Nobody in the appliance industry and, maybe in any other doubts the importance of trade fairs. They might look old fashioned in the days of the internet-of-things, but despite all the well-known troubles we still get together as an industry. In Europe, there are three main fairs: the largest is IFA Berlin, in September, where white and brown goods are combined, as well as computing and mobile telephones. Then there is Milan, Salone del Mobile or Furniture Fair (April), which is a furniture fair including kitchens and built-in appliances. Third is Cologne, IMM, which covers the same products, but earlier in January. As one can expect, the German fairs focus on German manufacturers; in Milan everybody is present. Sadly for Cologne and Berlin the Italians tend to stay away from Germany. So if you want a complete overview you have to attend Milan. And then there is an in-between press event from IFA Berlin, in April, where press representatives are invited from all over the world in a sunny Mediterranean location, this year Sardinia (Italy). Because of the date, the news is limited, so there is more room for background information and trends.
As a simple blogger cannot visit all these fairs, so today’s report is about Cologne and the IFA event in Sardinia.
Of course the most interesting aspect of visiting multiple fairs is the way the trends develop.
And what are the trends? Both events were dominated by Miele, the world’s premium mass manufacturer. For them 2013 is definitely a more year. In Cologne, they introduced a complete new built-in line, Generation 6000, and everybody was stunned. There are about 200 new models makes. It is the largest European product innovation in recent years. But how do you get to 200? The math is easy. You take two design styles, four colors and five user interfaces, several functionality levels, a bunch of other novelties and presto.
So what it is about? First, there are two design styles. PureLine is the more purist and minimalistic style: the oven front is glass-only, and the aluminum handle attracts all the attention; it seems to float above the front. Miele writes that this style is for a situation where “the kitchen itself is the hero in an artistic presentation in which individual elements bow to the bigger picture by avoiding lavish detail”. In contrast, the CountourLine offers a stainless steel frame around the oven door, with the handle integrated in this frame and taking the entire width of the unit. In designer language, “this design guides the attention of the viewer towards the appliance and makes a statement”. If you compare both styles, the pretended effects clearly work, PureLine is more modest and CountourLine really stands out; the difference is clearly visible. Leave effective modern design to the Germans, who invented it, dating back to the Bauhaus style period.
In colors, a striking newcomer is Havana brown, a dark brown hue designed to match wood, stone and other natural colors in the kitchen. The other three are the traditional black/stainless steel combination, Brilliant White and the other newcomer Obsidian Black, a glass surface with great depth of color and brilliance.
Then there is the user interface issue. For the first time an appliance maker clearly explains the different UI options. There are five interface styles, starting with the top product M Touch. Here a full color touch screen allows for swipe movements. Text is presented black on a white background. And there is a search function: type “b” to search for recipes for beef. SensorTronic is the second touch UI and it is the existing menu structure, using five text lines with color graphic elements such as a keyboard. Third is DirectSensor, the same display but touch buttons instead of a menu structure. DirectControl combines a four-line display with classic rotary knobs. The entry-level interface is EasyControl: rotary knobs with a basic LCD numeric display. In microwaves, there is even a new entry-level model with the two classic knobs for power and time, clearly for users who like it the way it has always been.
Steam cooking has gotten more and more popular, and the Miele top models with motorized control panel got a new 8-inlet ports 6 on combination ovens, for better steam distribution. Additional is Moisture Plus where small bursts of steam are injected during normal oven use. It is used for proving dough, and it can add a crust to bread or meat. The function is now available on more models and works in more programming modes. Regarding these programs, one has to remember that Europe has many countries with startling differences in cooking preferences. So, more, automatic programs will be included for traditional, well-loved regional recipes from Great Britain, Switzerland and Australia. Other countries will follow.
Next to the new ovens, which will be available from May on, there were some smaller novelties. The top built-in coffee machines offer CupSensor: it adjusts automatically the height of the spout to the size of cup or glass. In refrigeration, there is FlexiLight glass-edge lighting. LED light sources, affixed to the front edge of glass shelves, illuminate each shelve separately through electrical contacts per shelve. Finally, new warming drawers got additional programs to allow not only for keeping cooked food hot and pre-heat dishes, but also for slow cooking, as they can maintain a steady temperature over an extended period of time. There are 14 and 29 cm heights in different design styles.
All this was presented in Cologne, in January. In Sardinia there was an important addition, in September Miele will present important washer news. So, your correspondent was forced to do some serious nagging on the Miele people until somebody confirmed that there will be all-new models, or as we say a new platform. Large drums, maybe even US sized, new UI, connectivity, you name it. And, on a Dutch event, there was a fun fact: the new Knock2Open dishwasher. For people who want a truly invisible dishwasher there were few options, only Italian top brand Smeg offered models without any handle. Now Miele adapted their existing motorized door opener: two knocks on the door and it opens. Great fun for families with technical inclined toddlers, and everybody else.
After all this fanfare from Miele, one could sense that others were a bit frustrated for you could never top an announcement like this. Still they tried, in Cologne as well as in Sardinia. The German brand of Swedish Electrolux is AEG, famous for its modern design. There were no big introductions, just a smaller but interesting new product: the vacuumizer. This is an existing professional appliance used mainly for meat. Many restaurants buy their meat this way. It is real a vacuumizer, not halfway as when you use cheap household versions. The meat is packaged without oxygen you can store it much longer. A perfect cooking method for vacuumized meat or vegetables is sous-vide, which for the outsider is cooking in water using a temperature between 55 and 60 degrees Celsius. It takes longer, but food structure is undamaged and taste is better. Electrolux is the first large white goods maker to offer two sous-vide products for consumers: the vacuumizer and a steam oven with special sous-vide programs steam ovens also can do sous-vide. To be fair, French-Italian premium brand Scholtès already had a vacuumizer, and KitchenAid offers ChefTouch: a vacuumizer, oven and shock freezer combination; both being high-end products.
The 9000 series steam oven has improved sous-vide programming. In sous-vide the temperature must be controlled very accurate, up to half a degree Celsius. The vacuumizer is purchased from an Italian professional supplier, as a built-in drawer model. With a price of around 3000€ it is not yet a mass product but will be seen if cheaper versions can be designed. You really need an almost perfect vacuum requiring solid hardware. Electrolux also manufacturers a vacuumizer and was present at the fair. In Sardinia Electrolux presented these developments again, imbedded in the Inspiration Range theme, which mostly means inspired by professional chefs.
So Miele had more, but others had less. Cologne confirmed a trend which was to be seen at IFA Berlin last year. Then, there was a bit more focus on trends as energy savings and less on showing big amounts of products. Especially in the field of built-in products there are so many variations, that it has become quite a challenge to get some overview. Even the professionals are confused. That is why the Bosch stand had a large display on a wall pointing out the different types of ovens and their functions, a bit like a business flowchart. The Bosch people clearly confirmed that the display was to make things easier.
But then, why wants Miele to offer more products as others talk about overload? When asked, the Miele people stated that their problem is not overload but not enough choice. Miele had focused on premium and neglected customers who want just a bit less premium and a bit more value-for-money, so they used the user interfaces as a differentiation point to create a broader product range in ovens. The underlying platform is the same.
Another clear trend in Cologne was an-app-for-everything. BSH brand Bosch had a large display where a lot of new functions were shown. Read a QR code in the manual and get a video, contact the customer service, look for a dealer, find water hardness, all new functions. Fun, but the actual availability of most apps could be better, was the general consensus. Later, at the Sardinia IFA event, specialists explained: BSH does want a top quality solution, which means that a large quantity of manuals must be available and not in the (boring) PDF format but redesigned with a proper menu structure. And that takes a lot of time, and BSH even organized an in-house programming department, quite unusual for app programming. Later in Sardinia, Bosch and Siemens both skipped dragging large appliances down the island, but showed only their apps. It is fun to see how BSH differentiates both brands: Siemens focuses on high-tech functions such as connecting and operating your appliances through the tablet or smartphone, and Bosch went for manuals and automated scheduling of service house calls.
Finally: The Whirpool/Bauknecht Innovations
For many years Whirlpool has been missing at IFA Berlin. Each year at the press events there is the (boring) question if “they might have changed their mind this year”, and the answer is always the same: IFA tries, but to no avail. They made their choice: Milan is their main thing. Their stand from last year was the largest of them all, and their conceptual design not a lot of white boxes but ideas fit the environment: at a kitchen fair you’ll find designers and architects, instead of the engineering and commercial crowd which you’ll find in Berlin. Even German brand Bauknecht does not go to Berlin. Happily, they are always present in Cologne and several Whirlpool-Bauknecht trends were reconfirmed. First, a unique new oven type using a heat-resistant, removable induction generator inside the oven, so you have direct heating of oven cookware instead of convection-only, faster and more efficient. Also the refrigerator-dishwasher set where the motor heat from the refrigerator is used to pre-heat the dishwasher water was present. Both products are now ready for production. The Whirlpool connectivity architecture, which allows for easy shifting of appliance start times based on power grid information, is called B-Live at Bauknecht.
A less serious detail in Cologne was the male model Bauknecht put on billboards all over the city. When did we ever see a dude in appliance ads, especially one with an outdoor-type beard? The jokes were flying, because Bauknecht has used a famous punch line in their ads for many years: “Bauknecht knows what woman want”, so one can imagine what the jokes were all about. The model is Nico Ohlsson from Denmark. The Bauknecht spokesperson stated that the brand wanted something new, fresh and original, appealing to women. Most ladies seemed to agree.
The Sardinia press conference always has extra press events from market researcher GfK. And what? The crisis is not affecting the appliance industry, if you exclude the Southern European markets (Spain, Italy). Demand in Germany and Eastern Europe is strong, and innovations (heat pump dryers and other energy efficient designs, coffee) make consumers looking for mid to high end products. The price wars seen in the TV market are not repeated in white goods.
Miele stole the headlines, Samsung keeps on conquering Europe, and the others BSH, Electrolux and Whirlpool might be waiting for next year to fetch attention. We’ll wait to see in Berlin if Samsung again will occupy two halls, one for electronics and one for white goods. In Europe, they sell a lot of washers and large fridge-freezers for attractive prices, mostly manufactured in Poland. Still, they don’t have the wide product range of their established European competitors, and don’t do localized products, but their brand reputation is based on TV’s and smartphones.