an increased interest in culinary appliances that work harder and smarter for home chefs, with advanced culinary features, multiple modalities, smart functionality and overall versatility. “Stay-at-home orders and quarantines have amplified this considerably as consumers have been living in their homes for months – all day, every day. People have been in the kitchen more than ever before – eating more at home, exploring new things, trying new recipes – and seeing day in and day out how their kitchens perform. This also means figuring how their space works – or in many cases, doesn’t work – for them and their families.”

Storage and Preservation

As the pandemic continues, manufacturers are seeing increased demand for appliances that use space wisely and offer better storage solutions for their unique needs.

“While the concept of having an extra pantry or additional storage area for nonperishable food items is not new, innovative storage solutions are seeing a spike,” says Sandoval. “With the current economy, homeowners are looking to maximize their existing spaces – such as re-designing their pantry layouts or making use of an empty nook by adding auxiliary refrigerators and freezers.”

Shead says he thinks a continued, sustained return to cooking at home will drive the conversation about increased capacity. “To be able to cook like a chef, with chef-quality equipment in their home, can be a real joy for people, and a passion and a hobby that they’re going to develop,” he says.

Customers who want to minimize their time in public have discovered a need for additional storage, he adds. Increased entertainment in the home for smaller, more manageable groups also drives demand for products that offer easy organization, such as True’s beverage column with wire shelves and a separate pull-out wine shelf with capacity to store 30 bottles of wine, Shead states. “They want a tall unit just like they have in their kitchen, but they really want it focused around entertaining,” he offers.

Keeping food fresh longer is another key demand, manufacturers say. “This year, many are working from home more than ever and not traveling. Because of that, more groceries are being purchased and we’re all cooking from home. We are seeing an increased interest in food preservation features such as BioFresh and PowerCooling that maximize the life of your groceries and save money from food waste,” Barfell says.

Prescher agrees. “Consumers are also looking for ways to maximize their groceries and minimize waste,” she offers. “A recent Bosch Home Appliances survey conducted by OnePoll found that the average American tosses $2,798 in spoiled food a year.”

Functionality and Convenience

Features that improve the functional capabilities of an appliance are popular. “Consumers want their devices to work hard for them,” stresses Elkin. “Homeowners want versatility in their kitchen. They are looking to get more from their appliances and expect more than just a traditional appliance that was once considered the standard.”

With the rise of home cooking, options are important. “Our combination ovens are very popular, due to their ability to combine the functions of multiple different appliances into a single form,” relays Kim.

“Consumers are looking for cooking appliances that are more responsive, flexible, intuitive to use and that produce chef’s quality cooking results,” remarks Sandoval. “As the Thermador consumer is especially ambitious both outside of and in the kitchen, our consumers are also looking for cooking appliances that allow for more space and flexibility in placing larger cookware on the surface.”

Reliable appliances that simplify the work are also increasingly in demand. “As consumers spend more time at home, it’s important to have appliances that perform reliably to effortlessly simplify household chores – especially when it comes to cleanup,” Prescher states. “Purposefully designed features alongside connectivity allows consumers to craft their day how they like, without worrying about chore routines becoming unraveled.”

“As a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are increasingly concerned about cleaning performance of dishwashers and clothes washers,” Sappok says. Consumers are specifically looking for sanitize cycles and other wash options that promise to remove bacteria and viruses, he says. “Machines that reach high temperatures and [feature] thorough drying options are highly sought after,” he adds.

Appliances that don’t disrupt the environment are also important, manufacturers say.  “Consumers are also looking for peace and quiet in new places and ways,” states Weedfald.

“With more time spent at home and cooking multiple meals per day, the need for a reliable and quiet dishwasher that enables consumers to physically distance from chores is at an all-time high,” continues Prescher.

Touch controls are also trending, Weedfald notes. “Knobs, switches and buttons are fading in exchange for sleek, responsive and easier-to-clean options.” The Sharp Microwave Drawer uses motion-sensor technology to open the microwave drawer oven.

Sappok adds, “More consumers are looking for a sleek, seamless kitchen design where the cabinets and appliances are not obstructed by an appliance handle.”

Smart and Connected

Technology trends continue to evolve in the kitchen and throughout the home. “The connected home continues to be at the epicenter of appliance innovation,” stresses Prescher. “When it comes to the kitchen, homeowners are looking for technology that is not only simple to use and meaningful, but also adds true value and makes daily household tasks easier.”

“In addition to the basic performance of the appliances, we have been seeing more and more people and manufacturers introduce connectivity features,” Kim adds.

Trends develop as technology improves, offers Barfell. “While it’s not for everyone, the ability to access system changes through an app – such as temperature changes and alarm systems for loss of power – have been implemented recently. These technologies are allowing people to be flexible outside of the kitchen and make cooking, preparing recipes and entertaining easier.”

The move towards connected appliances also makes the ability to analyze and diagnose service issues more common, Barfell adds. “Of course, nobody wants to have a service issue with their appliance, but if that does happen, sometimes it can be remote-accessed and solved in a matter of minutes, avoiding a service technician. This remote access can also identify and diagnose a potential issue and put preventative measures in place.”

True Residential is cautious about adding features such as screens, cameras and Wi-Fi connectivity into residential appliances, according to Shead, because of how quickly the standards for these things change. “When we do it, we want it to be really meaningful for our customer to justify the complication of our appliance,” he states.

Consumers are also cautious about IoT in the kitchen, Weedfald says. “Sharp made the responsible choice to use IoT technology and companion apps to make the features of the appliance easily known and easily accessible, even the less popular features. It is amazing how many consumers are not aware that there is a ‘power’ button on their microwave oven. Others may not have ever tried ‘auto cook’ or ‘sensor defrost.’ Tasks that may seem challenging to perform from the control panel are simple and easy to do using the app.”

Colorful Customization

Stainless appliances will always be on top, manufacturers believe, but homeowners are also experimenting with unique options for personalizing their space.

“Currently, the major trend in appliances still continues to be the introduction of new colors into the kitchen and the incorporation of these new colors into kitchen designs,” says Kim. “Through ‘Personalize with Dacor,’ customers have the ability to tailor colors, knobs and handles to create a bespoke aesthetic that caters to their own individualized style.”

“There is a movement toward a more customized and unique kitchen, so appliance manufacturers are offering custom colors and mix-and-match materials for a totally personalized and unique style,” Barfell notes.

Shead emphasizes that the trend is for more color in the kitchen. By adding custom color and finishes, the fridge becomes a feature, he states, and the company has had a lot of interest in some of its bolder options. “That’s exciting to see,” he tells. “It really gives designers something new to work with.”

Second homes are where customers are often making these bolder choices, McClaran adds. Customizing undercounter refrigerators has also been big, since people who love the idea of a colored appliance but aren’t quite ready to shift away from stainless in the full-sized refrigerator are more willing to experiment on the undercounter models, she says.

“Blue is a striking and iconic color – in fact, Pantone named Classic Blue as the 2020 Color of the Year,” says Sandoval. “The chic pigment is also popping up more and more in designs – from custom cabinetry to stylish accessories in the form of range knobs and cookware.”  Thermador’s new custom metallic blue knobs allow consumers to add a personal touch that will bring the artistic allure to the kitchen, she states.

Sappok says that the growing popularity of the color gray in the kitchen for cabinets, countertops, floors and walls has led to an increased interest in gray appliances. “These offer the ability to blend into the overall kitchen instead of standing out like traditional stainless steel appliances,” he stresses. ▪

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