Refrigeration: Cool and sleek

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The refrigeration market is doing anything but cooling down. Hayley Gilbert looks at current trends and the latest technological developments.
With a keen interest in healthy eating and the safe preservation of fresh food, today’s customer wants more than just a white box in the corner of the kitchen. They want an appliance that will keep their food fresh for as long as possible. “At the value end of the market, the purchase is normally a distress one. But at the added value and premium end, it is a considered decision,” explains Jane Massey, brand manager at Siemens. “Consumers are looking for products that complement the kitchen, look stylish, are packed with technology and keep food in the best conditions. Customers that spend a large amount of money on shopping each week realise that to prevent wastage, it is better to look for a quality appliance that will keep their groceries fresh for longer.”

Market trends

Fridge freezers remain the strongest segment, accounting for over 65% of all refrigeration units sold. “The trend has been towards 60cm-wide products, but we should not ignore the traditional market of 54cm models, as this width is needed in most consumers’ kitchens and still accounts for over 470,000 units,” says Corrin Farr, product manager for the Hoover Candy Group.

In fact, the freestanding refrigeration market is enjoying a healthy and steady growth as the demand for stylish kitchen appliances increases. Joan Fraser, national sales support manager for Smeg UK, says that the trends driving this are giving retailers an excellent opportunity to trade their customers up just by offering something that is a little bit different.

Dawn Stockell, UK brand and marketing manager for Electrolux Major Appliances, confirms that the two-door combination with a freezer at the bottom is the most popular cooling product with 46.4% of the market volume (up 5.1% year-on-year to over 1.2m units in 2006, according to GfK).

One of the most defining trends of recent years is the American-style side-by-side model, satisfying customers’ demands for greater fridge and freezer capacity. Dawn Stockell agrees that this market has seen the biggest growth, up 11.4% to make up almost 7% of market volume at 183.2k units. The downside is the installation of these bulky appliances so retailers would benefit from offering an alternative, such as a 60cm wide tall larder teamed with a matching freezer. “Strong growth figures indicate that this is a high performing market,” adds Hoover’s Corrin Farr. “The tall freezer market now stands at 40% greater than the chest freezer market and is almost as significant as the sideby- side freezer market.”

Fully integrated refrigeration is also experiencing strong levels of growth, while undercounter fridges and freezers continue to be key performers for many brands.

Frost-free and fast freeze options are also having an impact. Caroline Johnson, product manager for Lec, says that frost-free appliances now comprise 21% of the cooling market and 60% of the combination market. “Our own research has confirmed a long-held belief that for many consumers, ease of use and hassle-free operation are as important as an appliance’s ability to keep foods fresh for longer.”

Energy efficiency awareness is also bigger than ever so most customers will be looking for an A or A+ rated model. These made up almost 75% of the market volume in the last 12 months (source: Gfk). The largest decline in 2006 was in the two-door combi with freezer on top market, down 20% to make up 5.8% of market volume.

Latest technologies

With growing concern over food safety, consumers are well aware of the benefits of anti-bacterial protection. Cleaning sprays and worktops have long offered such advantages so the move into refrigeration has been a natural progression and many customers will be looking for this added-value feature. Hotpoint now uses anti-bacterial protection in all its freestanding cooling products as well as its built-in fridge drawers, while Whirlpool has teamed up with Microban to develop an air filtration system that forces fridge air through a filter that removes airborne contaminants.

Consumers are also looking for increased storage capacities that allow them to stock up on fresh and frozen food and spend less time at the supermarket, as well as temperature-controlled zones that keep fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and dairy as fresh as possible for longer. Many manufacturers have introduced their own versions of temperature and humidity-controlled compartments as a result. Whirlpool has Fresh Control storage; Miele has PerfectFresh zones while De Dietrich has its Maxi-Fresh compartments. Hotpoint has the Ever Fresh vacuum system while Electrolux has LongFresh zones. By using these dedicated storage areas food stays fresh for up to six days longer.

Fuzzy logic is still a selling point as many customers want appliances that think for themselves. All Fisher & Paykel refrigerators feature Active Smart technology where electronic sensors constantly monitor and adjust the cold airflow based on daily use and climatic conditions. “The result is a safe food environment where you can be assured your produce is in the best possible care,” says Mark Celik- Alvis, general manager for marketing at Fisher & Paykel.

Miele launched its GlassLight KFN 8996 SDE ed-1 fridge freezer back in 2005 but this was improved last year with the introduction of the integrated LED lighting system into the fridge door shelving. The brand has also developed its Dynamic Cooling system on a number of its refrigeration products. The system can overcome natural temperature imbalances by circulating cold air around the cabinet to ensure that the internal temperature is maintained at the same level throughout. Samsung’s Twin Cooling with TDM Cycle maintains optimal humidity levels at 75% to keep freshness and food flavours for longer. Baumatic is also keeping up with this trend by introducing the Multi Airflow Cooling System on a number of its products. GE has made some changes to its product ranges with the PC25DSS, which has two evaporators to control individual airflow in the fridge and freezer.

Icemakers and water dispensers have also become essential features at the top end of the market. In April 2007, Electrolux launched its Brita ENB39405 fridge freezer, which comes with an integrated four-litre Brita filter cartridge for chilled water in an instant.

Customer expectations

“Innovative technology is now becoming accepted as standard throughout the refrigeration market,” says Neil Pooley, group product manager for Miele, “making several high-end features more affordable to the consumer.” Customers therefore are expecting the very best features for their budget and won’t be satisfied with a basic model.

Capacity is an important consideration. Features such as bottle racks, easily accessible compartments and removable shelving top many customers’ list of requirements. Whirlpool offers flexibility with shelves in the freezer doors that are ideal for pizzas or ready meals – these free up space in the main storage drawers. Its bottle racks can also be inverted when not in use to become additional shelves.

Bill Miller, sales director at Gorenje UK, says that with the advent of convenience supermarkets on the high street, most consumers require more fridge space than freezer space. “This is achieved through taller models, improved insulation allowing larger cavities and more efficient use of space. “ Ragip Balcioglu, director of buying and product at Beko, agrees. “The UK consumer has always preferred the 50/50 fridge/freezer split but with the growth in chilled food there is a move towards the 60/40 split. With healthy eating being a top priority, consumers are looking for a range of storage solutions, such as larger temperature controlled draws to keep food fresh for longer.”

Customers are also looking to be kept informed on the state of their groceries so LCD and LED displays are becoming more popular. These give the user peace of mind that the interior temperature is correct and food is being stored safely. Hoover’s range of fridge freezers goes one step further with Inter@ct electronic controls that tell the user when their wine is perfectly chilled with a chill reminder that comes with a 30-minute alarm.

Design details

As kitchens continue to be the hub of the home; a place where family and friends regularly gather, consumers want a sophisticated design that reflects their own tastes and lifestyle. Refrigeration has become a style statement rather than just a practical addition to the kitchen, so details such as contoured doors, chunky handles, chrome wine racks and silver trimmed shelves are all worth mentioning.

Many customers are looking for a coordinated look with a refrigeration product that matches other kitchen appliances. Rangemaster has developed a line that is specifically designed to complement its range cookers, icemakers and wine coolers.

Stainless steel is still leading the way at the mid to top end of the market, particularly with American-style products. Fully clad models are perfect for a standalone focal point in a large kitchen, while smaller budgets would do well with a silver, dark matt, aluminium or black finish. However, with stainless steel comes the problem of cleaning, so Whirlpool has introduced a new anti-fingerprinting steel finish, while Fisher & Paykel offers EZKleen stainless steel, which is said to be as easy to clean as a white refrigerator.

Mirrored doors that reflect light around the room are one of the latest design trends to hit the high street. “Flat fronted doors lend themselves to a contemporary, flushfitted look,” says Paul Thompson, managing director of Baumatic UK, “but one of the more exciting trends sees a return to retro styling in line with our current obsession with vintage interiors and fashion.” Baumatic isn’t the only one who is introducing colour into its portfolio. Caple offers the CAFF22 in ten coloured glass door options, including zest green and cerise pink.

White continues to dominate the mass market. Caroline Johnson of Lec, says that while white appliances tend to look the same to the untrained eye, not all white refrigerators are the same. “We found that certain elements, such as handle design, are important considerations,” she confirms. “Also, as many consumers now buy more than one cooling appliance – for example a fridge and freezer or an appliance for the kitchen and utility room – a uniform aesthetic can therefore also influence buying decisions.”

Renowned designers are also wising up to the farreaching possibilities of attaching their name to a household appliance. Gorenje was one of the first manufacturers to work closely with famous designers and the resulting Pininfarina range has been very popular with customers and received many European design awards.

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